England v South Africa, 3rd npower Test, Edgbaston, 3rd day August 1, 2008

Arthur: 'The game is on a knife-edge'


Andre Nel couldn't swing South Africa's fortunes in the second innings © Getty Images
 
South Africa's coach, Mickey Arthur, admitted he was "very, very disappointed" with his team's performance, on a day when their hopes of sealing an unassailable 2-0 series win, and with it their first triumph in England since 1965, were dented by Paul Collingwood's gritty hundred and a typically flamboyant and momentum-seizing 94 from Kevin Pietersen.

By the close of the third day, England had overturned a first-innings deficit of 83, and were handily placed on 297 for 6 - a lead of 214 and with Collingwood still unbeaten on 101. Despite at one stage reducing England to 104 for 4, South Africa's seamers let the ascendancy slip away in a performance that Arthur said was "simply not good enough".

"The game is on a knife-edge," said Arthur. "We had an opportunity today which we didn't take, which was disappointing. We've asked for patience, pressure, we asked for bowling in partnerships, and to bat in partnerships. We asked the guys to forget about outcomes, and unfortunately we forgot about everything we spoke about."

Despite their ten-wicket victory at Headingley, and the dominance they had enjoyed on the first two days of this match, South Africa are keenly aware of their record in England since their readmission to Test cricket. They've led in each of three series since 1994, and emerged with two draws and a loss in 1998.

"This is a team that's very desperate to win the series," said Arthur. "There's a lot of hunger, which is not a bad thing. It's a good thing. But the disappointment was tangible in the dressing room."

As Pietersen and Collingwood embarked on their momentum-changing stand, South Africa were devoid of a response with the ball - in particular their principal strike bowler, Morne Morkel, who was clubbed for 75 runs in 15 overs. He did, however, claim the wicket of Andrew Strauss, which was his 100th in first-class cricket - a tally that highlighted just how inexperienced he really is. "Morne's talent outweighs what we got today," said Arthur.

Arthur did, however, accept that Collingwood's innings, in the circumstances, was a remarkably composed performance. "He played fantastically well today," said Arthur. "He'd almost been written off, but he came out today and played unbelievably well, under a lot of pressure. Hats off to Colly, he played fantastically."

As for his own players, Arthur didn't try to pretend they had had anything other than a chastising day in the field. "The guys' heads did drop slightly," he said, "but there was a lot of emotional energy shown today, and not a huge amount of intelligent energy. We ran on emotion, and what we saw there were guys who were completely knackered mentally and physically, because they had an emotional drain today."

Even so, South Africa do have one silver lining as they pick up the pieces of their most disappointing day since the start of the series at Lord's - the second new ball is due in the very first over of the day, a prospect which Arthur described as a "gift". "We had a chat in the dressing room," he said, "and if it works, we will be set 250-60-70, and we believe we can get that. It is very evenly balanced tonight."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo