This is a wonderful arena. It has produced some classics over the years and this was no exception. The ground has so many memories; Athers 185, Strauss first baller, Michael Vaughan's debut when an Allan Donald inspired South Africa reduced us to 2-4 and that famous chase of 438 in a one day match. An arena where you buy an uncooked steak from a butcher outside the stand and go and cook it on a communal braii on the bank. It is now called the Bidvest Wanderers. Perhaps they should sponsor the sports bras that England keep their 'fit-bits' in these days?
|Bairstow...a decent game|
On these pages we have bemoaned the poor tracks, the Chief Exec's pitches with low, slow bounce. Therefore we have to credit the groundsman for creating a good cricket wicket. Bounce, slightly favouring the bowlers but still offering value to the batsmen it produced one that had us glued to our screens. The run up to the game was all about whether AB De Villiers would prefer to take the rupee of the IPL instead of representing his country in the five day format. Don't blame him. Blame the ICC and Srini; or in the week that David Bowie passed away, 'The Man Who Sold The World'.
South Africa won the toss and chose to bat. All got in, and all got out. 313 was the total with all of them hitting double figures but a top score of only 46. I thought 313 was above par really. England didn't use the new ball particularly well but Finn bowled brilliantly. Bairstow took six catches in total and ran out Bavuma with a brilliant pick up on the half volley. He obviously prefers to keep on a track with bounce as opposed to scrambling around his bootlaces, and you wonder if he might not be staying down long enough? Food for thought. Stokes has the knack of picking up wickets when we need them and finished off the innings when he had to replace Anderson. Having been warned by Aleem Dar, the Burnley Express was hauled out of the attack and Stokes cleaned up Morkel first ball. Cheers Aleem.
England batted and lost Hales early again. Like a constipated man, England still haven't fixed their number two problem as the Nottinghamshire man looks the most lost Englishman in Africa since Mark Thatcher. Cook got strangled by Viljoen's first ball in Test cricket down the leg side. A technical problem or Hardus luckus? Compton showed why he is the Cliff Thorburn of this side and ground it out. Then we had one of the finest knocks I have seen by an England batsman. Joe Root's knock was a different class on a difficult wicket and his cover drive to bring up the three figures was almost sexual, it was that good. The Sheffield lad just gets better and better and he is an absolute joy to watch. His knock on a deck that nibbled around all game was his best hundred for England. Stokes backed him up with a counter punching 58 and these two bat so well together, as New Zealand found out last year. Bairstow chipped in and Vilas took a great one to dismiss Moeen. He showed the agility of ex tennis player and his namesake, Guillermo.
Rabada picked up five wickets and what a prospect he looks. South Africa might be mining the depths at present but this guy is the diamond in their pack. They had four bowlers who topped 90mph at altitude, backed up by Van Zyl who might reach 9mph on a good day. England finished ten runs in the ascendancy but at this point I thought that South Africa had the upper hand with England having to bat last.
There is not a lot that Nottingham and Jo'burg have in common apart from the odd gun related crime, but Stuart Broad replicated his Trent Bridge form as he blasted away the South African top order. As Bowie would have said, he was our Prettiest Star. James Taylor took two blinders in close. The man with short legs is turning into a wonderful short leg. South Africa looked like Absolute Beginners as their innings collapsed like a man who had built his house on Sandton. They were skittled for 83 as Broad picked up 6-17. He finished things off with an amazing caught and bowled of Du Plessis who for once wasn't faffing around.
All that was left for England was to knock off a mere 73. A demoralised South Africa couldn't stop them despite Hales scratching around like Fatboy Slim. He got better but managed to blot his copybook by getting out to Elgar before the end. Compton holed out in a most un-Compton like way and Cook carried on a miserable tour but fittingly it was Joe Root at the end who finished the game off as England won by seven wickets.
So the series and the honours are ours. South Africa would have been a different prospect with Steyn and Philander here, no doubt about it. However, you can't take anything away from England. They have an ability to take wickets in short bursts - think Trent Bridge, the last day at Abu Dhabi and here. They have a knack to turn a game and their world class players in Root and Broad were too good in Johannesburg. Chuck in Anderson and Cook whose records speak for themselves, and add the up and coming stars like Stokes and Finn and you have six people capable of winning a game. Bairstow, Taylor and Ali are all good players who will only get better.
South Africa are embarrassed but they shouldn't be too downhearted. In Bavuma and Rabada the future looks decent but they are a side in transition. The retirements of Smith, Kallis and Co. have hurt and the absence of Steyn and Philander haven't helped. I'd expect them to make a few changes for Centurion and Stephen Cook at the top of the order wouldn't be a bad place to start. Dane Piedt will probably return too.
They now go to Pretoria for a dead rubber. However, here in the city famous for gold and diamonds, it was a twenty four carat performance by Root and Broad.