South Africa completed the series victory on English soil at Lords today in quite convincing fashion. The 2-0 test series win lifts the Proteas above England in the ICC Test rankings and England's one year hold of the title Best side in the world has been relinquished.
Whilst England lost, credit should be given to a South African side who have dominated England in all facets of the game across three games starting at the Oval when we marvelled at Hashim Amla's incredible triple century - the first by a South African; the drawn test match at Headingley which was overshadowed by the Olympics and the backroom politics involving Kevin Pietersen and whether he did or did not text tactical banter to the South Africans regarding his teammates.
At Lords, England had to win the test match to not only level the series, but to salvage the No.1 ranking. Having had S.Africa on the ropes at lunch on the first day at 66-4, South Africa managed to get to a score of 309 thanks to Vernon Philander's 61 runs. The total should have been 50-60 runs less than that. England could only sustain a six run lead thanks to the wonderful maiden half century from Jonny Bairstow eventually dismissed for 95.
A facet of South Africa this year has been the ability to take wickets at vital moments. In the first innings at Lords, captain Strauss looked like he was playing himself into form and then one from Morkel got through two balls before lunch. Prior having done most of the hard work with Bairstow then succumbed to the first ball of the second new ball, when they needed solidarity. Oddly enough, he was caught by Kallis when bowled to by Philander, an identical dismissal occured in the 2nd innings. The wicket that ended England's valiant run chase of the required 346.
Over the three tests; England had few moments of sunshine, and South Africa have done to England what they have done to many teams in recent years.
At the first test England were undone by scoreboard pressure as they did against Australia when down under. England were in first on a flat Oval pitch and despite 115 from Alastair Cook and 60 from Matt Prior could only score 385. South Africa mustered 637-2; Graeme Smith 131, Amla's magnificient 311 and Jacques Kallis' 182. England had to reach 252 to make S.Africa bat again, yet only Bell offered resistance with 55 as we lost by an innings and 12 runs. Dale Steyn took 5-56 to complete the destruction.
Changes were made for Headingley as a personally conflicted Ravi Bopara made way for debutant James Taylor who has been earmarked for test cricket for some time. England also though dropped Graeme Swann for an all seam attack, which in hindsight was a knee-jerk reaction, considering it did spin for Tahir, and Kevin Pietersen took 3 wickets himself. This sort of selection decision is unlike England in the past, they stick with a formula and consistency of selection putting faith in the players selected to put it right; England were worried by Swann's dodgy right elbow, which did not flare up in the Lords test.
During Headingley, England dropped numerous chances dolly ones by their own standards which reached a pinnacle down under led by Paul Collingwood. Unfortunately, in this series safe hands such as Alastair Cook at short leg, Strauss in the slips and Anderson have all been guilty of bad glaring chances. If you take all the runs those South African batsmen accumulated after being dropped, it amounts to 500 runs in the series. South Africa amassed 1,974 runs in the series, that is nearly 25% of their runs given to them.
Never did it count more than at Lords when Amla was dropped by Prior on 2, he scored 121.
England will feel that they should have won the Lords test but due to the refusal to take opportunities, the silly run out involving Jonathan Trott and James Taylor on the last day, and the lack of bowling firepower in contrast to the unit bowling of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and new discovery, Vernon Philander (who can also bat), England can think of themselves as a team that lost the test and series because they did not meet their own formidably high standards they set themselves in recent years.
Credit should not be withdrawn from South Africa though, all men have played their part in this series triumph at one point or another. Alvaro Petersen's 182 at Headingley was a daddy hundred that frustrated England, helped by JP Duminy's invaluable unbeaten 48 at number 8 in the same innings. Perhaps Jacques Rudolph did not do as well, but no matter in a team when someone picks up the baton.
Congratulation to South Africa on a deserved triumph, next for them is a test series in Australia who seem resurgent at the moment under Michael Clarke, should be a brilliant series for bowling. As for England, after nursing their wounds is a four test tour to India; with some decisions to be made. Whilst Bairstow and Taylor have shown glimpses, the question remains about Kevin Pietersen's involvement. Decisions need to be made and changes attempted now as the Ashes return next summer.