The first Test between South Africa and England ended in a draw yesterday, a result that looked well beyound South Africa when they were asked to follow on in the last session of day three. While England dominated 3 of the 5 days of Test cricket, it must be South Africa who will take the most out of the match, with the next Test starting on Friday.
South Africa are used to winning the opening Test, at Lords, in Test series in England since readmission. On the previous 3 tours they have begun with a big wins, one sided victories, against England, at Lords, before going on to draw the series. They have generally started well and then faded at the back end of the tour. This time they will be hoping that they have got their bad performance out of the way and that there is only better to come.
England captain Michael Vaughn said that the opening 3 days of the Test were the best England have had since he returned to the side. In a way that, coupled with South Africa’s terrible performance in those 3 days, can be used to motivate South Africa for the remaining 3 Tests. They now know not only that they are in for a tough, testing series, but that they have faced England at their very best. So while England have peaked during the first 3 days of the tour, South Africa can only get better.
The best thing that South Africa can take from the opening Test is that they didn’t lose it. The pitch may have been flat and lifeless, but they gave England a great chance of defeating them, they opened the door wide, and managed to pull the game back and save a draw. That was the best case available to them after England had declared late on in day 2. After being bowled out and made to follow on on day 3, a draw must have seemed a long way off. The courage and battle worn and ready stance that the openers took, and carried through by Amla, set the tone for the next 2 days. South Africa are mentally tough. Something that has been lacking in the past. While the batting displays of Smith, Mckenzie and Amla may not have won over any new Test fans, for those who know the game it was a masterclass in saving a game.
The South African bowlers now know what is expected of them in the next game. They were talked up before the match, and with the exception of Morkel, failed disappointingly. For Steyn, Morkel and Harris, it was their first Test at Lords, and in England, and perhaps the nerves and occasion got the better of them. They will be better prepared for Friday and will be looking to rectify the wrongs that were set in place in this match. They are also aware that Andre Nel and Monde Zondeki are waiting in the wings, ready to show that they should be part of this attack. For Ntini most of all this is a threat he has to take seriously. He was well below his best, and as the most experienced of the attack will feel that he let his team down. The English press may be writing him off, but the English batsman will at their peril. He is no longer the leader of the attack, that has fallen on Steyn, and with Morkel looking to be a great strike bowler, many are beginning to doubt Ntini has much left. He still has much to offer South Africa, and the sooner he regains form and confidence the better this attack will be.
The batsman failed in the first innings, with the exception of Prince, but more than made up for it in the second. Amla in particular will be pleased to have come through a testing innings, one in which he was peppered with short ball after short ball, and one where he showed England that no longer is he the same, young, inexpierienced, batsman who was exposed by England at the start of his career, but that he has the mental toughness and patience to go with his talent.
While England will most probably make changes to their side, to accommodate the return of Flintoff, we can expect South Africa to remain unchanged for the next Test at least. Andre Nel, Mondi Zondeki and JP Duminy will have to wait for their chance – for one more Test at least.
South Africa will have much to prove come Friday, and Smith will make sure his team know that, and are up for it.
(picture from cricinfo.com)