|Ground:||Kennington Oval, Kennington|
|Scorecard:||England v South Africa|
|Event:||South Africa in England 2012|
DateLine: 23rd July 2012
England v South Africa, 1st Test, 5th day
In association with Investec.
Just how difficult it's going to be for England to cling on to their No.1 ranking in Test cricket was fully in evidence in their defeat by an innings and twelve runs in the first Test. For them to bounce back in such a short series, with just two Tests to come, will be a true test of character and a great belief in themselves against a side which is mentally strong and has such great all-round ability. The strength in their batting is such that in piling on 637 for two they achieved the highest total in Tests for the loss of fewest wickets.
England captain, Andrew Strauss said: "We got well out played in the last four days of the game. We set the game up well on day one but South Africa used the conditions to their advantage fantastically well on day two to came back into the game and then never let us back in the game." He added: "There were a number of areas where we were frustrated, that second morning when we didn't deal better with those conditions and also last night losing four wickets in pretty placid conditions made life very difficult for ourselves today. There are obviously regrets whenever you lose a game but we'll learn the lessons and come back strong next week."
Resuming on the fifth morning on 102 for four and needing a further 151 to make South Africa bat again, England were well aware of the major batting task ahead if they were to save the match which, apart from the first day, had totally belonged to South Africa. Ian Bell and Ravi Bopara on 14 and 15 respectively had to bat with caution. Both are fine stroke makers as Bell has proved on numerous occasions and Bopara, much improved to have been brought back into Test cricket after a year.
They batted watchfully for half-an-hour during which Bell added just one run but Bopara having progressed to 22 couldn't resist attacking a shortish ball outside the off stump and dragged it on to his stumps. Any hope that South Africa had of quick wickets after that was soon dashed by Bell and his new partner Matt Prior who had also batted well in the first innings for 60. Steyn was replaced after five overs, in which he took Bopara's wicket for 13, by Imran Tahir and the leg spinner was unlucky with Bell being dropped behind the stumps from the second ball off a faint outside edge.
Bell and Prior took the score to 177 for five at lunch with Bell moving on to 36 with a lovely drive to the extra cover boundary off the last ball before the break. They had added 60 from 130 balls, raising England's hopes of batting out the remaining two sessions. They kept adding on the runs and Bell took his score to 49 with a glance for four off Jacques Kallis and three balls later a single pushed to point brought him his 34th Test half century from 289 balls and with that he took the England total to 200 for five.
On 203, the sixth wicket stand was finally broken with Prior edging his sweep shot to Kallis at slip. It was a fine ball from Tahir, bouncing and spinning away from the right hander. The stand had added 86 from 196 balls but it was the second new ball that changed the picture very rapidly. It was taken for the 82nd over and in the next over Dale Steyn removed Bell and with that much of England's chances of saving the match. There had been hopes of Bell playing a similar role as he had done in 2009 in Cape Town to save the Test but it wasn't to be this time.
On 55 from 220 balls, Bell edged an out swinger from Steyn to Kallis at second slip and England were 210 for seven. But it had been a fighting innings lasting just over four-and-a-half hours. On the same total, Steyn, in his next over, had Stuart Broad caught behind on the leg side off the gloves. He had at first been given not out but South Africa had the decision reviewed successfully. Steyn's marvellous spell continued and in his following over England’s ninth wicket fell on 218 with Graeme Swann driving straight into the hands of cover.
Steyn's brilliant four-over spell with the second new ball had given him three for eight, finishing with five for 56, the eighteenth time he has a five-wicket innings haul. Leg spinner Tahir claimed three for 63 after taking the last wicket to wrap up the innings on 240.
In the absence of South Africa captain, Graeme Smith, who left the ground soon after the end of the match to catch a flight home where his wife is due to have a child, the coach, former Test batsman, Gary Kirsten spoke: "On day one there was some good batting from England but I thought our bowlers did a really good job (second day). We adjusted our plans a bit going into the second day, we got some early breakthrough and it created some momentum for us which helped us a lot." Asked to comment on the margin of victory, he said: "It's very special, those type of things (win) don't happen often, but we’ve got some real class in our batting line-up, guys with a lot of experience. It's particularly satisfying as a coach just to watch them put that batting performance together."
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
Copyright © 2012 Andy Jalil)