South Africa: 309 & 351

England: 315 & 294

South Africa won by 51 runs and win the series 2-0

South Africa replaced England as the number-one Test cricket team in the world as they won the third Test of the crucial series against their rivals by 51 runs at Lords. The victory gives the visitors a 2-0 series win, though they had to overcome a nervy final day after a great effort from the English batsmen in chasing an improbable 346.

England came into the Test knowing that anything short of a win would result in them losing their position at the summit of the world rankings, which they reached this time last year after a series whitewash against India.

The first innings saw a very even contest with similar totals posted by both sides. South Africa recovered from an early England blitz, which saw them in trouble at 65-4 at lunch on the opening day, making their way to 309. JP Duminy and Vernon Philander both scored 61 as the lower order salvaged the visitors’ innings.

England’s innings followed a strikingly similar pattern with most of the top order failing to score big runs with the hosts flailing at 54-4 at one stage. However, Ian Bell posted 58 and Jonny Bairstow, brought into the side to replace the troubled Kevin Pieterson scored a marvellous innings of 95 as England climbed their way to 315 and restore effective parity.

With the match virtually now a one-innings ‘shootout’ the pressure increased, with one big innings potentially making all the difference. Both South African openers Smith and Peterson were removed in quick succession for 23 and 24 putting the Proteas on 50-2 and giving England hope.

Amla again played a crucial innings to torment the England bowling attack

However, number 3 Hashim Amla, the thorn in England’s side at the Oval, made another decisive contribution with a magnificent 121, after being dropped on 2 which helped put the visitors in the driving seat. With AB de Villiers’ 43 a useful support act, South Africa made their way to 351, with Steven Finn the only bowler looking dangerous enough to trouble the batsmen, as he picked up 4-74.

The total left the Three Lions needing 346, which would be a record fourth innings run chase by an England team, to preserve their number-one Test ranking.

Things began disastrously with Strauss and Cook again under-performing as they both fell to the relentless Vernon Philander and with England closing Day 4 on 16-2, hopes were not high going into the final day.

England lost two more wickets in the first session, but brave knocks from the still not-out Jonathon Trott and Bairstow had England at 120-4 at lunch.

Bairstow and Trott then lost their wickets and Matt Prior became the man to lead the seemingly hopeless England cause. The customary attacking-nature of Prior however suited England’s nothing-to-lose attitude and a strong partnership with Stuart Broad put England to 208 before the seventh wicket fell when Broad was caught by Amla.

In came Graeme Swann, another tail-ender capable with the bat, and along with Prior, built up another significant partnership and suddenly the highly unlikely seemed possible, with the pair posting 60 in an 8-over spell after the tea break.

The visitors however got the breakthrough wicket, when Swann was run out by Imran Tahir as England went for a quick single and England were down to their last 2 wickets, still needing 64.

Yet with main man Prior still out in the middle, it was felt England still had a chance and the drama continued when it seemed the visitors had got their man when Prior skied it to Duminy. However, the replay showed the ball to be a no-ball delivery from Morkel and Prior survived.

Soon after, the South Africans appealed for a stumping against Prior. However, the England number-7 survived again as the third umpire decided he had grounded his foot behind his crease before the bails were removed in a marginal decision, and there was a feeling around the increasingly excited home crowd that it may yet be England’s day.

However, the arrival of the new ball proved pivotal and from a Vernon Philander delivery, Prior edged the ball to Smith in the slips to put the Proteas one wicket away from victory. And that wicket came in the very next ball, when Finn also edged it to Smith to give Philander his fifth wicket of the innings and the South Africans were celebrating a much-deserved series victory.

It had perhaps been fair to say that the series, leading into this enthralling third Test, been a slight anti-climax, with a comfortable victory for South Africa in Test One, followed by a rain-interrupted draw at Headingley.

However, the series came alive in this intriguing Test Match between the world’s top two. England will be proud of their last-day efforts but in reality were outplayed for much of the series and will be disappointed by performances with both bat and ball as well as some crucial fielding errors which costed England throughout the series. Pieterson-gate aside, the Proteas fully deserved their victory and their place at the top of the International Cricket Council Test rankings.

 ICC World Rankings:

  1. South Africa – 120
  2. England – 117
  3. Australia – 116
  4. Pakistan – 109
  5. India – 104


Simon Mulligan