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The risks backfired

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Fielding a sick Vern didn't pay off

TIME TO CELEBRATE: Englands Moeen Ali is congratulated by his teammates after he took a hat-trick to get South Africas last three wickets to win the Test match on the fifth and final day of the third Test at The Oval yesterday.

THIRD TEST, Final Day

England 353 and 313/8 decl.

South Africa 175 and 252

RESULT: England won by 239 runs, and lead the series 2-1

South Africa, already taking a risk carrying an erratic bowler in Chris Morris, then took a risk in starting with an ill Vernon Philander in this Test – and it backfired badly for them.

That’s two chances taken with two very important components in the starting XI, while knowing they are carrying a batting unit that, with the exception of one opener, has been inconsistent for two years.

That’s a few too many risks for a team that’s still finding itself as a Test unit.

Tough individual

Dean Elgar is a mighty tough individual as he showed through five-and-a-half hours of batting in the second innings of this Test but he can’t carry the batting by himself and he certainly can’t carry the team when the bowlers – who’ve often rescued the side – were not up to the standard’s usually expected of them.

South Africa were out-bowled here – failing to take advantage of excellent conditions on the first day, when cloud cover was thick, light murky and the pitch well grassed. In some respects they were unlucky, in that Alastair Cook and Ben Stokes played and missed a lot in a tricky final 30 minutes on the first day.

However, their misfortune must be weighed up against the risk they took in playing Philander, who Faf du Plessis acknowledged was 50 percent fit. Despite his discomfort he was still able to pick up two wickets – “even at 50 percent he’s still better than most,” remarked Du Plessis.

The trouble was the rest of the attack weren’t – Morné Morkel is bowling well in this series but Kagiso Rabada, having not played since Lord’s, only looked to have found his rhythm in England’s second innings.

Morris struggled to step up to that third seamer role; his out-and-out aggression not providing sufficient control, and as a result he was a release of pressure for England’s batsmen every time he bowled.

Finding some consistency and control is an area of his game that is going to require significant work if he’s to be a long-term option in the Test side.

A long-term option at the top of the order is what South Africa need most urgently to start resolving their batting problems too.

Du Plessis said afterwards that if it was solely up to him Heino Kuhn will start the fourth Test in Manchester on Friday despite averaging just 13 in the series so far. The South African captain feels his provincial teammate deserves that chance.

Not since Elgar and Stephen Cook put on 64 at Newlands against Sri Lanka in January has there been an opening stand of more than 50 and you have to go back to the Boxing Day Test in Port Elizabeth for the last time the openers recorded a century stand – ironically in both innings’ of that Test.

Elgar and Quinton de Kock are the only two South African batsmen averaging above 40 this year, and in De Kock’s case most of his runs have come in the No 7 spot. In this series he’s been shifted to No 4.

No praise is high enough for Elgar’s knock in the second innings of this Test. He received a warm standing ovation as he trudged off the field – the first victim of Moeen Ali’s match ending hat-trick.

It was a monumental effort that left him battered and bruised, but one that even in defeat he will recall with relish.

England can no longer lose this series and thus they retain the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy. In contrast to South Africa their cricket in the third Test was of the highest quality – lessons clearly were learned from the barrage of criticism they took following the defeat at Trent Bridge.

Ben Stokes with a hundred, three wickets and four catches had a superb all-round game underlining his status as a genuine match-winner.