Proteas a step closer to taking No 1 spotComment on this story
First Test, Day 5
England 385 and 240
South Africa 637/2, decl.
South Africa won by an innings and 12 runs, lead the series 1-0
London - With records crumbling at their feet, SA took a step towards becoming the world’s No 1-ranked Test team on Monday at the Oval.
The Proteas thumped England by an innings and 12 runs, their maiden victory at the London venue since first playing there in 1907.
SA, who need to win the series to displace England at the top of the rankings, lead the three-match series 1-0, with only the Headingley and Lord’s Tests remaining.
It was a momentous match for Graeme Smith’s team as the historic victory was built on a first Test triple century by Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn’s 18th five-wicket haul. Amla is the first SA batsman to register a triple hundred in Test match history, eclipsing AB de Villiers’s previous best of 278 not out. Steyn, the world’s No-1 ranked fast bowler, claimed 5/56 in England’s second innings as they were bowled out for 240.
“It was a unique experience for our team,” Smith said about Amla’s milestone. “Just incredible, that someone from our team was able to achieve that. I think in terms of context, you just had to look at the team’s reaction to see how much it means to every one of us. It puts the team in the upper echelons of world sport.
“To watch a guy put that much effort in not just for himself but for the team too, is incredible.”
Amla, the Man of the Match, said: “It was a highlight for me, but for the team to win also makes it extra special.”
Smith celebrated his 100th Test with a very careful century on Saturday to become only the seventh player to score a 100 in their centurion Test.
Smith went to the airport immediately after the television interviews. He was expected to land in Cape Town this morning to be at the side of his wife, Morgan, when she gives birth to their first child.
He left it to the rest of the South African players to soak up the satisfaction of the first Test win at this venerable venue.
The series is not over, but with the comprehensive nature of the outcome, a few cartwheels and lots of hollering would have been understandable.
There wasn’t much of that. It was as if the side had taken their cue from the serene Hashim Amla, whose celebration of the first Test triple hundred by a South African was to offer a small punch and then to raise both bat and helmet to the sky.
This was a thumping Test win. South Africa hadn’t won a Test here in 105 years. They’d been beaten by England the last three times they played here. They were described as undercooked, lacking in preparation and, after the first day not good enough for the world’s No-1 ranked Test team.
“I didn’t think day one was that disappointing,” coach Gary Kirsten said on Monday night.
England, in particular Alastair Cook, had batted clinically on day one, but the refrain from South Africa on the Thursday was that at least they didn’t “let (England) get away”.
The hard work of Thursday was made to count with an outstanding performance last Friday morning when, led by Dale Steyn, they thundered into England, picking up the last seven wickets for 117 runs.
And then they batted, and batted and batted, all of 189 overs, getting a grip on proceedings through some precise strategising. Smith neutralising Graeme Swann was a study in concentration, will-power and patience.
“South Africa had a bit of a psychological advantage (on Sunday) night, with us having been in the field for such a long time, but we didn’t react well enough to that,” said England captain Andrew Strauss.
He cut a disconsolate figure afterwards. The magnitude of his side’s defeat and the manner in which many batsmen were dismissed – including himself – clearly peeved him. “That’s frustrating and leaves a sour taste in the mouth. South Africa took their chances really well in this game. They fought hard to get ahead in the game on day two, and didn’t let us back,” he said.
Smith, before his hasty departure, concurred. “We found an intensity on day two and got a few more plans right,” the Proteas captain added.
The four wickets lost on Sunday evening always seemed too many – Strauss described them as a “body blow” – which would have made any escape yesterday miraculous.
Ravi Bopara was dismissed inside the first hour on Monday, but a 132-minute stand for the fifth-wicket between Ian Bell and Matt Prior, which realised 86 runs caused some flutters among the Proteas supporters.
It was then that hope grew with The Oval crowd – the ground was nearly two-thirds full on Monday – and each run was being heartily cheered, while Bell’s 50 was greeted with a standing ovation.
Imran Tahir had toiled without too much success and again he struggled with his length, but it was in fact a short ball that Prior didn’t put away that indirectly led to his demise.
His attacking instincts meant he was still seething at that missed opportunity when he went on the sweep at the end of the 77th over, top-edging the ball with Jacques Kallis doing the necessary at slip.
Steyn then steamrolled through the lower order, picking up his 18th Test “five-for” before Tahir returned to wrap up the match when he trapped James Anderson lbw.
It was, as Kallis described it, an “incredible performance” from the bowlers. South Africa had scored over 600 runs on the surface and to knock over such a powerful England batting order for 240 in the second innings spoke volumes for their planning, patience and precision.
“We knew it would be hard and we wanted to create those half-chances, which our bowlers did. It’s a lot easier to bowl when the batting side is under pressure, fair enough, but the way the guys went about it ... they created chances, put the pressure on, asked questions. There were no easy runs available,” said Kallis.
“We have a few days now in which we will celebrate this. Test wins don’t come around often against quality teams like England, and we’ve put a lot of hard work into achieving it. But we realise there’s more hard work ahead, at Headingley, both sides will start 0/0.”