South Africa v England, 3rd Test, Johannesburg, 3rd day January 16, 2016

South Africa, and the Wanderers, left stunned

The series arrived in Johannesburg with talk of South Africa having turned a corner, hope being renewed. In the space of three days - or, in fact, one Stuart Broad spell - that illusion was shattered
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Is de Villiers captaining a sinking ship?

The Wanderers wept. The grey clouds that were glued to the sky all day refused to join in but spitefully hung around to provide the perfect plate for England attack's to feast off. With the topping above and trimmings from a pitch snaked with cracks below, they feasted on a vulnerable line-up ripe for the picking.

South Africa are now, officially, no longer the No. 1 Test team although it had only felt like a notional tag for a few months. The team that really began the malaise, India, have now taken their place - although the rankings are a curious beast and likely to remain considerably fluid. There are a few sides jostling for the top berth, what is certain is that South Africa no longer demand it. They are a side infected by insecurities that stem from decisions taken beyond the boundary and which have now bled onto the Bullring.

The wound was opened where it was thought to have healed. Dean Elgar has batted with commendable resilience but was foxed by a slightly wider line from Stuart Broad, flirted with it and found the edge. The dismissal was a teaser of what was to come from a man who seems to be able to sniff when a moment is there to be seized, but when it happened it was just a symptom of a long-standing South African issue around their top-two.

That is what the Wanderers' chat would have been about. In the 11 innings before this one that Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl have opened together, van Zyl has been the first to fall. Understandably, that has put extra pressure on Elgar and understandably, there would come a day when Elgar would succumb to that.

It was in Broad's next over, when he got another delivery to move away late and lured van Zyl into an uncertain prod that the signs of something special showed. James Anderson put the chance down but van Zyl was rightly rattled. He has been playing to save his Test career since the start of the series, is low on confidence and that shot would only have unsettled him. The Wanderers did not sense it, the fans went on watching, but Alastair Cook did.

He kept Broad on even though his spell was already five overs long, albeit interrupted by lunch. Yesterday, AB de Villiers did not do the same thing with Hardus Viljoen and Kagiso Rabada. If de Villiers had dreamed he'd get a result like the one Cook did, he may have decided differently but hindsight applies to so much of what South Africa have done all week.

Would the change in captaincy be a catalyst for a cure? Had the corner be turned? No and yes. The change in captaincy appears to have added to the confusion coursing through South African veins and the corner was turned so sharply that South Africa capsized. They have now clearly reached the end of an era and they seem shellshocked by the speed at which it has taken place. Broad's spell served to underline that.

He felled the opposition captain with the best delivery of the day, one that jagged back sharply and took the inside-edge to remove de Villiers for a duck. The Wanderers was worried. In the next over, Hashim Amla, whose double hundred at Newlands promised so much, was brilliantly caught at short leg off the face of the bat and the Wanderers was very, very worried.

Even balls that could be dealt with, and Amla had actually played a fine stroke off the delivery that dismissed him, were getting wickets. And there were not many of those. Broad was tight around off stump, made it difficult for batsmen to decide whether to play or leave and found seam movement. At the other end, first Anderson and then Ben Stokes supported Broad by giving away little. South Africa were caged in.

When Temba Bavuma gloved one onto his stumps, the series was quickly slipping away. The Wanderers wished it wasn't so.

There was an audible irritation with what they were seeing. Most of the sell-out crowd had ignored the weather warning for rain through the day and turned up to watch. Most of them were South Africans. Among the 19,338 supporters were a group calling themselves AB's Babies, the Johannesburg version of Hashim's Army. Instead of beards, they wore adult diapers and baby carriers with dolls. They had a printed hymn sheet and their theme song, with punchline, "We love you AB," was sung to the tune of "Can't take my eyes off of you." Seems Broad felt the same way about the South Africans.

At 40 for 5, Faf du Plessis could see the funny side of all that when he dabbed a ball down beside him and picked it up to return to Broad only to be snarled at. Broad clearly did not want to share his toys and du Plessis was happy to laugh it off. But not for long.

Seven balls later, South Africa were freed of Broad but not their troubles. Dane Vilas went and with South Africa 45 for 6 and Chris Morris walking to the middle, their own Wanderers turned on them. The loudspeakers blasted what would otherwise have been words of encouragement. A song titled, We could be heroes which doesn't sound too bad except that it was the exact same song which played in the final over of the World Cup semi-final, a ball before Grant Elliott hit the six that shattered South Africa's dreams. The time for heroes had run out.

The chance for that was in the first innings, where all South Africa's batsmen got starts but none of them went on as Joe Root did. Even though South Africa clawed their way over 300, they always looked as though they were merely clinging on rather than controlling things the way they used to. They have looked that way throughout the series and Broad has been the cause of most of it. In Durban, he produced a searing spell on the second day and in Johannesburg, he made the Wanderers crowd watch their Proteas wilt.

In the end, there was a strange sense that things among South Africans were not as bad as they seemed. The team offered very few explanations for their performance. Perhaps the realities of a second successive series loss, which has not happened to South Africa in a decade since they were beaten home and away by Australia in 2006, and the extension of their longest winless streak which has now stretched to nine matches has not sunk in. It certainly hasn't among the supporters. The brass band played Hope Joanna as they led the crowd out of the ground but afterwards, in silence, the Wanderers wept.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • IanS48 on January 19, 2016, 11:46 GMT

    One of cricket's many adages is that 50% of cricket is played in the mind (some say it's 90%). It's obvious that de Villiers was surprised and unprepared for the captaincy and you wonder whether he had his own game plan. He must have drawn some comfort from the efficient way his bowlers finished England's tail - the last 4 wickets went for 44 runs, whereas SA's last 4 added 88 but, Amla excepted, was completely let down by his batsmen in the second innings, leaving nothing for the bowlers.

    He now has to put it all behind him and focus on the 4th Test. He's is the same position as Clarke was after the Australians were demolished by Broad at Trent Bridge. They went to the Oval and won by an innings and 46 runs. Clarke of course was finished but the rest of the team rallied round and delivered. Be interesting to see if the SA team can put it behind them and deliver for AB at Centurion.

  • Brokensaint on January 18, 2016, 19:10 GMT

    Sorry Arthur but that's his style. he is a big unit management in my view did the right thing by picking a pure fast bowler that's on form. his first innings was a bit off but that was jitters but the second stint he had pure venom. porker Abbot can't even crack 135 and he offers zero swing so I cannot for the life of me understand the logic of having a nothing bowler in the squad. not even sure why the bowlers are getting the whip when the batsman completely folded in one innings. how's it now viljoen morris and cos fault ? logic escapes some viewers it seems

  • Brokensaint on January 18, 2016, 19:05 GMT

    inducker that was said about Steyn too when he was picked if you can recall. I would rather chance my arm with a guy that cranks it at 148 kph than gun barrel Abbot that bores the batsman off the square with his customary porkers at 5 th stump. zero swing and predictable pace has made him ultra ineffective. viljoen has potential where Abbot peaked in his first test.

  • Arthur on January 18, 2016, 16:23 GMT

    Kallis, Smith, AB Steyn and later Philander were the core of the team - and rest of SA team hid behind the fact that they relied too heavily on these guys. Check the stats - these will probably reveal all. Now they can't hide anymore - and proves that some of the present team are not fit to play Test cricket. We can't hide behind the fact that the SuperSport series is not the be-all-and-end-all yardstick for Test cricket. So what to do? Nurture players in more structured fashion for Tests. Pick the best at Coca Cola weeks and start moulding them. Question: On what basis did Hardus Villjoen get into the squad? He looks overweight and seems like he is taking forever to get to the crease before sending down a delivery? What is going down with selection? Management seems totally impotent!

  • CricketingStargazer on January 18, 2016, 15:06 GMT

    I don't think that anyone doubts that South Africa will be back and stronger than ever in 2-3 years. How many people remember the grave articles writing the obituary of Australian cricket after England won 3 consecutive Ashes series? Things look black at the moment, but that tends to be the case when there is a generation change (people were laughing at the England side in mid-2014, struggling against India after losing to Sri Lanka at home). There were plenty of people writing the obituary of Indian cricket only a year ago and now they are No. 1 in Tests again. England know how soul-destroying and destructive a series like the India series is for a side: to come up against a hungry England team was not exactly the rehabilitation that South Africa needed.

  • tripple-Digits on January 18, 2016, 12:52 GMT

    My pride as a South African has not been dethroned. Proteas are still my no.1 team and its hard to swallow at the disgrace of this series defeat. We've been humiliated with our batting and our bowlers were smacked around in Durban and at Newlands and yet they continued in similar fashion at Wanderers. We bowl 4th stump and they leave the ball, get their eye in, settle and attack. Our batters slash at that very uncertainty that our bowlers try to create for the opposition and its proven our downfall. Its mind blowing why our coaching staff ..or shall I say our players cannot adjust on the pitch where it matters, to suss out the opposition. Furthermore, if Viljoen still needs intense guidance (according to commentators) on where to bowl with so much FC cricket behind his belt, I worry about the direction of our professional provincial cricketers. Surely their skills level should be as high to easily adjust to international cricket?! Temba Bavuma and Kagiso Radeba was impressive!

  • landl47 on January 18, 2016, 7:05 GMT

    It's not quite the end of an era for SA. The big 3, Amla, ABD and Steyn, might still have a couple of years left. That time must be used to develop new players, which with all due respect to him should not include Stephen Cook. He'll be retiring when they do and the idea is succession. Give Elgar, who's a tough nut, the captaincy and build a side around him, Rabada is a tremendous young bowler, but he's being given too much to do. One of the many problems with ABD's captaincy was bringing him back in England's second innings when he was exhausted and the game was already lost; that's the way to break his spirit and his health. QDK is a promising WK/batsman, but please don't suggest he opens. WKs, even the great Gilchrist, simply can't handle the work involved and it will ruin his batting (as an example, look how much better Bairstow is batting now he's where he belongs). Viljoen might be a decent bowler if he did a bit more running and ate a few less sausages.

  • 5wombats on January 18, 2016, 6:47 GMT

    Its called payback. The whole squad of wombats was at the Oval in 2012. It was sickening to watch England capitulate to South Africa. A match we'll never forget. Now the balance has been restored.

  • Inducker on January 18, 2016, 6:03 GMT

    Don't deny a lot is wrong with the SA including batting but the bowling is inexperienced and lost the initiative after being on top in 2 tests. Speed certainly can't be taught but if Atherton says this guy is fast but erratic it is a flyer to pick him in a series saving test. An erratic quick bowler throwing in the odd good ball may be disconcerting to franchise but not test batsmen. Why did Anderson who moves the ball a lot take few wickets. Yes he was coming back from injury but under those conditions he moves the ball too much. Pollock had the same problem in England. Philander (not quick) moves the ball slightly and takes lots of wickets if the wicket is not flat. Abbott who is more consistent might well have done well on that wicket. Sorry about your man I wish him a good future but a "lets bash Pommie on the nose " approach won't phase a professional rising team. Incidently have been following cricket for about 60 years.

  • Brokensaint on January 18, 2016, 4:40 GMT

    inducker it's his debut for crying out loud. you can't judge him on a one off test. he bowled with a lot more control in the second innings and showed a lot more penetration that old gun barrel Abbot. sorry Abbot is not test quality. apart from one test he has little to nothing to show.

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