England in South Africa 2009-10 January 18, 2010

Shared spoils of a memorable contest

History suggested it was going to be a tight series, and in the end 1-1 felt like the right result. You can understand why South Africa felt they should have won, maybe by as much as three Tests to one, but England's resilience played such a part in makin

History suggested it was going to be a tight series, and in the end 1-1 felt like the right result. You can understand why South Africa felt they should have won, maybe by as much as three Tests to one, but England's resilience played such a part in making it a memorable contest that a share of spoils is fair.

It is a shame that controversy over the review system enveloped the final Test, but as with the ball-tampering saga at Newlands, high-quality cricket ensured the on-field action was never completely overshadowed. Throughout the four Tests there was barely a passage of play that failed to grab the attention, and with series like this the five-day game shouldn't be in danger.

That, of course, remains in the hands of the administrators but, whatever format they come up with for the future structure of Test cricket, it is imperative to ensure that the top teams compete against each other regularly and over long enough series for the full narratives of the game to emerge. It's a blessing that South Africa are now playing two Tests in India, but the BCCI only added those after their team became No. 1 in the world. That series will have just got going, and then it will end.

"The last ten Tests we have played have been against top Test nations and it's been competitive," Graeme Smith said. "That's what people want to watch and if you have top teams playing each other it's going to ebb and flow. It's a credit to both teams how the series has been played and it has been great for the game."

To watch Graeme Swann, an offspinner, play such a key role in the series showed an old art-form is very much alive, while the sight of two quick bowlers, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, making batsmen hop around was a highlight of the series. That had a lot to do with the Wanderers' pitch which certainly wasn't a minefield, as some had predicted, but was just a sporting Test surface. More of them, please.

"It was a good Test wicket, it offered everyone something," Smith said. "It spun, it had pace and bounce for the seamers and good batters got runs. I don't think it played nearly as badly as it was built up to be before the game. It was nice to have a wicket that didn't fade away towards the back end of the game."

Both teams ended the series with feelings of what might have been. Smith wasn't shy at saying his team could have won 3-1 if they'd managed to twice dismiss England's No. 11 Graham Onions, while Strauss was left to ponder a missed opportunity to add a huge feather to his cap.

The battle ended how many people expected it to be from the outset with South Africa's strong batting outperforming England's inconsistent top order and the home side's pace attack proving too hot to handle. However, England provided some of the most unexpected elements of the series. Swann ended as the leading wicket-taker in a country where spin has rarely excelled, Paul Collingwood continued his resurgence, Ian Bell found a backbone and Onions twice fought off final overs.

"It's been a great tour to be on," Andrew Strauss said. "The players have applied themselves exceptionally well; the work ethic has been good; it's been fun and we've got a lot of good memories to go home with."

Memories, but no Basil D'Oliveira trophy. That stays with South Africa who showed signs of emerging from their 2009 slump at the start of the new decade. Makhaya Ntini's career appears to be over - although no-one is quite willing to make the final call just yet - but in Wayne Parnell they have one the most exciting young talents in the world.

Still, there is no one around to replace Ntini's cultural significance in the team, and that's a worry in these parts. However, there are also other issues to solve. They need to find an opening partner for the immense Smith, JP Duminy's star has fallen from its early exalted heights, and they don't have a match-winning spinner. South Africa's next challenge comes in India, against the team who took their top ranking, and that will provide a tough examination of their squad depth.

"It's a whole new world touring India. Not many teams go there and prove to be successful," Smith said. "Last time we were there we drew the series 1-1 and we've got a few challenges going into those conditions to perform well. A good aggressive mindset going into India is always crucial. We'll prepare well, but it's been quite a heavy summer so it's important that the guys recover then we can switch on for India."

For England it's a couple of weeks off then the one-day squad leaves for Dubai and onward to Bangladesh before a Test series in March. It won't be a full-strength party, but they need to be aware of taking their opponents lightly. Bangladesh have just served notice by making life tough for India's awesome batting line-up. England, despite sharing a series they were expected to lose, are not in a position to take anything for granted.

And here's one final thought. Under an agreement signed in 2008, England-South Africa series were meant to be guaranteed a five-match 'icon' status. The packed international calendar and other commitments for both teams precluded that, but imagine if next week the road show had moved on for a decider. Now that would have been a humdinger.

Cricinfo composite XI 1 Graeme Smith (capt), 2 Alastair Cook, 3 Hashim Amla, 4 Jacques Kallis, 5 Paul Collingwood, 6 Ian Bell, 7 Mark Boucher (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Graeme Swann, 10 Dale Steyn, 11 Morne Morkel.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Des on January 19, 2010, 14:46 GMT

    Good points in the article but a bizarre conclusion. Even Andrew Strauss said England were outplayed for much of the series.As an Englishman , I found the optimism that it would be close entering the series baffling despite South Africa's rustiness. Our press always encourage high expectations for both our football and cricket teams after a few unconvincing wins.

    I said after the second Test that I still believed SA to be much the better team and I believe they proved it. There are plenty of positives for England and at least we might not roll over in Aus but a bit of realism would be welcome.

  • Vleis on January 19, 2010, 8:13 GMT

    Plod. Your inadequate grasp of the English language is causing the confusion. First, you must understand what the word 'choke' means and then reassess your argument. Choke means to fail to perform when the pressure is highest due to a failure of nerves. SA lost at home v Oz because they rested on their laurels and did not prepare properly, plus they got the worst of the batting conditions (esp Durban) and due to M Johnson having the best spell of his career. Oz was simply better at the time - SA did not choke. On the other hand, the pressure was highest in the recent series in the final test, as it was in your Ashes series....and I don't think I need to remind you what the results of said final tests were do I? Also, when SA was in a similar position away against England they won....and then they chased down 414 in Oz to stuff them on their own patch. That is performing under pressure!...and all with a tenth of the resources that Oz has.

  • Alex on January 19, 2010, 5:50 GMT

    To even suggest that this series was even is ridiculous. South Africa dominated England and England were extremely fortunate not to loose.

  • Beau on January 19, 2010, 5:23 GMT

    Vleis - I don't think 'choke' is the right word either - Pakistan's effort in the second test against Australia is the new benchmark for choking.

    But as to your earlier point, re: averages - England just won back the ashes despite apparently being out-batted, out-bowled, out-fielded, and generally out-cricketed by the whinging Aussies ("Whah! - pitches, lbws, umpires, etc, etc, etc...").

    When are we going to accept that England have found a way to compete with the top sides (finally!), despite facing seemingly insurmountable on-paper odds, and congratulate them for it?

  • Greg on January 19, 2010, 0:43 GMT

    Vlies, well you seem to have forgotten the last home series against Australia. 2-1 wasn't it? Against our revamped side, how would your lot be if you took out BOUCHER, KALLIS, AB DEVILLIERS AND GRAEME SMITH? Not to mention the World Cups you have choked. I seem to remember we beat England 5 blot at home! England 1-1 at home very ordinary. Australia reacts vastly different to any other country, we don't sook, whinge or moan after the ashes. So England beat us at home, big deal, back home, WI and Paki's, 6 tests, 5 victories, including the stunner at Sydney, how many test playing nations could have achieved that? The ICC ranking system is a dud, India are no.1 based on home performances, not away results. With the talent that SA has got you should be consistently No.1 but they say cricket is a game played between the ears. Well VLIES, there is a lot of vacant space in South Africa!!

  • Tim on January 19, 2010, 0:08 GMT

    I agree with Vleis in many respects: 1-1 flatters England, who were very ordinary for much of the series. Their batting was particularly brittle, and KP's fragile ego has been badly exposed, quite understandably, by an hostile crowd. In general, SA also looked lethargic and chronically underachieved, taking way way too long to get out of first gear. Then there is the concern of persistent failure from key players. The Proteas need to maintain the momentum somehow from the last test and get into the habit of winning again. Smith's reaction says it all, and naturally as a Saffer, I share his disappointment at not being able to hammer in the final nails in the drawn tests. He perhaps needs to take a long hard look at his own conservative captaincy for answers.

  • Benjamin on January 18, 2010, 23:14 GMT

    I'm not sure where to rate England to be honest? SA are a far superior team and were that for most of series bar the 2nd test. Had SA had a fully fit team from the first test I'd say they would have won easily. Gnasher has his rose coloured glasses on and will always pump the Poms up.

    As an opposition player, seeing Paul Collingwood walk to the crease must bring a smile to their faces. He might have reinvented himself but he's rarely going to win games for his side. He's a plodder and his lack of attack in the first innings hinders their game. His slow tempo builds pressure on his batting partner to score. He made runs, very slow runs mind you, when trying to save games. His last knock of 71 contained a lot of luck and he went down swining and got a few free runs.

    Look at the 2007 Ashes he scored the worst 200 a person could watch and they still lost the test. Yes SK Warne was in the side but he rarely sets games up.

    1-1 isn't a fair reflection at all, 2-1 or more likely 3-1

  • Mahek on January 18, 2010, 23:10 GMT

    Taking a cheap shot at the BCCI again, are we? Who cares if it was CSA that asked to scrap the test series in India because of a packed schedule? Let's just pile it on to the BCCI.

  • Vleis on January 18, 2010, 16:40 GMT

    Not sure why MightyMax thinks that SA choked.<p> SA was unable to bury England due to rustiness, bad luck, placid pitches, out-of form players, players returning from injury, lacking a decent spinner, etc....but not due to choking.<p> Indeed, SA started the final test under massive pressure from the media and public not to lose the Basil d'Oliviera trophy to England...and then the weather made life even more difficult....but they came through to thoroughly demolish England, whose two innings barely lasted one full day's cricket. That is performing under pressure.<p>Choking is not being able to defend 414 in the 4th innings at home, or losing the ashes decider after coming in on a high after walloping England in the penultimate game of the series.<p> If anything, this series showed that SA does not have great depth...but we already knew that as: a) our cricket playing population is tiny compared to England and Oz; and b) half of said tiny population leaves to play in England anyway.

  • Vineet on January 18, 2010, 16:02 GMT

    Well, it was an interesting series. England played better than expected, but I have to agree with some of the comments here. Without Swann, England would have definitely lost the series. South Africa deserved to win it 2-1. Anyways, it was engrossing cricket, so no complaining there. Let there me more test matches!

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