South Africa won by three wickets and kept the series alive by gaining an exciting victory with three minutes to spare. As at Lord's the South Africans built up a commanding position and this time they did not allow their advantage to slip. England fought hard, but once more poor catching proved their biggest weakness and they were deservedly beaten at Old Trafford for the first time in any Test since 1902. South Africa gained their third victory in England and their first at Old Trafford.
The game will be remembered for the astonishing number of mishaps to players on both sides, due largely to the fast, lively pitch which caused the ball to rise knuckle high throughout. Hand injuries were frequent, the worst being to Evans, who fractured the little finger of his right hand in two places while keeping wicket in the first innings. Graveney, who deputised behind the stumps, hurt a thumb while taking Tyson, and Compton, May and Cowdrey (England) and McGlew, Tayfield and Waite (South Africa) were others with hand troubles. In addition strains and mishaps worried Bailey and Tyson (England) and Heine and Keith (South Africa). Glorious sunshine on all five days provided Old Trafford with its best Test weather for many years, and the attendance of nearly 90,000 was the second highest in the history of the ground.
Alec Bedser returned to Test cricket, being brought in for Statham, who failed to pass a test on his strained stomach muscles the day before the match began. The selectors made three other changes from the Lord's side, including Cowdrey, Lock and Tyson (recovered from a heel injury) for Barrington, Wardle and Trueman. So not a Yorkshire or Lancashire player found a place in the team. South Africa were without their captain, Cheetham, recovering from the chipped elbow bone suffered in the second Test. Winslow replaced him and McGlew led the Test side for the first time.
When May won the toss for the third successive match England looked to have gained a big advantage, but as at Lord's the pitch first thing was a green top and they were soon struggling. In Adcock's second over Graveney fell to a catch at backward short leg and Kenyon, who never settled down, touched an outswinger to the wicket-keeper at 22. May showed splendid form from the start, but Compton began shakily and he almost gave catches off his first two scoring strokes. The third pair added 48 in an hour before May left and when Cowdrey followed five runs later England were 75 for four. Then Compton found his touch and with Bailey playing his usual reliable supporting game 144 runs came for the fifth wicket before Bailey, who batted for three hours, edged a catch shortly after Adcock took the new ball.
Only Lock of the other batsmen gave Compton much support. Compton, 155 at the end of the day, added only three more next morning. Batting five and a half hours he hit twenty-two 4's in his 158--a splendid fighting innings although not one of his best. Apart from the shaky start he offered chances when 58 and 115. The unevenness of England's innings can be seen from the score, seven batsmen making only nine runs between them. South Africa did well to dismiss England for under 300 and batting under somewhat easier conditions they built a substantial lead.
McGlew and Goddard led the way with an opening stand of 147, but the partnership should have been broken much earlier for both batsmen were missed, Goddard when 24 and McGlew when 68. England waited three and a quarter hours for their first success, but between tea and the close they captured four wickets. Shortly after Goddard left, McGlew, when 77, retired with a damaged right hand and Mansell, Endean and McLean were soon out.
Dropped catches proved disastrous to England. Keith, missed when eight, stayed to the close of the second day when South Africa with six wickets left, were 85 behind. First thing next morning Waite (then 15) offered a slip catch. Keith and Waite added 63 and then followed a stand of 171 between Waite and Winslow. Both men scored their first Test centuries and they set up a new South African record for the sixth wicket.
Winslow, who at times drove with great power, was dropped when 64 and he reached his hundred with a mighty straight hit for 6 over the sightscreen. Altogether he obtained three 6's and thirteen 4's while scoring 108 in three hours ten minutes. Waite took just over five and a half hours over his patient 113 which included twelve 4's. McGlew resumed his innings at the fall of the seventh wicket and at the close of the third day South Africa were 198 on with three wickets left. They increased their lead to 237 before declaring. Their total of 521 for eight was only 17 short of their best in all Tests. McGlew, who became the third man in the innings to reach a century, batted four hours forty minutes for his not out 104. Lock bowled extremely well without luck, but the others were completely mastered.
England's second innings again began disastrously, the opening pair, Kenyon and Graveney, both being out at two. Then a glorious stand by May and Compton halted South Africa's progress. Both showed their best form in adding 124 in 105 minutes. Compton, batting as well as he had ever done in his most successful days, hit twelve 4's in 71 and twenty-one boundaries came during this partnership. Cowdrey, missed at slip when 6, helped May in another good stand of 108. May hit his second century in successive Tests and his 117, made in four and a half hours, included sixteen 4's.
When the final day began England, with six wickets left, stood 13 ahead. The remaining batsmen tried their best to play for time until the last pair came together. Cowdrey defended resolutely for just over four hours for 50, Lock, sent in as overnight stop gap, stayed an hour and a quarter and Bailey again showed stern defence. Even so, South African looked like gaining an easy victory when the ninth wicket fell at 333. Then Evans, with his fractured finger in plaster, joined Bailey and there followed a thrilling last stand of 48 of which Evans made 36. Despite his injury he hit powerfully and two of his seven 4's were almost 6's. Bailey remained unbeaten for nearly three hours.
South Africa needed 145 to win in two and a quarter hours and the excitement continued. They went for the runs from the start and after two wickets had fallen for 23, McGlew and McLean hit 72 in fifty minutes, McLean's share being 50 which contained one 6 and seven 4's. England continued to fight well and four more wickets, including that of McGlew, were soon captured. South Africa wanted 10 with three wickets left. Waite, cover-driving Tyson for 4, made the winning hit off the third ball of what must have been the last over but one.