reports from Cape Town
England 153 and 157 South Africa 244 and 70-0 (South Africa win by 10 wkts)
It has taken taken nearly seven weeks to split these sides but, when the moment came at Newlands yesterday, it was South Africa, their fast bowlers finding collective form, who blew England away and won the match by 10 wickets. It was no less than they deserved for outbowling England in a low-scoring match that decided the series as well. When Gary Kirsten hit the winning run an hour after tea, the relief was palpable as Hansie Cronje hugged each member of his team in turn.
Cronje has been under severe pressure this series, not least because he has possessed the match-winning bowlers. Another failure here, particularly after his own lean series with the bat, could well have prompted a change in the captaincy and it was no surprise when he gratefully held his Free State team-mate Allan Donald, the man of this match as well as the series, to his chest.
However, just when you feel South Africa's inadequacies have been rumbled, they seem to cobble together a match-winning performance. It is a pattern that has marked their play ever since their return to international cricket and a knack England would dearly love to have. Instead of conjuring wins from nowhere, England tend towards calamity when things go badly, and this is the second time in six months that England have lost inside three days.
However, if the pitch against the West Indies at Edgbaston could be held directly to blame, the one here was nowhere near as lethal, and some poor batting by both sides helped contribute to the low scores.
For some time now, the runs of Michael Atherton, the England captain, have been his side's lifeblood, allowing others playing around him to come to life. After his two low scores here, England seem to haemorrhage wickets and it was no coincidence that the 153 and 157 scored in this match were their two lowest totals of the series. Atherton acknowledged that England had not batted well as a unit, saying: "When some of the batters look back, they'll think that they've had a moderate tour. It's hard to win a Test series when that happens."
When play began yesterday, they needed a lead of at least 150 if they were going to raise the opposition's pulse above stroll-rate. In the end, the 67 runs needed to win were belted from just 94 balls, showing this pitch to be a far more placid beast than the one present on the first day of the match. However, you might not have thought so, watching England bat poorly on it for the second time in the match. True, two of their batsmen got rough decisions when looking set, but to lose four wickets in 10 balls, as they did in mid-afternoon, amounted to little more than tired and sloppy cricket.
When play began, England started where they had left off the previous evening with Angus Fraser being dropped. Had Adams held the catch, it would have walked any "Classic catch" competition, not an accolade that would have come Cullinan's way as he held Stewart's snicked catch at first slip.
It was another loose shot from Stewart, whose static footwork is unable to cope with the demands made by the new ball. If he is to serve England as well as his own best interests at Test level, he should move down the order. With Fraser following Stewart just a few balls later, caught by Adams at leg gully as he fended off a short ball from Donald, England were 22 for 3. A slight revival followed, with Graham Thorpe and Robin Smith at the crease, but it was cut short when Smith was given out caught behind off Adams, his bat clearly tucked behind his pad.
Instead of bringing despondency, the poor decision appeared to galvanise Thorpe into playing his best innings of the series. His eight Test innings here have amassed just 184 runs at an average of 26. He was, however, back close to his best yesterday, and he was quick to punish both Donald and McMillan whenever their length strayed.
Hick, too, played well. Soon after he and Thorpe had put on 50, the Worcestershire batsman thumped Adams twice in successive balls for mighty sixes back over the spinner's head. But, if England supporters had pinned their hopes on the pair providing a telling partnership they were short lived, once Hick was adjudged lbw to one that nipped back a touch too much to have hit leg-stump.
It was the rotten decision that started the rot. If curiosity killed the cat, then the added responsibility of batting at No 6 just as surely did for the Jack Russell, as he guided a short ball from Shaun Pollock to Andrew Hudson in the gully. Moments later the same fielder removed Thorpe, when his direct throw from short fine leg hit the stumps at the bowler's end with Thorpe well short of his ground.
Bizarrely, the umpire Dave Orchard, who had got into a good position to make a decision, did not call for the replay, a move that prompted home supporters in the hospitality suites to create a rumpus. This led to Cronje protesting to the umpire and then to Thorpe. Eventually Orchard consulted his colleague, Steve Randell, at square leg and the replay was called for and Thorpe rightfully given out.
It was, however, a clear breach of International Cricket Council regulations on Cronje's part, for which he was fined 50 per cent of his match fee. More worryingly, though, it was another clear case of the game being ruled by television. After that, the England tail showed all its usual aptitude for collapse as Pollock finished with the distinguished figures of 5 for 32. Ironically it was England's failure to knock over the home side's No 11 that cost them at least the right to contest this match in the closing stages.
As Atherton said: "Losing by 10 wickets may tend to sound like a good stuffing. But there were moments when I felt we were in this match. However, if you can't knock the tail over with the new ball we don't deserve to win. It was the stand that changed the game." And, of course the series.
Illingworth blames 'irresponsible' play,
Game-plan backfires, page 23
Conduct unbecoming: how a captain made his influence felt
1 Paul Adams bowls to Graham Thorpe, who guides the ball to short fine leg.
2 Mike Watkinson calls him for a single from the non-striker's end, but Thorpe sets off late as Andrew Hudson fields the ball.
3 Hudson hurls the ball to the bowler's end and makes a direct hit on the stumps. Adams appeals.
4 Umpire Dave Orchard, standing in his second Test, rules Thorpe not out.
5 A roar from the hospitality boxes, where people are watching the television replays, alerts the South African fielders to the fact that Thorpe was short of his ground.
6 Hansie Cronje, South Africa's captain, asks Orchard to call on the third umpire.
7 After Orchard appears to refuse, Cronje and Brian McMillan engage in earnest conversation with Thorpe.
8 Orchard sees this and goes to consult his fellow umpire, Steve Randell. Orchard eventually calls for third umpire.
9 Thorpe is given out.Reuse content