England bowlers’ late flurry lays the table for intriguing final Test at Lord’s
AND SO to Lord’s, where the increasingly intriguing series between England and South Africa will head next week for the finale it deserves.
England’s aim in that match will be deceptively simple: win. For the Proteas, matters could be a touch more complicated: do not lose.
But, on the evidence of what we have seen so far — a thumping victory for South Africa in the first Test at the Oval in London and the Proteas earning the better of the drawn second Test at Headingley in Leeds yesterday — the visitors are likely to leave with the No1 ranking weighing down their luggage.
Lord’s has played host to only one draw in the eight Tests played there since South Africa’s hard-fought effort in 2008, when the Proteas followed on, survived and prospered thanks to centuries by Graeme Smith, Neil McKenzie and Hashim Amla.
But pitches there are prepared to ensure the august members of the Marylebone Cricket Club see as much cricket as possible and to blazes with other considerations.
So a draw at Lord’s, which would give the Proteas the series and with it the top rung on the ladder, is the early favourite.
However, there could be a twist in that tale because England last lost at Lord’s in 2005, when Australia beat them by 239 runs.
Since then, they have won six and drawn seven at the game’s grandest ground.
On top of that, yesterday’s play at Headingley tweaked the tension and deepened the respect between the two teams.
Kevin Pietersen’s enchanted bubble swelled when he polished his part-time off-spin to remove South Africa’s top order of Jacques Rudolph, Smith and Amla.
Then, sent out with Alastair Cook to open England’s second innings, Pietersen slashed and burned three fours in the first over.
But the bubble burst in the fourth over, when Pietersen’s top-edged pull flew flaccidly to mid-on.
The rest of the afternoon was given over to an energetic, entertaining chase after a target that was always receding out of view.
Nothing more was proved either way, except that England are a better team than they showed in the first Test and that South Africa are content to bide their time in the confidence that they will engineer a more direct route to success.
Before the South Africans set aside time to think how best to do that, they will make good their escape from the tour today to spend some time taking in the splendour of the Olympic Games.
It is no bad thing for the Proteas to remind themselves that there is a world outside of their own, and there can be few better ways than by cheering on some of their compatriots to go faster, higher, stronger.
They will be back in harness in Derby on Friday for the last of the two-day matches that have been a feature of the tour.
Best they use that chance to find a way to deal more effectively with Stuart Broad, who gave England their best chance of what would have been an astonishing victory.
Broad, who looked flat and listless at The Oval and only a little less so in the first innings here, found his fire yesterday in a burst of 37 balls in which he took 5/29.
However, it should not be forgotten that dodgy umpiring helped England’s bowlers.
Steve Davis’s poor performance in this match continued when he saw off AB de Villiers after a delivery that even a pair of naked eyes positioned at an angle and 120m away from the middle could see was not going to hit the stumps.
JP Duminy became the victim of a slightly more marginal lbw decision by Davis, and then he gave Smith out caught behind when he had hit the ground and perhaps his pad — everything but the ball.
Smith looked bemused when his referral failed.
It did so because Asad Rauf could not find enough evidence to overturn Davis’s umpteenth bum decision.
Perhaps because he has to be more careful not to be fined now that he has to fund a family, the South Africa captain declined to comment on his dismissal.
But the International Cricket Council has no jurisdiction over Morgan Deane, Smith’s wife and the mother of newly born Cadence, who fired off an indignant tweet: "No no you didn’t get him out! But England undeserving glory ... enjoy!!! Lord’s is only a few days away!!"
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