This was the most heart-warming of victories for England, coming, as it did, at such a crucial stage not just for the series but for Michael Vaughan's captaincy as well. Let us be brutally honest, though. It would never have happened if South Africa had batted first. Who would have got rid of Graeme Smith when the pitch was at its best last Thursday and for how many?
On the fourth day when England were bowled out for 118 in their second innings, a great many people felt, not unreasonably, that they had blown it. The South Africans, led by Shaun Pollock, had bowled superbly and England's batting had not been too carefully planned.
After the first two Tests of this series and indeed much of the bowling in the first innings here, it seemed inconceivable that England's bowlers could now deliver as South Africa's had done. The England attack may have been full of potential but anyone reiterating the importance of line and length to the assembled company might well have been using a foreign language to judge from results up until Sunday.
However, in South Africa's second innings the four England seam bowlers finally showed that they had learned in some detail what was expected of them by watching Pollock and the others in action. Apart from a few loose balls from Andrew Flintoff at the start on Sunday evening, they slotted into almost the same disciplined control as their opponents.
James Kirtley was magnificent and it is a long, long time since a new England fast bowler has made such an impression against such notable opponents. Of course, the pitch was helpful to him. Yet he fully understood where he had to bowl, which was just short of a length on and around the off stump. His performance was an object lesson.
James Anderson also bowled splendidly, in both innings, and the bowler who splayed it around all over the place at Edgbaston and Lord's was nowhere to be seen after his third over on Thursday. His greatest need at the moment is to bowl as much as he can for that is the only way he will gain in experience, the one commodity he lacks.
Flintoff had been England's best bowler in the series before this match, which may not be saying a lot. He had at least shown that he has the ability to keep the rampant South African batsmen quiet and he took an important wicket or two. Steve Harmison was perhaps a little lucky still to be in the side, but from the moment he bowled Herschelle Gibbs in the first innings he was a new man. Confidence is a funny old thing.
He suffered an injury to a calf muscle but carried on nobly and, although he could not manage full pace on the last morning, still produced one or two of the day's nastiest deliveries. Why have we had to wait so long for the bowlers to perform? Maybe the presence, at last, of the bowling coach, Troy Cooley, in the dressing room during the match has made all the difference. What advice had they been getting before Trent Bridge, for heaven's sake?Reuse content