England celebrated an excellent 189-run victory over South Africa in the final hour of the fifth day of the second test at PPC Newlands in Cape Town on Tuesday to level the four-match series at 1-all.
“It’s a very pleasing performance and the lads enjoyed it. It was a great game of test cricket, a great advert for five day test cricket,” said England captain Joe Root at the end of the match press conference.
South Africa, heading into the final hour, needed to face the final 15 overs of the test with Vernon Philander (8) and Dwaine Pretorius (0) at the crease but an excellent over from Ben Stokes (23.4-8-35-3) saw Pretorius caught by Joe Root and then Anrich Nortje (0) caught by Joe Denly, both in the slips off successive balls to end any hope of the home side saving the test match and their lead.
“I am proud of the way we fought, you never want to lose test matches. We said this morning that we will fight with everything that we have and make England do anything and everything to beat us and they have. They threw the kitchen sink at us and right at the end of the day, there had to be a loser, but it has been a fantastic test match,” commented Faf du Plessis.
Philander was the last wicket to fall with just 50 balls remaining in the day as Stokes had Philander caught in the slip cordon by Ollie Pope to end the match and send the English team and fans into delirium as they levelled the series with two matches to play. Kagiso Rabada remained unbeaten on the other end having scored three runs.
“I wouldn’t say it is disappointing but it is incredible to see the support by the English fans and you could see at the end of the day that the crowd did help them and it did feel like we were playing in England,” said the South African captain on the amount of English support in over the test match.
The day began with South Africa on 126 for two and facing a mammoth 90-over day with both Dean Elgar (34) and Zubayr Hamza (18) back in the hut. Debutante Pieter Malan (84) was at the crease with his score on 63 and with him, nightwatchman, Keshav Maharaj (2).
“We built pressure at the right times, we showed a lot of patience and character and heading into that last session we kept believing and took everything that came our way,” said Root.
Maharaj did not last long before being trapped in front by James Anderson (18-9-23-2), before Faf du Plessis (19) played a rash shot off Dominic Bess (33-14-57-1) went straight to Denly at square leg, ending the 75-minute fourth-wicket stand of 35. However, Malan and Rassie van der Dussen (17) carried their side to lunch on 170 for four and hopes of saving the game.
“In hindsight, with everyone up and around the bat, would have been easy to go over and to sweep in the middle of the two was a mental error. From a batting group perspective, from where we were two months ago where we were very weak, today we were strong. It is about improving,” said Du Plessis about his dismissal.
Malan’s excellent innings, lasting just over six hours, finally came to an end after 288 balls when Stokes took a good catch at second slip off Sam Curran (16-4-37-1) to leave South Africa five down. However, Quinton de Kock (50) walked in and looked to be positive, striking seven boundaries in his knock which lasted 123 minutes and 107 deliveries but was ended when a rank-long-hop from Denly (18-4-42-2) was pulled straight to Zak Crawley at mid-wicket.
“You need guys to come through and put their hands and the way that Pieter played this test match is like he has played 100 test matches and that is pleasing and positive that we have players that can come through the domestic game and perform,” Du Plessis about opener Malan.
Half an hour later and Van der Dussen’s innings was ended when Stuart Broad (23-8-37-1) bowled a delivery heading down the leg side which Van der Dussen guided straight into the hands of Anderson fielding at leg slip. This was by the wickets of Pretorius and Nortje in the space of two balls and then Stokes dismissed Philander. The last three wickets falling in the space of 14 balls.
“You always felt something was going to happen. There were going to be partnerships but we never stopped believing. Everyone stepped up and when the chances came we took it and you could see the energy in the field,” said Root about the final sessions.
England had won the toss on Friday and elected to bat first, finishing off the first day’s play on 262 for nine. The visitors could only add a further seven runs to their total on the second morning, being bowled out for 269 with Ollie Pope top-scoring with an unbeaten 61. Stokes made 47 while Dom Sibley (34), Denly (38) and Root (35) all made starts without converting.
Rabada was the pick of the bowlers, claiming 3-68 in 19.5 overs while Philander (2-46), Nortje (2-56) and Pretorius (2-26) provided good support. The South African batting line-up then collapsed to 40 for three with Malan (5), Hamza (5) and Du Plessis (1) all back in the hut.
But Elgar (88) and Van der Dussen (68) rescued the home side with a 117-run stand for the fourth wicket. Once Elgar and Van der Dussen departed, the rest of the side fell away, being bowled out for just 223 on the third morning with James Anderson claiming his 28th five-wicket haul, ending with 5-40 while Broad (2-38) and Curran (2-39) chipped in.
“We probably lost this on first innings runs. The pitch was a difficult on day one and two and we got into a position where we should have got a little more and be even, that’s 50 runs there,” said Du Plessis.
“I was happy with that first innings after we bowled, I thought that the lead was massive on that surface. We recognised the key moments which we missed in the first test,” said a beaming Root.
Day three belonged to England as they quickly wrapped up the South African tail before moving into a commanding position of 217 for two, an overall lead of 263 with eight wickets in the bank. But Pretorius (16-4-56-1) struck, removing Root (61) who had shared in a wonderful 116-run stand for the third wicket with Sibley. England sent out Bess as the nightwatchman but Nortje (18-2-61-3) quickly dispensed with the right-hander with the last delivery of the day to leave England 218 for four and leading by 264 runs.
The fourth morning belonged to Sibley, who went on to score his maiden test century, and Stokes, who struck a 47-ball 72 to give England and the match the go-forward they needed. England scored 132 runs in the morning session and despite Maharaj (43-9-160-2) dismissing Stokes and Curran (13), and Nortje having Buttler (23) caught behind by De Kock, England went to lunch on 375 for seven.
England declared their second innings closed on 391 for eight with Sibley carrying his bat for an unbeaten 133 which spanned 497 minutes and included 19 boundaries and a six, just 20 minutes into the second session.
South Africa had started their mammoth task well with Dean Elgar (34) and Malan adding 71 for the first wicket before Elgar, who reviewed his decision, edged faintly to Buttler behind the stumps off Denly (8-0-26-1), giving the part-time leg spinner his first test wicket. Zubayr Hamza (18) then joined his franchise compatriot and the pair carried their side almost to the close before Anderson had Hamza edging to Buttler, which brought Maharaj to crease as nightwatchman.
The home side then closed off the day at 126 for two, still 312 runs away from an improbable victory target.
**first published on www.supersport.com