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The route to a draw in this Test was not clearly charted, as both teams sought victory as well as a psychological advantage for the rest of the series
Firdose Moonda at Headingley
August 6, 2012
There are winning draws and losing draws. There are boring draws and exciting ones. There are draws that invoke frustrations and elicit criticisms with Test cricket that, unlike the telephone, typewriter and light bulb, it has not evolved enough from its 19th century beginnings. Then there are draws like Headingley 2012.
It proved the modern game is every bit as analytical and tactical as it needs to be to fit into times it has been told it cannot keep up with and that a contest, when properly kindled, will burst into flames at just the right time.
Although the speed at which the match moved on the final day - 13 wickets, two different innings and all three results still possible until the final hour - was fascinating, the maze of mind games that took place during it will be the legacy of this fixture, because there was no clear winner. For every question England asked of South Africa, someone had an answer. For every answer, England had another question. Just when South Africa thought they had answered all the questions, one more came.
Stuart Broad asked it when he plucked five wickets from South Africa's middle and lower order. In the context of the game, those wickets only hastened what Graeme Smith was aiming to do anyway: end the South Africa innings. But they would have added volumes in confidence to an England attack which, until then, did not look as though they could bowl South Africa out twice.
That Smith did not allow them to do that, consciously or subconsciously, by declaring when South Africa lost their ninth wicket could be one of the factors that plays on England minds ahead of Lord's. While South Africa's attack have taken 20 wickets in a match this series, England have not.
By putting England back in, Smith also took the obvious result, a draw, folded it up, tucked it under his arm and ran around the corner with it, leading England into a labyrinth he hoped they would get lost in. It would have taken a performance of the magnitude of England's Cardiff efforts against Sri Lanka last year - and batting as inept as the tourists' was that day - for that to have happened but Smith believed it was possible.
He laid down a marker of intent, however unlikely victory was, with his second positive declaration in as many matches. He may even argue that he came closer than Andrew Strauss to achieving what seemed impossible. "We wanted an opportunity to win the Test match and in the end, we were probably one wicket away from having a real go in the last 15 overs," Smith said.
With a bowling attack as varied and charged up as South Africa's - Dale Steyn bowled what could be the fastest spell of the series - Smith thought he had the trap laid. But Strauss could read the map too and played his ace in Kevin Pietersen at the top of the order. It was just what Smith wanted. "England took the game to us, which I was kind of hoping they would do, because it would give us chances," Smith said. "When someone is playing like Pietersen there is always an opportunity."
Opportunity came four times in the second innings as the beauty of the game unfolded like a spring flower and the balance shifted. England did not give up the chase until Matt Prior's run-out and South Africa did not stop trying to take wickets until Jacques Kallis' last delivery. Given more time, more runs, more overs and less rain, the result may have been something other than a draw.
Even though it was, the draw did not struggle out like the last drops from a tap. It was a draw that held attention the way a burst pipe does, because in the space of a few balls the gush could have caused damage on either side. It was a draw that captivated and thrilled at the end because it had been built on a solid, although not always eye-catching, start and both teams deserve credit and praise for their role in that.
|"The ECB clearly needs to talk about and with Kevin Pietersen, while South Africa can sit on the other side and continue to play happy families"|
To pick the side that just inched forward after the five days is not the easiest task. England came back, not as strongly as they promised they would, but they came back nonetheless. South Africa stretched an unenviable record and have not won the follow-up Test after a big victory in their last seven attempts, dating back to 2010. This time, it was not for lack of trying, so they may draw some inspiration from that.
What could provide the real impetus is the schadenfreude they may derive from glancing over the fence and peeping at what is going on next door. They don't even have to look actually, they can just listen because the neighbours are causing such a ruckus.
The ECB clearly needs to talk about and with Kevin Pietersen, as his increasing number of issues with playing for his country seem to have no end. South Africa can sit on the other side and continue to play happy families.
From a distance it seems not even the sharpest blade could slice the squad apart. Fringe players such as Faf du Plessis have spoken about how they have been made to feel welcome and been embraced into the team culture. No-one is threatening anything, nevermind something as dramatic as what Pietersen is stirring up on the other side.
The three walking wounded are on the mend. Alviro Petersen batted, despite his hamstring strain, and should be fully fit within six days. Smith's knee is strapped but healing and Kallis batted and bowled, having fully overcome his back spasms.
It may be a quaint notion but South Africa's mental edge in the final Test could come from being completely at peace, while their opposition seem to be readying for a big battle with themselves.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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