Although England hung around until teatime, a Dale Steyn-led South Africa sealed victory by an innings (and eight wickets).
Dale Steyn may not have opened the bowling in this match, but he showed today why he is the leader of this attack. He bowled with pace and bounce when necessary, plus enough swing (reverse with the old ball, orthodox with the new) to consistently trouble the batsman. In taking four wickets today, to add to his one last night, he bagged 5/56, his best figures in England – notwithstanding this was only his third Test on these shores. Based on this match, the hype pre-series from some quarters of a Steyn vs. Anderson fight to be the best bowler in the world looks rather silly. Ian Bell had accumulated 55 from 220 balls, handling Steyn well in the process, but the rest of the batsmen looked ill at ease against him.
After Ravi Bopara’s early attempt to bludgeon Steyn for four runs through the covers had resulted in an inside edge knocking back his middle stump, England were always going to be struggling. Hell, everyone knew they’d struggle even before Bopara’s latest gaffe. However, Matt Prior looked to be at least somewhat switched-on as he played a reserved, but confident innings alongside Bell. When Imran Tahir fired a ball that kicked and bounced all the way to slip, it took a few seconds for the onlookers to understand what had happened. But as Prior swept (what a surprise this cursed shot again was part of the downfall) the leg-break took the top edge, flew past the batsman’s head and carried through for the catch. England fans sighed – more in desperation than anger, Tahir ran around south east London and the expected became inevitable.
In circumstances where runs conceded were not too problematic, Tahir was excellent: the occasional long-hop insignificant because his leg-breaks and googlies were regularly causing trouble.
This must surely rank as one of South Africa’s finest Test victories: after a shoddy first day they were fantastic, essentially winning the game with only eight players contributing. We don’t yet know how AB de Villiers will find batting and keeping wicket, but seldom did he not look at least competent with the gloves here, taking eight catches in the match. They head off to Worcester for a two-day game before the second Test at Headingley. At least England can still say there are question marks over Alviro Petersen, Jacques Rudolph and JP Duminy.
As for England themselves, they will tell themselves not to panic and to learn lessons. They are a team that have bounced back from thrashings in recent years and they certainly have the ability, experience and coaching staff to ensure they at least won’t be complacent or unprepared for Leeds. Despite Bopara’s failings, he’s unlikely to be dropped yet; although a case can be made for Steven Finn and/or Graeme Onions following such a collosal defeat, it is doubtful either would have made much difference here. Is it naive or sensible for us to say that England surely won’t be as bad again, and South Africa can’t possibly be so great again?