England might have talked a good game about batting out six sessions to avoid defeat in the second Test, but the deed proved well beyond them as they managed less than a quarter of that. South Africa needed just 40.2 overs to claim the 10 wickets required to level the series on the fourth day, achieving their goal by 3pm to complete a 340-run victory at Trent Bridge.
In the same way that South Africa folded on the fourth day of the first Test, England were bowled out for 133 in their second innings – though they had fewer excuses for doing so. While the Lord’s pitch turned square in the fourth innings, the sun was out in Nottingham for the first time on Monday (July 17) and there were few demons in the pitch. Only one wicket-taking delivery misbehaved, with Vernon Philander getting one to shoot through Gary Ballance’s defences. The rest of the wickets fell due to South Africa’s often brutish skill and England’s misadventure.
South Africa will enjoy the 10-day break to the third Test after proving to themselves and everyone else that if they play at something approaching their best, they have England’s beating. Barring any unexpected injuries, they will also go to The Oval with a clear idea of their best team, while England look further away from that now than they did at the start of the series. Much as they won’t want to return to the bad old days of selection when they chopped and changed too readily, the concerns around several players might force them into drastic action midway through the series.
The real damage on day four was done not by South Africa’s opening bowlers, who exposed the known shortcomings of Keaton Jennings and Ballance, but Chris Morris, who removed England’s two best batsmen with contrasting snorters. In the process he completed his transformation, from the questionable first-change bowler that he looked in his opening spell of the match, to a key cog that had balanced South Africa’s side. With Kagiso Rabada set to return for the largely ineffectual Duanne Olivier in the next match, the visitors can feel that they have all of their bases covered.
By contrast, England were left with many more questions than answers. Jennings offered nothing like an opening batsman’s defence as he was bowled through the gate by Philander, and Ballance’s troubles against the full delivery continued as he was hit on the pad twice in two balls. Both appeals were turned down by the umpires with the decisions reviewed by South Africa. The second one showed that Philander’s scuttling delivery had pitched in line with leg stump – the only basis for doubt – and so Ballance was on his way.
The question was whether Morris and Olivier could maintain the intensity, and the former provided an emphatic answer. The seventh ball he bowled to Joe Root was a searing yorker that shaped away late to uproot the off-stump, while it was the short ball that accounted for Alastair Cook (42) as he gloved through to the keeper whilst defending his face. At 72 for four inside the opening session, it was simply a matter of how much longer England would hold out.
The answer was not long at all. In the second over after lunch, Jonny Bairstow played a filthy shot, hitting Keshav Maharaj straight to mid-on when he had no business trying to clear the fielder. Maharaj went on to pick up two more wickets as Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad both swept to fielders, while Philander had Ben Stokes caught and bowled.
With England falling in a heap, and quickly, Faf du Plessis even had the space to bring on Olivier for some sympathy wickets. England were eight down, and Olivier finished the job in two deliveries as both Mark Wood and James Anderson were caught behind the wicket. Philander nevertheless finished with the best figures, taking 3 for 24, though Morris’ 2 for 7 in six brisk overs had caught the eye and Maharaj ended the game with six scalps overall.
Brief scores: South Africa 335 & 343/9 decl (Dean Elgar 80, Hashim Amla 87; Moeen Ali 4-78) beat England 205 & 133 (Alastair Cook 42; Keshav Maharaj 3-42, Vernon Philander 3-24) by 340 runs.