Sunday, 17 January 2010

It's over, South Africa get there a ball before lunch... was the the luckiest drawn series ever for England?

IT’S been a fine Morne for South Africa at The Wanderers. And a winning morning too, for the huge crowd who got stuck at the gate due to a computer glitch and were finally let in for free once the police arrived.

Morne Morkel, who has bowled superbly throughout this series, produced a ferocious spell of five overs, two maidens, 3-15. That’s how to win a Test match against an England side with one foot on the plane. And win it they did, by an innings and 74 runs on the penultimate ball before lunch, to draw this fabulous series 1-1.

Captain Graeme Smith told us afterwards: "I feel very happy. If we're honest we could easily be sitting here now 3-1 up in the series. I wish there was a decider!"

There were about 20,000 locals in to see their side wrap up things up just before lunch on day four of the final Test. A Barmy Army of around 100 gave us a chorus of Jerusalem for the first ball and then lapsed into an embarrassed silence.

Even South African-born Englishmen have been very co-operative about ensuring the series is drawn 1-1 and the hosts retain the Basil D'Oliviera trophy they won in 2005. It is, after all, what Smith and his men deserve.

We lost Johannesburg-born Andrew Strauss and Capetonian Jonathan Trott last night as England, needing 243 to make South Africa bat again, slumped to 48-3. They were eventually all out for 169, just in time to have the rest of the day off.

Matt Prior, another Johannesburger who watched his first big game in this stadium, lasted two balls. He was dropped off the first, caught off the second. Earlier, Kevin Pietersen, who hails from Pietermaritzburg, managed 12 runs before he subsided after perhaps the most disappointing series of his once-illustrious career.

This morning, Paul Collingwood, as always, was the only English hero. Coach Andy Flower calls him the British Bull dog. After scores of 50 and 26 not out to guide England to the narrowest of draws in the first Test at Centurion, he scored 91 in the innings win in Durban and 19 and a four-hour 40 to save the game in Cape Town.

Here, he’s scored 47 and another 71, looking on while the rest of England’s batsmen, beset by end-of-tour mania, popped in and out at the other end. With lunch looming, he drove Dale Steyn, the world’s best bowler, for a six over mid-off as he moved from 60 to 66.

The very next ball he injured himself when a sure-fire four was cut off and he had to dive to make his ground. It appears to be the left index finger he hurt during the warm-up in Durban. He’s battled on despite that, a bad shoulder and a groin injury. But he has to. Without Collingwood, England would have lost this series 3-1.

For the first 45 minutes this morning, there was a hint of resistance. But then Pietersen got an edge to debutant Wayne Parnell and he was gone for 12 off 42 balls, caught by Mark Boucher. He contributed just three of the 36 runs he added with Collingwood for the fourth wicket. Still, at least we can’t accuse him of being reckless this time.

Then the procession began and Morkel took the game by the scruff of the neck. Ian Bell, who has had a good series, went for five off 17 balls off a Morkel snorter which flew to Jacques Kallis in the cordon.

Prior came in, was dropped first ball by Hashim Amla at short leg, then tried to hook and was caught by Smith, scurrying backwards from slip. Great innings, Matt. And this from a man who told us before the game: “We aren’t here to be nearly men, we are here to win the series 2-0.” Bollocks.

Stuart Broad, proclaimed as something of an all rounder before this tour began, was then cleaned up by Morkel for a single off nine balls, caught behind by Mark Boucher. England had gone from 84-4 to 104-7 in nine overs. So much for the famous resilience everyone was talking about before this Test began.

And yes, Broad has proved himself capable of under-performing with both bat and ball on this tour. His bowling average is a mediocre 33.46, his batting average a putrid 10.85. Not quite Gary Sobers.

Graeme Swann, in contention with Collingwood for England’s man of the series, came in and hit three fours before he was snapped up by Steyn, caught De Villiers, for a lively 20 off 17 balls and England were eight down with just over half-an-hour to go before lunch.

Ryan Sidebottom, mysteriously brought in for Graham Onions for this Test, emerged to prove himself. Onions survived 19 balls at Centurion and 17 balls at Newlands to force those two epic one-wicket draws.

The South Africans never did get him out in this series and were shocked when Onions, who has bowled without luck in this series, was axed.

Sidebottom did his best.But Collingwood fell to part-time spinner JP Duminy’s first ball of the innings, caught in the deep by Morkel – who else – for 71 off 139 balls with 12 fours and that memorable six off Steyn and it was all but over.

So we had Jimmy Anderson in at No11 rather than Onions. But even he might have struggled to survive five sessions! Anderson took a painful blow to the hip from a merciless Steyn as the end approached.

With an over to go before lunch, Duminy found himself slapped to the boundary by Sidebottom off his first ball. But resistance by that point was futile. Off the fifth ball, the hairy one had a huge hoik and was bowled for 15. That’s two less than Onions’ top Test score. But Onions never gets out.

Series over. Mark Boucher, 341 runs and 16 catches, has shared the Man of the Series award with Swann. The heroic Collingwood has been ignored. Dale Steyn won Man of the Match for his 5-51 in the first innings.

England escape with a 1-1 draw. And Kevin McCallum, the local columnist, describes it as “the luckiest drawn series in history”. He may have a point.

Andrew Strauss's final words? "It leaves us with a bitter taste in the mouth. But it's about nine weeks, not the last five days. And it's been one of the most enjoyable tours I've been on."

Hear, hear.

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