South Africa breaks The Oval's voodoo
South Africa recorded a historic win at The Oval on Monday when they beat England by an innings and 12 runs. It’s their first victory at the ground and only the fifth time in Test cricket history that a team has won a Test after losing just two wickets. By ANT SIMS.
The first Test at The Oval has been jam-packed with records, reaching an epic climax on Monday as South Africa made history by recording their first-ever victory at the Kennington ground. It’s an unrepentant notion that records at grounds dictate the way the game will go, but you’d be forgiven for falling in with the superstition. The visitors were down and out on the first day, but a mild flogging from Alastair Cook was exactly what they needed to claw their way back and rip out the throat of the opposition.
“It’s an incredible feeling to have won here. We’ve put in a lot of hard work and we’re very proud [of] what we have achieved, especially against a good side like England,” said Jacques Kallis.
Smith set the tone with his 25th hundred, which has upped his average in England to 75.87, the second highest for any player in the history of the game. With two tough Tests left to play, it’s an encouraging sign for the South African captain, who has dashed off back home to spend time with his wife during the birth of their first child and should return to England on 30 July, if everything goes according to plan with the birth.
Hashim Amla achieved an equally remarkable feat with the bat, becoming the first South African to pass the 300-run mark in Tests, and Kallis contributed an equally fine knock as the tourists amassed 637-2, the highest-ever total in Tests for the loss of two wickets, on a pitch which offered next to nothing for the bowlers. Graeme Swann, who was tipped to be the key bowler in the series, suffered his worst figures in a Test match, finishing with 52-10-151-0.
England captain Andrew Strauss lauded South Africa’s ruthlessness and admitted that the visitors never allowed his charges to get back in the game.
“South Africa never gave us a chance in this match. Since day two they came hard at us and we never reacted well enough. They took their chances and fought hard to stay in; they deserve credit for that,” said Strauss.
Since day two, South Africa did not only manage to dig out the intensity they lacked on day one. They served it up on a hot plate, with interest. They reignited their fire to win key moments in the Test every time they needed a strong comeback. South Africa showed intent and commitment to the cause and, most importantly, they dictated the terms on which they wanted to win.
The team’s preparation was heavily criticised in the build-up to the Test at The Oval, but if their performance was a reflection of their powers when they’re undercooked, their opponents had better hope they don’t make it to medium rare before they get to Lord’s.
“The best way to prepare for playing Test cricket is by playing Test cricket,” South African coach Gary Kirsten said.
“The guys came into this Test mentally fresh, which was very important, and after having a few days together as a unit, everybody was looking forward to playing Tests again.”
Dale Steyn in particular was exquisite, and he contributed with a match-changing spell on the second morning, when the ball moved around just a touch. He dismissed Cook early on after a torrid time on day one, and while he continued to improve as England’s first innings meandered along, Steyn came into full swing in the second innings. The paceman returned to his usual hostile self on the final day and kept a consistent line and length to help him take five wickets and remind everyone why he is the number one-ranked bowler in the world.
“It was an incredible performance from our bowlers today and on Sunday,” said Kallis.
“We knew it was going to be hard work, but our bowlers created chances and asked questions and in the context of the conditions, it was something really special from our guys. On day two, we found a bit of swing and we used the conditions well,” said Kallis.
The South African attack looked composed towards the end of the Test and did extraordinarily to swing the match back into the visitor’s favour in harsh conditions. Imran Tahir showed encouraging signs on the final day of the Test, using the conditions well, staying calm and focusing on using his variations and picking up three wickets in the process. While the legspinner is not quite at his best yet, Kirsten is encouraged by what he has seen.
“Imran said that this [had] been the best five days of his life. He is starting to understand Tests and the strategies. He’s so enthusiastic, it’s exciting to see. He’s just getting better and better and he’s bowling with a lot of confidence. He’s learning fast and it’s a good sign for us,” said Kirsten. DM
Photo: South Africa's Dale Steyn (R) celebrates and gestures after dismissing England's Graeme Swann for his fifth wicket during their first cricket test match at the Oval cricket ground in London July 23, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown