Simon Jones: The umpires were right, but we would have won
Sunday 02 January 2005
We shall see over the course of the next five days who has come out the stronger from Durban. England just failed to win a match they had looked like losing, South Africa just survived in a match they had looked like winning. It cuts both ways.
What I can say is what you saw. Both these teams have spirit. England came back magnificently after being behind the eight ball for two days in the Second Test match, and I am convinced we would have gone on to win had the light not prevented the match coming to its conclusion with 15 overs left to bowl. We were through to the tail.
But South Africa gave nothing away easily, led by their captain, Graeme Smith, a constant chirper out in the middle. He has started referring to me as Muscleman. I'm glad of the compliment, but I won't be reacting.
They fought bravely on the last afternoon, and their eighth-wicket stand which kept us at bay for two hours was massive. I had not realised that A B de Villiers was only 20. He is some cricketer.
It is a tribute to England at the end of an unbeaten year that we were not willing to surrender our record lightly. We knew that we had not batted well in the first innings, even on a sporting pitch, and that to be bowled out for 139 had not made things easy for us. But we concentrated on what we could do with the ball.
For a while it looked as if we would contain the home side in their first innings rather better than we eventually did. But that reckoned without Jacques Kallis. His innings was an absolute masterpiece. I probably bowled indifferently at him - trying too many yorkers, not enough variation - but believe me he does not have any weak areas where you can test him out. It was a complete innings.
This might be a good point to try to address the disparity between my performances and results in first and second innings in Test matches, which is being pointed out on the television and is clearly marked. The wickets are identical: I have taken 14 in the first innings of my 10 Test matches, 14 in the second. Except that the average in the first is 48 and the strike rate one wicket every 73 balls, and in the second the average is 21 and the strike rate 36.
I cannot explain it, although I think I might become more relaxed as the match wears on. Maybe my nerves affect me in the first innings. I don't feel as though they do but I'm aware that these are figures I should do something about. Another point that occurs to me is that pitches wear. Maybe my style of bowling suits wearing surfaces more.
The match in Durban was, of course, intense all the way through. From the start I have found Test cricket mentally as well as physically knackering. I was astonished at first at how drained I was, and this Test took it out of everybody involved. The last day was taut. When we had them seven down we thought we surely could win an unlikely victory. The De Villiers-Pollock partnership denied us, but then we got a run-out.
De Villiers hit the ball to me at mid-on. He must have thought I was further away than I was when starting to run and then sending Pollock back. Maybe he suddenly realised he should protect Pollock, who had just received two horrible blows from Stephen Harmison.
I didn't think anything like that at the time, I just fielded instinctively and threw at the stumps, with only one to aim at. Pollock doesn't know how unlucky he was. I almost never hit in practice. I was alarmed by the reaction of Michael Vaughan, who raced over to me and grabbed me.
But our joy was short-lived, for the darkness descended quickly. The umpires, I have to say, were correct. They were being utterly consistent in their judgement of the light. But we would have won.
So Cape Town now becomes crucial. How much has been taken out of both teams, not only by Durban's intensity and heat but by playing matches so close together? Physical fitness equals mental fitness, and England are fit.
Not only that but we have now proved beyond doubt that we are resilient. To cope with the situation as we did in the Second Test demonstrates that we are a team who will not lie down for anybody and that we are all in it together.
All in all, this is already turning into a top series.
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