South Africa v England, 5th Test, Centurion January 26, 2005

Too little do or die costs South Africa



Graeme Smith: not quite enough do or die? © Getty Images

The draw at Centurion which secured England's 2-1 series win was hailed as an achievement by the English media, although they acknowledged that South Africa ended the match on top. The question several people asked was why the South Africans had been so negative on the final day when they should have been pressing for victory.

"Conservatism is a national trait, though before the previous Test in Johannesburg, Graeme Smith described himself as a 'do-or-die captain'," wrote Derek Pringle in the Daily Telegraph. "There was not much evidence of either here, except for spectators expiring with boredom as Jacques Kallis, his third hundred of the series safely in the bag, executed yet another perfect forward defence. Smith had been struck on the head during fielding practice since his 'do-or-die' statement. So he had probably forgotten making it."

Indeed, Kallis was singled out by many papers as the real villain of the piece, with his unbeaten hundred generally considered to owe more to his desire to boost his own average than secure his team victory.

"Red ink, grumbled the locals, cricketers' vernacular for a batsman concentrating on an undefeated knock," said Mike Selvey in The Guardian. "When Smith's declaration came, Kallis had spent getting on for five hours over his unbeaten 136, 90 minutes of which was spent over the final 34 runs." And Angus Fraser in The Independent endorsed that view, adding that "this display did little to rid him of his reputation of being a selfish cricketer".



Michael Vaughan basks in the glory © Getty Images

South Africa's cautious approach cost them, agreed Simon Briggs in the Daily Telegraph, explaining that while they were rampant in the final session, they were also rushed. "It was not only the rain that had eaten up their overs, but the unambitious batting that kept their run rate yesterday around four per over. South Africa may be as hard as hobnails, but they are just as inflexible."

"The South Africans provided a deeply satisfying enemy to beat: short of humour and irony and, critically, short of adventure," commented Simon Barnes in The Times. "That slightly plonking, begrudging nature of the team gives them strength, but in the end it cost them a series victory. They were so anxious to concede nothing that they became too mean to give themselves a chance of victory."

But, he continued, it had been an enthralling series, "not something we have watched; rather, something we have lived with. A one-day game is like a nice film -- briefly satisfying, but seldom remaining long in the memory. A good Test match is like a good novel -- a much more powerful and enduring experience."

Elsewhere in The Times, Christopher Martin-Jenkins agreed. "Throughout there was breathless, fluctuating, committed competition of the kind that makes Test cricket the nonpareil of team sport."

Closer to home, the South African media were a little less critical. "Smith was in an 'up yours' mood yesterday, and stayed belligerent until the very last, refusing to concede defeat even when it was tapping him on the shoulder and saying 'Ahem'," wrote Kevin McCallum in the Star. "You would expect Smith and Ray Jennings to have matching tattoos that say: 'Defeat sucks.' But then, all of the players who have come under Jennings have had the words 'energy' and 'passion' imprinted on their souls by the man."

"South Africa can never be accused of not fighting," concluded Adrian Ephraim in the same paper. "They may have been beaten, but they have fighting spirit by the bucketful."