Moeen Ali took 5-69, as England thrashed the Proteas by 177 runs to win the fourth Test at Old Trafford and win the series 3-1.
Four overs before tea, the Proteas were on 163-3 and had the public licking their lips at the thought of a dramatic finish to this Test match. Against the odds, Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis both struck fifties in a 123-run stand to resist the England pressure and stand an outside chance of securing a record run-chase at Old Trafford.
That came crashing down within the blink of an eye. Twelve overs and 39 runs later, the visitors were bowled out for 202, and with that, a first series defeat in England since 1998. It caps off a disastrous three-month tour, which saw them lose the ODI and T20 series against England, as well as a group-stage exit in the Champions Trophy.
It was a hugely disappointing outcome, but hardly a surprising one. Apart from the second Test, the South Africans have been outclassed in all disciplines. They posted three 300-plus scores out of eight, none of which exceeded 400, and numerous instances of poor fielding, along with some solid displays with the bat from the English, contributed to three resounding defeats. While the Proteas hang on to their spot as the No 2 side in the world, England have climbed up to No 3 and are hot on their tails.
This was surprisingly England’s ‘worst’ victory in terms of the run margin, but they were always ahead of the game. Their 362 in the first innings, shaped by fifties from Joe Root and Ben Stokes and finished off with a 99 by Jonny Bairstow, gave them an above-par score after winning the toss and batting first – a scenario which has seen a victory in every Test in this series. 226 all out was the response, as none of the South African batsmen were able to score a half-century.
Root, in his first series as England skipper and the highest run-scorer throughout, scored 49 in trying circumstances, which was backed up by Man of the Match Moeen Ali’s 66-ball 75 blitz, as they got to 243 all out.
The target was 380, and it was going to take the eighth-highest successful run-chase of all time to get there. Dean Elgar (5) and Heino Kuhn (11) fell cheaply, and when Temba Bavuma fell on the stroke of lunch it was an all too familiar sight for the Proteas – a top-order batting collapse.
But then came the resistance from Amla and Du Plessis, as they showed how their side can bat, despite the ball moving around against a strong English bowling attack. Amla took 18 deliveries to get off the mark, but would go on to hit 13 boundaries and a six as he amassed 83, with Du Plessis looking steady at the other end. That all changed when Moeen trapped Amla lbw a couple of overs before tea.
It broke the shackles as England needed to review the decision. It was hitting middle and off Amla went, with South Africa’s chances hanging by a thread. Three more deliveries in the 53rd over was all it took to send the South Africans over the edge, as two fine low catches in the slips saw the end of Quinton de Kock for one and Theunis de Bruyn for a second-ball duck. Moeen made full use of the purchase he got off the footmarks to leave the tourists on 182-6 at the break.
If the South Africans were going to salvage anything it was going to have to come from skipper Du Plessis, who notched up his first half-century since the first innings of the second Test at Trent Bridge. Du Plessis, realising that attack was going to be the best form of defence, swatted at a wide one and found the edge through to Jonny Bairstow for 61.
There was barely a chance to breathe as the next three wickets fell in five balls. Kagiso Rabada lobbed one to Tom Westley for one, for Anderson’s (3-16) third, before Moeen took two in two to see off Morne Morkel and Duanne Olivier for golden ducks. Moeen sealed his second five-wicket haul of the series to sit atop the wicket-taking charts with 25 wickets, five more than Anderson and six more than the impressive Morkel, who can’t be faulted for the way he went about his work throughout.
Plenty of questions for the Proteas to ponder, after suffering back-to-back series defeats to the English. They will have to regroup ahead of what is expected to be a busy home summer. Their next five-day outing comes against Bangladesh in the first Test in Potchefstroom, from 28 September.
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