Amid high drama and controversy to match, South Africa won the 2008 Test series against England last night. Throughout a long, long day, the sides were locked in a titanic struggle for supremacy but a masterful, unbeaten innings of 154 by the tourists' captain, Graeme Smith, earned his side a five-wicket victory in the Third Test after more than eight hours of gripping cricket.
Shortly after 7.15pm, having claimed the extra half-hour which is permitted, Smith struck his 17th boundary which brought the side to the 281 they required. It was the highest score in a Test fourth innings at the ground and gave South Africa an unassailable 2-0 lead. It is their first series victory in England since 1965. Three times since they were allowed back into the international cricket fold they had thrown away series leads – in 1993, 1998 and 2004. But not this time, not with Smith at the helm.
Questions will undoubtedly be asked about the state of England's team, their composition, their balance and the captain. The squad for the Fourth Test will be announced this morning. If the selectors opt for no change or, worse, crazy, unstructured change their roles should be called into consideration. They have had a bad summer and the team have suffered as a result. Whatever is being said in the selectors' room the mood in the country and probably the counties is that England have become an exclusive members' club, who seemingly have the power of veto.
England were in with chances to win yesterday and go level but overall only one team has driven the series after the first three days at Lord's. England, unsure of whether they should use four bowlers or five, seemingly frightened of bringing in new players and getting it bizarrely wrong when they did so, have lost for myriad reasons.
Smith deserves the highest praise. It was an exemplary effort spanning nearly six hours and 246 balls in which he exhibited the utmost vigilance. It was also match-winning. He was accompanied at the end by his longtime friend and team-mate Mark Boucher. They shared 112 for the sixth wicket and in truth never looked like being parted.
It was difficult to tell whose jaw jutted most between Smith and Paul Collingwood, who took his seminal innings to 135 in the morning. They were getting top grades in the A level subject of uncompromising long before papers in the subject were dumbed down. As if it needed it, the match was given an added edge by the manner in which England took key wickets. Both were palpably lbw but it was equally obvious that neither of the batsman concerned, Neil McKenzie and Jacques Kallis, could pick up the balls delivered by Andrew Flintoff as they went up above the sight screen.
This rattled the tourists – their angry coach Mickey Arthur vainly took up the matter with officials as the dream faded – but Smith's jaw seemed to jut more. Carefully, diligently, sometimes anxiously they regrouped. It went this way and that way. This was what the inventors of Test cricket had in mind at the prototype stage.
Four of South Africa's top five were gone before the total reached 100. This had seemed improbable as Smith and McKenzie cruised ominously to 65 for the first wicket.
The tourists' captain had been roughed up a little with the new ball but he and McKenzie were batting with easy authority. Flintoff then unleashed a fast, accurate yorker from the Pavilion End. Flintoff's arm at the point of delivery was above the sightscreen, actually in front of the glass of the Warwickshire committee room, leaving right-handed batsmen groping. McKenzie turned his back, expecting the ball to be much higher. It hit his toe and was going on to hit the stumps. Hashim Amla was undone by the overwhelming nature of the occasion and a spot of unexpected bounce from Monty Panesar at the other end. He was leg before on the back foot. In came Kallis, but he was quickly undone by Flintoff, who in striving for another yorker bowled a high full toss which the batsman did not see coming.
Ashwell Prince never settled, surviving one appeal before edging the type of ball he had spent all series leaving. Smith, impassive but briefly edgy, needed a partner and found one in De Villiers. He went and was replaced by Boucher.
There was some deserved good fortune. Smith might have been run out on 79 as well as seeming to have got a finger on one turning from from Panesar. Perhaps the bowler was the victim of too many appeals. Monty and the wolf. England, with Ryan Sidebottom clearly struggling, were a bowler light.
They had eventually added 66 in the morning, Collingwood last out. They thought it was enough. They were wrong in that as in many other things.
England won the toss
England – First Innings 231
South Africa – First Innings 314
England – Second Innings (Overnight 297-6)
P D Collingwood c Boucher b Morkel 135
298 min, 195 balls, 19 fours, 1 six
+T R Ambrose b Morkel 19
101 min, 80 balls, 2 fours
R J Sidebottom c Amla b Morkel 22
78 min, 48 balls, 5 fours
J M Anderson b Kallis 1
6 min, 7 balls
M S Panesar not out 0
2 min, 0 balls
Extras (b 8, lb 2, w 6, nb 3) 19
Total (435 min, 98.2 overs) 363
Fall 7-297 (Ambrose), 8-362 (Sidebottom), 9-363 (Anderson), 10-363 (Collingwood).
Bowling Morkel 19.2-1-97-4, Nel 20-3-79-1, Ntini 18-4-58-2, Kallis 20-5-59-1, Harris 21-3-60-2.
South Africa – Second Innings
GC Smith not out 154
ND McKenzie lbw b Flintoff 22
56 balls, 3 fours
HM Amla lbw b Panesar 6
JH Kallis lbw b Flintoff 5
7 balls, 1 four
AG Prince c Ambrose b Anderson 2
AB de Villiers c Collingwood b Panesar 27
57 balls, 3 fours
MV Boucher not out 45
Extras (b 9, lb 9, w2, nb 2) 22
Total (5 wickets; 80 overs) 283
Did not bat M Morkel, PL Harris, A Nel, M Ntini.
Bowling Sidebottom 10-1-26-0, Anderson 13-0-60-1, Panesar 33-3-91-2, Flintoff 20-5-72-2, Pietersen 4-0-16-0.
Fall 1-65 (McKenzie), 2-78 (Amla), 3-83 (Kallis), 4-93 (Prince), 5-171 (De Villiers).
South Africa win by 5 wickets