A closely fought match, and a somewhat odd one, in that on the one hand, England might rightly wonder if some better catching and running ought to have earnt them a win, and yet on the other they never really looked like doing so; even after taking a first innings lead. Statistically, the final two tests were perfectly even, but such is the hold South Africa asserted over England following the Oval, that hardly a soul believed they could win, even when they were in a winning position.
Both sides found themselves at 5/54 in the first innings; but South Africa's batting depth came to the fore. Duminy batted incredibly slowly, not at all like the flowing player he began his career as, but with Philander demonstrating his all-round qualities, and Strauss leaving Finn in the field when he was clearly their best option at the crease, they took the score past 300. Bairstow was the revelation of the English innings, though he got tied down approaching his century, eventually getting out to one of a series of poor shots. Swann blazed them into a lead, making up for a complete lack of penetration with the ball. South Africa didn't bowl especially well, but they took wickets, and with last use of the ball were still favoured.
Finn was again pick of the bowlers, and Amla the pick of the batsmen. His 121 was ultimately the difference between the two sides. He was the biggest contributor after being dropped, if not the worst missed chance. Anderson completely fluffing De Villiers was symptomatic of the English team's malaise, as indeed was the way Philander ran through them either side of stumps on day four. Strauss had a horrific series, completely dominated by Morkel; leaving the ball to hit middle stump was the non-stroke of someone in dire need of a break, perhaps a permanent one. England fought, Kallis and Steyn demonstrated their sheer class in removing Trott, and then, for one brief hour, it seemed like Prior, Broad and Swann might slog their way to victory, much as Australia had done last November. If they'd not left themselves so much to do it might have worked. But poor decisions scuppered the comeback, the new ball and Philander again did for Prior - whose irresponsible forst innings dismissal summed up the difference between this England and last year's - and the game was done.
The conclusion brought many a lament for lack of a longer series, but those are misplaced. For starters, what value is there in a series South Africa has already, if not won, at least put themselves in a position not to lose? Secondly, much of the last day interest in this match came from England needing to win, when they might have played out a draw in a longer tie. A longer series isn't a bad idea, but if we are going to reform the schedule, let's at least do so for reasons other than selfishly promoting the best teams to play long series in the English home season. The argument that the "fans want" to see South Africa play is undermined by the reality that there is both a) a lot more money in the ODI and T20 matches, which, by extension must therefore be what fans want and b) too much fan friendly scheduling already, in the form of 15 Ashes tests before South Africa and England next meet. Scheduling is too much orientated to what fans want, not too little.
Take a week off, miss a whole test match, but almost no action. I didn't manage to catch any of this game, but if the wails from Kiwi fans and the indifference from Indian ones is any indication this wasn't too pretty. New Zealand were always up against it in this series, coming on the back of a troubled tour of the West Indies, but this time facing superior opposition with something to prove, in conditions that most suited the home team. Taylor is a severe liability at the moment; a series of dropped catches - very unusual for him - coupled with some defensive captaincy, defeatist statements and his own struggling form would lend weight to any effort for him to step down; and yet there is no replacement performing well enough, with the sort of seniority required. There is some potential in this New Zealand side particularly the bowling, but except for the win in Hobart, they've been poor and getting worse for some time.
India, by contrast, couldn't be happier with the start to the post-Dravid, post-VVS era. Tendulkar remains, of course, joining Hobbs, Woolley and Close as the only players to debut in the decade before the decade before every other player in a match. He gave no indication that it will be long before he too leaves the stage, and the talent on display indicates they have little need for him. Pujara dominated India's innings making 159 - it was somewhat surprising he didn't keep his place after an impressive debut against Australia; Kohli and Dhoni lent support, and Ashwin took 12/85 with only Williamson resisting, if not able to score. Another test follows, but if the result differs it would rank as one of the more outrageous upsets of modern times.
Shaded teams have played fewer than 2 games per season. Non-test team ratings are not comparable to test ratings as they don't play each other.
Cricket - Ratings - Test 29th August, 2012 00:41:45 [#]
England forget what made them great; New Zealand decline further; Ratings 28th August