Mark Wood’s career best Test match bowling figures of nine for 100 catapulted England to an emphatic 191-run victory over their South African counterparts in Johannesburg inside four days. The result led England to a 3-1 series victory in South Africa, their second consecutive Test series win in South Africa after winning 2-1 in the 2015/16 season.
Assigned a daunting a task of chasing down 466 in the fourth innings, the writing was always on the wall for the Faf du Plessis-led side. The pitch had seemed decent for strokeplay across the first three days but such are the dynamics of Test cricket, batting eventually becomes tougher as the last two days come about. The fourth day’s play at Wanderers fell on similar lines.
Openers, Dean Elgar and Pieter Malan, began the day on a solid note. Much like the first innings, the pair blunted the new ball, this time with more positive intent going at a run-rate in excess of two runs per over for most part of their partnership, ensuring the home side were through the first hour of play with all their 10 wickets intact. For a change, it seemed like a morning session going South Africa’s way.
But like every good side in an authoritative position in the series, England soon turned the tables. Pieter Malan was yet to switch on when he committed to a loose drive first ball after the break allowing Chris Woakes to draw first blood. It was almost a double whammy for South Africa when Rassie van der Dussen was hit on his pads in the same over by Woakes and the umpire lifted his finger. It would have been an embarrassing pair for South Africa’s new number three who was playing his first Test at his home venue.
However, he was saved by a brave call to send the decision upstairs. Replays said that the ball would have gone over the stumps, further suggesting that the pitch still held its true bounce which it had shown over the first three days.
The right-hander added 50 runs to South Africa’s total with Elgar during which he clobbered Joe Root for 26 runs in his brief two-over spell (including four byes). However, the duo could not kick on to give more significance to their stand. Elgar was out in the penultimate over before lunch in a bizarre manner. Having batted cautiously throughout the session, he tried to pull a rising delivery from Ben Stokes but could only manage to slice it back to the bowler.
Despite all the hard work done, it was England’s session given the circumstances of the match and the series. The same story unfolded in the second session.
In an extended session filled with enthralling Test cricket, van der Dussen and Faf du Plessis batted with grit and courage. The two batted for over 30 overs, slowly ticking South Africa’s scoreboard, taking blows on the body on a pitch which had started to show its erratic nature and also frustrating the England players on a hot day.
Consequently, Stuart Broad got into a heated exchange with du Plessis. The Protea skipper made shoulder contact with Jos Buttler while walking towards Broad.
Just when it felt like South Africa will bat out an entire session without losing a wicket, the unpredictable nature of the pitch came into play. It was Stokes again who provided the English team with the impetus with a delivery that kept low and ricocheted off du Plessis’ bottom edge on its way to the stumps. Seven balls later, van der Dussen’s fight also came to an end when the right-hander mistimed a full delivery from Mark Wood from around-the-wicket angle to Stuart Broad at short extra cover. His dismissal killed the only consolation South Africa could have driven out of this game as the right-hander got out two runs short of his maiden Test hundred.
From eyeing a wicketless session, South Africa fell to the syndrome of losing a wicket at the stroke of a break undoing all the hard work of the previous two hours. However, it was the pitch and great field placing by Root which was to be blamed rather than any shortcoming of their own.
With van der Dussen and du Plessis, South Africa’s will to fight was also gone. Quinton de Kock, their highest run-scorer of the series, and Temba Bavuma did not shy away from playing their shots. South Africa ultimately lost their remaining six wickets for 86 runs inside 17 overs.
Stuart Broad opened up the gate by removing Bavuma and Dwaine Pretorius off a couple of bouncers. Wood cashed in by dismissing de Kock, Vernon Philander and Anrich Nortje, whose departure ultimately brought down the curtains on another disappointing series for South Africa.
Wood was adjudged man-of-the-match for nine wickets and 35 crucial runs in England’s first innings. Stokes, who has contributed with both bat and ball, was the man-of-the-series. Co-incidentally, Stokes was the man-of-the-series when England last defeated South Africa in South Africa, as mentioned earlier, in the 2015/16 season.