CENTURION, SOUTH AFRICA – England crumbled to 101 all out and its second lowest score ever in South Africa to lose the fourth and final test by 280 runs on Tuesday, ending a hugely successful tour on a sobering low point.
Continuing on 52-3, England lasted barely an hour on the final day at SuperSport Park as its last seven batsmen were fired out in just over 13 overs, mainly down to another supreme display by young South Africa fast bowler Kagiso Rabada.
“This week has shown us that if you’re not absolutely 100 percent on it … you just can’t compete,” England captain Alastair Cook said.
Still, England had already won the series with a 2-0 lead ahead of the final test and will celebrate a first victory over South Africa in 11 years. The context of the loss was that the game in Centurion was a dead rubber, and England was reaching the end of a long and rugged tour.
Over the last month, England beat South Africa convincingly in two games on its home soil, and dominated long periods of the drawn second test in Cape Town.
“It’s very disappointing that we ended the tour like we have. There’s no excuse for that,” Cook said. “(But) overall, the tour, I can’t really fault the way the guys have gone about it. We’ve played some brilliant cricket.”
South Africa chased down its consolation win desperately having sustained a rare home series loss, been knocked off the top of the test rankings, and been the target of sometimes fierce criticism by its fans and media commentators.
Rabada’s 6-32 in England’s brief second innings, and his 13 wickets in the test, confirmed the relief of a first victory for the former No. 1 team in its last 10 tests, since it beat West Indies in early January 2015.
“Tough times are part of the game. And it’s a part of individual careers,” South Africa captain AB de Villiers said. “I never felt it was panic stations.”
The 20-year-old Rabada became only the third South African to take 13 wickets in a test and his match figures of 13-144 were the second best ever for the Proteas behind Makhaya Ntini’s 13-132 against West Indies in 2005.
“It was a real team effort, I think,” Rabada said. “We stayed positive and I’m happy that we won and I’m happy that I bowled well.”
It was Rabada’s individual performance, however, that gave South Africa a reason to be so positive after the grim recent run. In the absence of injured quick Dale Steyn, Rabada bowled with pace and combined swing and seam movement to trouble England in both innings — and cheer South Africa.
Starting the final day, England faced a victory target of 382, way more than the current record at SuperSport Park, or more realistically three sessions to survive for a draw and to keep South Africa winless in a series at home for the first time in a decade.
That never looked likely when James Taylor went to Morne Morkel (3-36) and Joe Root edged to slip off spinner Dane Piedt, both gone inside the first five overs of the day. England’s two overnight batsmen fell in the space of four balls and after adding just six runs to the total.
Rabada’s first 10-wicket haul in tests came in strange fashion: Jonny Bairstow was caught behind prompting a big celebration, only for a TV review to reveal Rabada had overstepped for a no ball. Next delivery, Rabada sent in a ball that shaped away to take the edge again and remove Bairstow straight after his reprieve.
Ben Stokes, England’s allround star of the series, could do little as well, hitting two quick fours for his 10 before being caught in the deep.
When Rabada had James Anderson lbw for a duck — after a review — England had collapsed to its worst total in South Africa since 92 all out in Cape Town in 1899.
Rabada became just the third South African after Hugh Tayfield and Ntini to take 13 wickets in a match, and as Rabada steamed in to pick up four of the seven wickets that fell in the morning, Ntini, now a commentator, shouted from the stands: “Come on Rabada, get 13!”
He did, and England continued its recent trend of losing the last test of a series, although the result that ultimately mattered was the overall result: England 2, South Africa 1.
“An issue I don’t mind having if we’ve already won the series,” captain Cook said.