Day 5 of the New Year’s Test saw all three results possible. Could South Africa do the impossible and score 438 again, would England level the series or could we see a well fought-out draw?
Every South African fan would have been filled with nervous energy from this morning, I know I was. Could they show the fighting spirit that coach, Mark Boucher said they would come out with today?
They got so close.
The defiant, resilient and determined batting from inexperienced players, Pieter Malan and Rassie van der Dussen was simply outstanding.
The way Rassie walked away after every delivery in his 140 ball stay at the crease, showed you the concentration he had, it was reminiscent of a certain Gary Kirsten.
Malan top-scored for South Africa in the second innings with his 84. He showed exactly why we were calling for him to play, and his performance on debut makes him deserving of a proper run in the Test team. Aiden Markram will have to fight to get back in, but competition is good.
Where it went wrong for South Africa, unfortunately, as has been the case for some time, was with the experienced players. Captain, Faf du Plessis played a very poor shot that brought about his downfall after only 57 deliveries in the first session. What the team needed from their captain was to bat time and overs. What they needed, was a partnership between him and Malan.
It was disappointing that it was the captain of all people that was guilty of throwing his wicket away so easily. Where was the fight from Faf? The determination that he has been famous for in the past? The dogged resistance?
Quinton de Kock was brilliant in the middle session, playing against his natural game and showing fight to survive till the tea break in a defiant fifty run stand with Rassie. It gave us hope.
All his hard work was however undone with a rash shot shortly after tea that saw him dismissed for a 107-ball 50. If South Africa were to survive, they needed him to continue.
Take nothing away from England however. They were the better team from Day 1 and thoroughly deserved the 189 run win. They beat South Africa in the New Year’s Test for the first time since readmission and leveled the series 1-1.
Ben Stokes showed just why he is so special. His 2nd innings batting on Day 4 turned the game for England, and then his bowling late on Day 5 was simply brilliant.
Despite the disappointment, there are positives. South Africa fought hard, they showed the resilience that we wanted to see to take the game to the very end, and for the first time in a long time, we saw a solid opening stand and several partnerships throughout the innings.
It is however not the send-off Vernon Philander deserved in his final Test on his home ground, but South Africa can still win the series for him. They must win the series for him.
They must now show their bouncebackability in the third Test, which starts on January 16th.
At the end of the day, this was an enthralling Test with emotions running high and I for one, am happy to have witnessed it.
This Test also came at the exact right time. With all the talk of 4-Day Tests, this Test got to the final hour of the final day. If the ICC, ECB, Cricket Australia, and as it turns out, Cricket South Africa got their way, we would not have seen such an epic result.
Tests need to remain five days.