Tolerance is not an accessory that comes with losing. Before we dared dream during yesterday's mad, riveting final session the anti-Andrew Strauss tendency was already rumbling. The captain has not had a brilliant year. His two centuries against West Indies earned a reprieve but the bloodlust is back. After the week he has had he might fancy a break. But before we hang a man prematurely let us first acknowledge the better team, the world's best in fact.
England did not lose this series, they were beaten. South Africa score runs at the top of the order, reinforce that with a no-frills orthodoxy in the middle and bat long into the tail. The attack is so well balanced, captain Graeme Smith can afford to hold back his most potent weapon, the Usain Bolt-quick Dale Steyn, bringing him on first change.
We should not forget either that South Africa's ascent to the summit of the game was achieved despite the enforced retirement of first-choice keeper Mark Boucher, with a freak eye injury before a ball was bowled in the series. Chink in the armour? Forget it.
England were bashed senseless at The Oval by Smith (131), Hashim Amla (311no) and Jacques Kallis (182no). Alviro Petersen (182) weighed in at Headingley, and Amla (121) again here.
Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen were the only centurions for England. The latter was a knock of the highest calibre. More than that it was utterly out of step with the mundane contributions of his colleagues, shifting the balance of the contest in Leeds. The point is, South Africa were able to accommodate the one stroke of brilliance they encountered. Had Pietersen's transformative best been available here who knows what difference it would have made.
At least the door closing on Pietersen opened for Jonny Bairstow. What a sumptuous cameo it was yesterday: young Bairstow and Jonathan Trott biffing the South African bowlers about the park for a fantastic pre-lunch hour. At 120 for 4, the cucumber sandwiches would have tasted an awful lot better than they might have done. When Bairstow came to the crease, England had only 45 on the board.
A 41-ball fifty was a cream cake with custard that few saw coming. There was not a shred of logic supporting the idea that England might win this match, yet you knew that he was not thinking that way. This kid obviously changes in a phone box. As long as he was out in the middle anything was possible. The kryptonite came disguised in a low scuttler from Tahir that sneaked beneath his chopping blade.
Bairstow had already booked his ticket to India with his first-innings 95. The requirement now is to substantiate the proposition, to move on from novel attraction to dependable unit capable of anchoring the middle order. The signs are good. The low, slow trawl around the subcontinent will test him but the psyche appears sound, the attitude good, and after this, the confidence off the scale.Reuse content