Proteas captain Faf du Plessis gave a ringing endorsement of the changes in management in South African cricket after his side won the first Test against England by 107 runs at SuperSport Park on Sunday.
The win broke a five-Test losing sequence for the Proteas and gave them their first points in the World Test championship.
“We’ve got the right people in the right jobs at the top of Cricket South Africa,” he said of the appointment of former captain Graeme Smith as director of cricket and Mark Boucher as head coach after a period of upheaval in the local game.
“Leadership always comes from the top and filters down,” said Du Plessis. “I feel it set the tone for the way that we are playing right now. That’s a start for us as a team. Now you can trust the system a little bit more and just focus on playing cricket.”
An enthralling Test was still in the balance at lunchtime on the fourth day. After a tense morning when England could score only 50 runs in 25 overs for the loss of overnight batsmen Rory Burns (84) and Joe Denly (31), England were 205 runs short of their target of 376 but had their best batsmen, captain Joe Root and Ben Stokes at the crease.
Immediately after lunch, with 14 overs to be bowled before the second new ball was due, Root and Stokes upped the tempo, adding 30 runs in five overs. Thirteen of those runs came from one over from left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj but Du Plessis persevered with the spinner.
It was Maharaj who made the crucial breakthrough, bowling Stokes for 14 when the left-hander tried to play a cut shot against a ball which pitched in a rough area and deflected off his glove onto the stumps.
“We had a lot of confidence in Kesh,” said Du Plessis. “We kept saying that we had a feeling that in the second innings he was going to get Ben Stokes out. He has got him out a few times and the way that Stokes plays he is going to take the game on. We had a gut feeling that it was going to happen. It was a massive wicket for us.”
When the new ball was taken seven overs later the end came quickly as Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje blasted out the remaining batsmen. Rabada took 4/103 and Nortje 3/56.
The game was effectively over when Du Plessis brought Nortje into the attack in place of Vernon Philander, who sent down three largely innocuous overs, and Nortje had Root caught behind for 48 with his second ball.
Earlier Nortje dismissed Burns, also with the second ball of a spell, to make the first breakthrough of the day.
Tourists lack consistency
England captain Joe Root said the match was won and lost in the first innings “both with bat and ball.”
He said South Africa escaped from a shaky 111/5 after being sent in, eventually making 284, largely through man of the match Quinton de Kock’s 95.
“We could have been slightly more consistent,” he said. “We gave them too many boundary balls. De Kock likes to score quite quickly and that allowed him to play in the manner he likes to bat.”
That was followed by a poor batting performance which meant a first innings deficit of 103.
“From that point on we fought very hard to get back into the game and we turned up today with a real that belief we could win the Test match,” said Root.
“At lunch me and Ben looked at the scenario and it was pretty much the same equation as it was (against Australia) at Headingley not long ago.”
Root said England needed to lift their game at the start of Test matches.
“The thing that’s frustrating is that when we are behind the eight ball we show a lot of character, we show a lot of fight and determination and we find ways of getting ourselves back into fixtures. We need to do that at the start of games.”
Root said he hoped the bout of illness which had affected 14 members of the squad had run its course. “Hopefully we can all be fighting fit and ready to go for Cape Town and bounce back very quickly.”
The second Test starts at Newlands on Friday.