The sun is out, Hashim Amla is batting, all is right with the world. Earlier things were bad, the day before the pitch was hinting at disastrous things to come, this morning some of them seemed to be happening. But not now, now it looks calm, comfortable. If you are a particularly optimistic South African fan, you may even believe your team can get home.

Amla is dancing on sunbeams down the wicket to hit Moeen Ali for six. He's reverse-sweeping him to change the field to one he likes. And he's using his regular method to keep Moeen out.

Years ago, Amla and other South African right handers, started moving right across the crease to offspin when it pitched outside off stump, nullifying lbw chances by moving most of their pads outside the line. They only had to worry about the very straight balls, which were leg side to them, and they generally turned them away to back square for one.

Amla's average against offspin coming into this series was 65. The way he plays offspin works. For most of one session it did, and it looked great, but nothing good lasted for South Africa on this tour.


South Africa had won their last four Test series; they won none of the three they played before that. And it was during a crushing ODI win against Sri Lanka earlier this year that they announced they were opening up the coaching position again.

They announced while they were winning that their coach who had helped them win, was going to have to reapply for his job. None of that makes sense. It got worse. A few days before the deadline to apply, Russell Domingo hadn't applied.

He finally did, but quite early on it was clear he was not the man they wanted to keep. So Domingo became the dead coach coaching. And as if it wasn't bad enough, he had to go home during the series as his mother passed away. And then to top it all off it seemed like the next coach was leaked to the press, and not only was it not going to be Domingo, but Ottis Gibson, who was in the opposition changing room.


There was a ball from Stuart Broad that moved so violently off the pitch it that it should have come with a Not Safe For Work warning. Heino Kuhn was as close to this ball as he was opening for the Stones.

Kuhn's first over looked like a slow-motion car accident. He chased a wide one that he shouldn't have even dreamed about. He was aiming one through the leg side that somehow ended up missing the stacked slip field. And then Anderson bowled him a golden unicorn ball that angled into middle stump and then swung away to miss the edge and off stump like it was allergic to wood.

Kuhn could barely run with his strapped up hamstring (though he doesn't run much anyway, he just plays and misses, and hits fours). At the other end, Dean Elgar had his possibly broken finger looked after with an extra bit of protection. Before some deliveries, he would shake his hand as subtly as he could and then grip the bat. Kuhn got smashed on the hip from one that flew back at him. Elgar was hit it was on the arm.

It is hard to blame South Africa's best bowler for not bowling even better. Morkel beat the bat, but he just couldn't beat England

South Africa were completely under attack. The ball was chainsaw-wielding maniac, and South Africa were just running barefoot through the woods at night, hoping they could get away.

They couldn't, Broad and Anderson are too good. Elgar, then Kuhn and finally Temba Bavuma are out by lunch. Their best batsmen on this tour, their new opening hope and their gritty fighter are all gone. Somehow it almost feels like they have done well only to be 40 for 3.

You know things are dark when a score like that feels anything more than a complete and utter failure. But South Africa did fight; they just weren't good enough.


Dale Steyn has never had a great Test series in England. He has only ever played in five Tests, and averages just over 30 in them. Which, for him, is poor. This summer, with the ball swinging and seaming, he could have been terrifying. Instead he's recovering from a shoulder injury.

If his loss is unfortunate, the loss of AB de Villiers is gutting.

AB de Villiers averages 54 in England. And, he's AB de Villiers. He's Neo from the Matrix; he doesn't make batting look easy, he decoys the entire universe and makes it bend to his very well. Him not being in this team is a crime against cricket.

De Villiers' absence is very much a sign of modern cricket economics, and it's not just him. There are a bunch of Kolpaks who are also not playing for South Africa.

Kyle Abbott has English experience, a seven-wicket haul against them, and would have been an ideal player to be in this squad. He probably would have played a couple of the Tests. And that's just the star player, that's not including the many players who because of economics and politics have had to come to England for a career and weakened the pool of South African cricket.

Not to mention that South Africa are still trying to work out how to fill the tremendously big gaping hole Jacques Kallis left in their team. This team turned up missing vital organs.


Morne Morkel beats the bat; he beats the bat a lot. In this series, CricViz think he beat the bat 90 times. According to them: "Typically, fast bowlers in England have 3.50 plays and misses per outside edge; Morkel in this series 5.71."

Morkel has also worked out how to torment Alastair Cook. He moved the ball over and over again, at pace, with bounce. Many players say when Morkel is like this, he's the hardest to face in the world. It's just that he isn't like this that often.

It wasn't that long ago he was out of the side. At times the man with the idiosyncratic pre-run up superstitious semi-circle looks like he's not just present. And if there was ever a tour he was going to struggle, you'd think it would be one where Steyn wasn't there, Vernon Philander was sick and then gone, and Abbott was playing for Hampshire.

But that never happened, Morkel stood every bit as tall as he actually is.

The real problem was that even though he was good - 19 wickets at 26 - he wasn't great. He took no five-wicket hauls; there was heaps of menace, but not buckets of wickets. He was fuller than he usually is, but maybe not full enough. Or perhaps it was just luck. One of those things. His good balls were so good they couldn't be nicked. Magic pixie dream balls.

The bowlers might not have always been perfect, but they were not the major part of the problem, and it is hard to blame the best bowler for not bowling even better. Morkel beat the bat, but he just couldn't beat England.


In the last two years the global average for a No. 3 is 39.77. In the last two years Amla averages 41.17 batting at No. 3. He is just a tiny bit better than average. Of the top six run-scorers in that time, he is the only one to average less than 50; Kane Williamson averages over 60, Steven Smith over 70.

The natural thing to suggest is that Amla has lost the magic he had before, but he just made over 400 runs in the IPL at 60. It is a different kind of cricket, against different opposition, but it's hard to argue the magic is gone when he's painting T20 masterpieces all over the place.

Faf du Plessis is now 43 Tests into his career and he's never gone beyond 137. For a man with such incredible patience, he has not used that when making the sort of innings that South Africa was known for only a short time ago. He has only made two hundred in his last 24 Tests. Since taking over the captaincy, he's been much better, averaging 48 over his last 14 Tests. But he's still not making a huge impact.

And most importantly he's not stepped up to No. 4. At No. 4 this series has been the perennial underachiever: JP Duminy, Temba Bavuma, the fighter with one Test hundred and an average of 31, and Quinton de Kock, the prodigy who's batted in seven positions in 23 Tests.

It is hard to see how Bavuma is ready to bat at four or how Duminy should be in the team, let alone at four. And de Kock came into this series averaging 51 and being a genuine match-winner. Against England he managed only 23 and batted at eight, five, four and six. It was a miracle he knew when to enter the ground.

All this while du Plessis stands stoically at his chosen No. 5.


In the middle session, du Plessis was a quality wingman to Amla. It was Amla you watched, fell in love with, but du Plessis was stable. He was never completely born to be a star, but as a back-up, partner, number two, the guy to draw you the match, he's shown how good he can be.

Du Plessis turned the strike over very well against the quicks, scored at better than a run a ball against Toby Roland-Jones, and swept Moeen. He did his job; Amla was even better at the other end. And these two, who have only ever had two century partnerships, despite looking like they were made for each other, are now racing past their third.

Their partnership is the kind that turns into something big, special. They change the direction of the game, make the bowlers try new things, conquer the ghosts of the pitch and have the opportunity to make something extraordinary. If there are two people in South Africa, or even the world, better suited to this, it's hard to think of them.

They have a coach who is compromised, stars that aren't here, an out of form batting line-up, a weakened squad, and Du Plessis wasn't even playing in the first game. And at 2-1 down they have one last chance, one last man, who can save this for them.

Du Plessis faces four balls after tea. The last one is wide, he plants his feet, swings hard, and only gets the ball as far as the wicketkeeper. He finishes with 61, it wasn't bad, or enough. Faf was good for a while; he wasn't good for long enough.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber