83 to Hashim Amla. 61 to Faf du Plessis. The rest of the batting crumbling away like a thin layer of wafer.
That has been the structure, if not the story, of the South African batting in this series. Take away Amla and du Plessis, and all that remains is uncertainty.
Add to that both these stalwarts, the bulwarks of the Protean batting, had not really clicked together … but for that second Test in Nottingham when almost everything had gone according to plan.
It has been a sad story. Even though Amla had a lukewarm series, he finished second in the batting averages … after a man called Vernon Philander. One can see that the Proteans had real problems in scoring runs.
If we consider this, the 3-1 scoreline ceases to be a surprise.
Not only is the crest and trough of South African batting on the fourth day a realistic miniature of what the series was all about. Much can be made out from whatever went on during what turned out to be the last day of the series.
In the past newspapers used to report the scorecard of a particular Test match day by listing all the runs and wickets that took place on that day, adding the overnight score in parentheses. Some dailies still do so. If we look just at the fourth day scorecard in this manner, there are other glaring indications of the difference between the two sides.
The first thing one notices about the day’s play is Moeen Ali. Unbeaten 67 overnight, he finished with 75 not out against his name.
Then came the swing merchants of England, looking likely to take a wicket with every ball. The brittle batting order was dented three times before the most experienced duo weathered the storm and looked likely to take the game towards an interesting finish.
And then arrived Moeen once again, now in his other role. Amla was trapped leg before, Quentin de Cock and Theunis de Bruyn taken low in the slips off helpless outside edges. And to hasten the end, Morne Morkel hit one down the throat of Joe Root, after which Duanne Olivier followed, in the by now tried and tested method, edging to Ben Stokes at slip.
From 163 for 3, South Africa slumped to 202 all out. 5 of the last 7 wickets to Moeen.
With the ball there was Anderson, there was Stuart Broad, there was the sensational debutant Toby Roland-Jones. There was the all-round brilliance of Ben Stokes. There were the pillars of batting in the form of Alastair Cook and Joe Root. There was also Johnny Bairstow, who kept with flamboyance and ended second in the series averages with the bat after Root.
Amidst all this depth, almost imperceptibly on occasions, Moeen played his role to a degree of perfection few anticipated. 252 runs at 36, 25 wickets at 15.64.
No one else has ever managed a 250-25 double in a four-match Test series.
One may still wrinkle one’s upturned nose in disapproval, voicing that he is no spinner of merit. One can still maintain that he can neither get into the team with his batting alone nor with his bowling.
But the fact remains that he keeps producing performances which look electric, if not on the field, at least on the scorecard. The fact remains that he has been pivotal in all the Test matches in the series. The fact remains that he has been awarded both the Man of the Match and the Man of the Series awards.
It is the fifth Man of the Match award for him in the past two years. The only man to have as many during that period is Ravindra Jadeja, yet another man critics find very difficult to give proper due to. The next in line, with four, happens to be Ravichandran Ashwin … Spinning all-rounders seem to be taking over world cricket, and the world seem to be struggling to accept the same.
If such a player as Moeen emerges as the last in line with both bat and ball, after more accomplished and trusted names have had their stint, it speaks of voluminous depth in the side. Moeen Ali and whatever registered against his name on the final day of the series underlines that he is a champion cricketer, an incontrovertible fact whether we like it or not. It also underlines that England is a side with unusual depth in every department.
The 3-1 scoreline is well deserved. Perhaps a wee-bit less than deserved.
One last word about the enormous problems of South African batting.
Scratch the surface of any successful side and you come across a flourishing opening partnership.
Be it Clive Lloyd’s West Indians with Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes, or the Australians of the 1990s and 2000s with either Mark Taylor and Michael Slater or Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer, the formula is constant. We see it with the Invincibles when one had to get through the Sid Barnes-Arthur Morris duo to get at Don Bradman, or even the resurgent India of the 2007-2011 phase when there were Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir both batting at their best.
The South African opening partnership in this series, consisting of Dean Elgar and Heino Kuhn, managed 109 runs in 8 innings at 13.62 with a highest collaboration of 21.
I don’t think any elaboration is necessary. The problem is all too apparent. If the Amlas and the Bavumas were a trifle edgy while awaiting their turn at the wicket, it was because they were shielded by the most fragile of opening combinations in recent history.
Even that is reflected by the final day’s scorecard. Elgar 5, Kuhn 11. Partnership 10.
Therefore, to get to the bottom of the problems plaguing their unit, the Proteans need to start at the very top. And gradually work their way down.
England too have a problem at the top. They need to work out the problems quickly, to be prepared for The Ashes this winter.
But for now, we have to acknowledge that they were well ahead in most of the departments. Deserving winners.