CARDIFF – In the end, it looked pretty academic as England overcame South Africa by 19 runs in the capital of Wales on Sunday.
England fully deserved their 2-1 series victory, having played most of the cricket and unearthed most of the potential in this experimental road trip in the South and Welsh portion of the UK.
Tom Curran looks a lively addition to the fast bowling stocks, while the fearless Dawid Malan announced himself with a man-of-the-match 78 on debut. He swatted his second ball in international cricket for six, and didn’t look back.
England’s other discovery may well be their most intriguing. Leg-spinner Mason Crane, still just 20 years of age, showed bags of character, and a fair bit of skill.
For a brief period, Proteas skipper AB de Villiers looked as if he was going to sign off from national duty – for now, at least – in some style. He plundered Crane for a four and two big sixes into the grandstand to silence the Cardiff crowd and make matters interesting.
But the young leggie didn’t drop his head, or his length, and ended the battle by having De Villiers (35 off 19 balls) caught on the deep-square fence.
Had it been any other fielder but Alex Hales, it may have gone for six, and De Villiers romped on. But as these things go, Hales plucked it out of the sky, and the pressure was shifted back to the tourists.
The experienced men didn’t respond well, with David Miller again nicking behind on the move, and the in-form Farhaan Behardien went back into his shell.
He allowed Crane to bowl a maiden at him – incredible, in the circumstances – and then went out.
At that point it looked as if the tourists may get mangled by 50 runs or more, but Mangaliso Mosehle (36 off 22) and Andile Phehlukwayo (27 not out off 20) both produced cameos that brought respectability to the final analysis.
Mosehle was belligerent, but he was left with too much to do.
Earlier, another youngster had shown his ability for South Africa. Dane Paterson had set the game up for Phehlukwayo in the Taunton win, but he was the main man in stopping England at the death.
His plan was simple, full and straight, and that method harvested 4/32 and revealed a new option at the death for the Proteas.
The series loss will quickly be forgotten, but South Africa will worry that they are still not firing on all cylinders with the Test series a fortnight away. The five-day specialists will return on Tuesday, and they will assemble in Worcester.
Having lost the ODI series and the T20 series, the four Test matches are all that’s left from a summer of discontent.