South Africa vs. England, Fourth Test, Day 4 – The Final Cut

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The end came quickly for South Africa after their batsmen at least showed some application and fight in what was always likely to a forlorn cause chasing a World Record score to tie the series. Rassie van der Dussen led the way for the home team with a battling 98 that included some very decent stroke play and whilst England were never truly in trouble of losing the game, the odd doubt might have started to creep into the mind of more than one overly pessimistic England fan. The most disappointing thing for South Africa was that all of their batsmen made a start without being to push on and stick with van der Dussen though it must be said that Bavuma got an unplayable snorter from Broad whilst Faf after engaging in a bit of argy bargy with Buttler, got a ball that cruelly kept low. When De Kock got out trying to have a mow at Mark Wood the game had already gone by that point. South Africa were well beaten by that point and they knew it.

For England and Joe Root in particular, this has been as important series win as it has been for a while for England, despite South Africa looking particularly weak. To overcome a series of injuries alongside illness which affected the whole touring party and still win in South Africa is testament to some newly found fortitude and both Root and Silverwood should both be highly praised for instilling this. I also thought Root’s captaincy was far better than he has shown previously with him refusing to let the game drift or chasing the ball as he has done previously. England were inventive in the field with both their bowling changes and fielding positions without being funky for the sake of being funky and were often able to come up with a plan for many of the South African batsmen, with the dismissal of van der Dussen today a prime example even if it was a rotten shot from a batsman obviously distracted by the nervous 90’s. It does help when you can throw the ball to Ben Stokes when you’re desperately searching for a wicket mind.

There have been plenty of positives too for England with Ollie Pope, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Dom Bess all being young players who have put their hands up this series. Now is certainly not the time to go over the top in their praise as they are all still raw and not without the odd technical fault, but there is promise there and it was encouraging to see them do this away from the conditions that they are most used to. All of the above will have peaks and troughs over the next couple of years, but England will be happy that there is young talent coming through from the much maligned county ranks. Naturally one of the biggest positives aside from Ben Stokes being fantastic, is the re-emergence of Mark Wood, who has bowled with fire and purpose for the last two Tests after many of us, myself included, felt that we would never see him play in an England shirt again. The fact that Wood has got himself fit again after so many horrible injuries and has lengthened his run up is very promising; however the caveat is whether England can keep him fit and certainly there is a strong case for wrapping him up in cotton wool for the next couple of years (I wouldn’t have him tour Sri Lanka). If we can manage his workload and get 7-8 Tests out of him over the next 2 years, then I’ll be incredibly happy, but again this is very much in the lap of the gods. I hope for Wood’s sake that he has seen the worst of the injuries now as he is a joy to watch and is obviously an immensely popular member of the dressing room. There are negatives of course to come of out of the series, but that is for another time, it’s hard enough to win away from home and so England should be proud for winning in South Africa, even if their team resembled nothing like the South African teams of the not so distant past.

As for South Africa, I genuinely fear for them in the short to medium term (and maybe even longer). I appreciate no proud South African fan wants sympathy from an England fan, but it’s hard not to have sympathy for the fans. The South African board has spent far too much time arguing with local journalists and overseeing a T20 tournament that nearly bankrupted them than doing their job and concentrating on matters on the pitch. It is also not South Africa’s fault that some of the richer counties can go and sign some of South Africa’s best up and coming players or players coming towards the end of their careers as kolpak’s with higher wages on offer than they can receive playing for the Test team. I can’t blame the players for wanting to ensure their financial stability as you only have a short career as a cricketer; however it does leave a bitter taste in the mouth and has bled the South African team of their better talent leaving the domestic cupboard dry. It’s also clear that things are going to get worse before they get better with Philander retiring after this game and Faf and Elgar likely to follow suit fairly quickly. This could be a really rough few years for this side and I fear that without better governance and investment in the sport, we could be seeing a repeat of what has happened to the West Indies over the past 10 years. I genuinely hope this isn’t the case as Test Cricket needs a strong South African team, but the omens aren’t looking good.

I’d also like to say a quick word on Vernon Philander, who retired from international cricket today and is going to take up a kolpak role at Somerset. This series was probably one too far for Big Vern, but he has been a great servant to South African cricket over the years. He also helped dispel the myth that you need to bowl 90mph to be successful in international cricket as it was rare that he ever reached the 80mph mark; however his control of the ball and consistent line and length ensured that you could never relax when facing him and his record with the ball (and with the bat) shows what a good cricketer he was. Sure you can’t match the excitement of a genuinely fast bowler charging in and hurling it in and 90mph, but there is still a place in every Test team for a genuinely accurate pace bowler. He will be missed.

As ever, appreciate any thoughts or opinions on the game or series below.