At Johannesburg, January 14-16, 2016. England won by seven wickets. Toss: South Africa. Test debut: G. C. Viljoen. On a riotous third afternoon at the Wanderers, South Africa were torn apart by England's seam attack in front of a local crowd that turned from raucous to stunned across 33 overs of unchecked mayhem. The passage sealed England's first overseas series win since December 2012. And, as so often, it was Broad who flicked the switch, claiming five or more wickets in a single Test spell for the seventh time, and passing Bob Willis's tally of 325 to become England's third-highest wicket-taker.
But, just as it had been at Trent Bridge against Australia the previous August, this was emphatically a team effort: Broad's brilliance was buttressed by insistent fast bowling at the other end, and inspired close catching. Their fielding had been mercurial throughout the series but, as befits this unusually daring impression of an England side, when they were good, they were damn well irresistible.If identifying clutch moments, and being able to turn it on accordingly, was a sign of a team's class, then this one, in the words of Trevor Bayliss, had it in them to become"something special".
Indeed it was England's routinely taciturn head coach who chose the lunch break on the third day to administer what Cook called a "kick up the arse". The game was on a knife-edge: South Africa were six runs ahead, with all ten second-innings wickets in hand; by tea, they were 71 for eight.Broad's innate sense of theatre has arguably made him England's most potent match-winner of the last decade. First he discerns the moment, then he dictates the rhythm. His six wickets here, including a spell of five for one in 31 balls - and four successive wicket maidens - left South Africa in tatters after they had progressed to 23 without loss. Even the one run was a struggle: van Zyl was almost caught by a diving Anderson at second slip, the ball ricocheting away for a single. In all, Broad - who at one point had figures of 3.4-1-13-0 - claimed six for four in 51 deliveries. The home fans had turned up in good numbers and were in even better voice, the din bouncing around the amphitheatre all the way up to the gods.
Through the morning session they had danced for Rabada, whose maiden five-for heralded the arrival of a beautiful new talent. But by dusk they had traipsed away, their day ruined by Broad, who smiled, mid-carnage, at their insistence that he resemble a banker, or something similar.South Africa's main chance of setting any kind of target lay with Amla. His successor as captain, de Villiers, had just gone for nought, feathering an inside edge to the keeper to make it 31 for three. Now Amla whipped the ball meatily off his pads but, by the time he had completed his shot, a miniature white blur was already scampering across the pitch into the arms of his team-mates. From connection to catch, which Taylor - standing slightly deeper at short leg because of the extra bounce - took down by his bootlaces, just 0.41 seconds had elapsed.
It was freakish, and Taylor somehow repeated the trick six overs later, springing to his right to take a one-handed catch and see off Vilas. It was one of those crazed passages of play that have come to define this England side.Edges were sought and found, chances sniffed and snaffled, the series settled in 167 minutes. Appropriately it was Broad who finished things off, diving full-length to take a one-hander after du Plessis had edged a heave into his pads, and the ball ballooned back towards the bowler. South Africa were all out for 83, their second-lowest total sincere admission, behind 79 against India at Nagpur seven weeks earlier.A hapless scene echoed the chaos which had engulfed their preparations. On the eve of the match, their young keeper-batsman Quinton de Kock had twisted his knee walking his Jack Russells, necessitating a call-up for Vilas; he arrived halfway through the opening session.
And so, as the players geared up for fielding practice, and the captains assessed conditions on the first morning, Vilas was on the 8.40 flight from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg, hoping to arrive in time for his first home Test.Other, more sinister stories were doing the rounds. It's impossible to say whether the rumours surfacing about match-fixing in South Africa's domestic Ram Slam T20 Challenge affected the Test team's state of mind, but a sense of self-inflicted collapse was in the air:first in the media box, where murmurs would crystallise into an official statement,confirming that Gulam Bodi - who had played three limited-overs internationals for South Africa in 2007 - had been charged with "contriving to fix, or otherwise improperly influence" aspects of the tournament; then on the pitch, where five of the seven wickets to fall on the first day were down to batsman error.
There were two boundary catches, a run-out, a toe-ended hook and, in the case of de Villiers, who had raced to 36 from 39 balls, a feathered flap at a Stokes bouncer. It was skittish, tetchy and - for the world's top-ranked team - deeply unflattering.When their innings concluded on the second morning, South Africa's total of 313 was the first in Test history to contain 11 double-figure scores (12, if you include extras) but no half-century. The sense of a missed opportunity may have been acute, yet when England lurched to 91 for four under heavy skies that afternoon, the home side, led by Rabada's preternatural brilliance, scented blood. Perhaps it was little wonder: the most red-blooded cricketer on the planet was walking to the middle.It was becoming a theme: Stokes joins Root with their team in strife, which they treat as if they're still mucking about for North of England Under-15. In less than 16 overs of oddly inevitable bedlam, they added 111. As well as the natural rhythms, the shared past and the pleasure of seeing the other make the fiendishly difficult look easy, a sense of fun bound them together. Root, famously and vocally, "just loves it". Stokes - less hammy,less impish - simply swatted his fifth ball, a sharp bouncer from Rabada, into the stands and looked down at his sleeve.He would eventually perish for 58 from 54, an innings that was as valuable in its own way as his Cape Town epic (if precisely 200 runs fewer). Root, having started a little stodgily, moved through the gears with almost bashful imperiousness.
A Root century is fully equipped with all mod cons. There was a cut and a short-arm pull to get himself going, and a lovely cover-drive off Morkel. A rare loose one from Rabada allowed him the luxury of a straight-drive; an upper-cut dropped inches inside the rope, and an Athertonian flick raced off his legs. There were nine fours in his 77-ball fifty, giving way to a run-a-ball canter to three figures, crowned with another of those immaculate drives through the covers. This was his ninth hundred in his 38th Test, and his finest yet.
In the relative normality of that third morning, before Broad blew in across the high veld, Rabada had kicked off proceedings by removing Root, and careered to his five-wicket haul. It was the least he deserved, having performed like a seasoned veteran with the first new ball. Fast bowlers, more than any other cricketing species, can seemingly emerge fully formed. South Africa had found one With the hosts only ten behind on first innings, observers craving a rare nip-and-tuck Test keenly awaited their second. Here were two reasonably well-matched teams tied into a one-innings match. The narrative was set - but Broad improvised to steal the show. After that, it was just a merry procession, the game suddenly done. England needed only 74, and Cook and Hales knocked off 64, before three fell for seven - including Compton, trying to slog his second delivery for a match-winning six. That was a gentle reminder of the unfinished articles that lurked within the team. But at the Wanderers there was simply joy,imbued with a healthy dose of defiance. England had gone into the Ashes as second favourites, and won. Now 2-0 up with one to play, they had done the same here. "Yeah,"said Stokes. "We proved them wrong again."
Man of the Match:S. C. J. Broad.