There’s no time to point fingers. This is a lightning quick turnaround before the start of the final Test on Friday, writes GARY LEMKE.
This third Test at The Oval was over as a contest after day three. In many aspects the match mirrored the first Test at Lord’s, before South Africa continued their Jekyll ’n Hyde display with a 340-run win at Trent Bridge to level the series.
But, at The Oval, staging its 100th Test, South Africa’s short-comings were again rudely exposed and it has left to fans wondering which Proteas team will pitch up at Old Trafford.
South Africa have gone 2-1 down and all three matches have been resounding victory margins, which led a former England writing colleague, a man steeped in the belief that Tests are the ultimate challenge, to say that ‘this series has been completely bonkers’.
Indeed it has. The third Test finished with a hat-trick by Moeen Ali and it also featured the first time in Test history that four players were out first ball in an innings. Faf du Plessis also became only the fourth batsman in Test history to be given out twice in the same Test not playing a shot to a pace bowler. Completely bonkers is a good description.
But, while momentum is a huge part of sport, the positive for South Africa is that they don’t have too much time to dwell on what has just happened at The Oval.
It was a car-crash of a performance, although Dean Elgar was simply magnificent in a show of defiance that delivered South Africa’s first century of this Test series – and it has to be noted that only Joe Root and Ben Stokes have been England’s centurions.
I had asked who had made the decision to play Vernon Philander in a demanding five-day Test, when he had been ‘unable to keep anything down’ for the first two days of the match and spent long periods off the field – and even an overnight stay on a hospital drip. In the post-match interview with Mike Atherton, Du Plessis provided the answer. I like Du Plessis, he is a strong character and leader and manned up – to his eternal credit – in defeat.
‘Vernon is one of those world-class performers … you’ll take him at 50%. We knew he’d be sick and the plan was to hopefully win the toss and bat and give him an extra day. We thought he’d be back for days two, three four and five. We missed him in the first innings to put more pressure on England. It’s very obvious the mistakes we made here and in the first Test.’
The plan was to ‘hopefully win the toss’? So, Philander’s inclusion was based on the toss of a coin? Really?
Which then brings us to something else. Du Plessis reckoned that England had done ‘well’ to ‘only’ be four wickets down at the close of the first day’s play. He then argued that the final session on day two, when South Africa had been restricted to 61-7 before Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Rabada came together, is the hardest it can get for batting in Test cricket.
So, if England did well to lose only four wickets on the opening day, after winning the toss and batting in seamer-friendly conditions, Du Plessis said he would also have batted had he won the toss – to rest Philander – yet also felt the Proteas should have made more inroads into the England line-up? Surely England then too would have expected to similarly have South African against the ropes had they bowled? Something doesn’t add up.
By investing in a ‘50%’ Philander, South Africa also showed that they have a Test XI and are loathe to go outside of that line-up. Is it lack of faith in the back-up bowlers, or lack of depth in this Test squad? Whatever the case, it suggests the XI for the final Test will be the same as it was at The Oval, despite Chris Morris’ poor control of a swinging ball at The Oval.
There’s little time to reflect ahead of the final Test, apart to serve heaps of credit on Elgar and Bavuma and, if you had to ask me to name who I thought was third best in the match for South Africa, it would be Morne Morkel, who bowled so well with limited return.
And for those who made history with first-ballers in the same Test innings: Du Plessis, Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Morkel … that’s the game.
The greatest cricketer of all-time, and someone regarded as perhaps the greatest sportsperson of all time, Sir Don Bradman, got a first baller. On the way back to the shed, a cocky young fan stopped him. ‘Golden duck hey,’ and laughed.
The Don stopped and looked at the kid. ‘Sonny, have you ever been out first ball?’ The kid puffed out his chest in pride. ‘Never!’ Bradman replied, ‘Then, son, you’ve never played cricket.’
Photo: Philip Brown/Getty Images