It would be totally unfair to compare Pakistan’s miraculous loss at Sydney to South Africa’s heartbreak (their second in three Tests) at Cape Town. But the feeling of dejection in the two camps wouldn’t be a lot different. Both sides will be left wondering with the feeling of ‘what if’. And while, South Africa’s bowlers will have to take part of the blame for their failure to clinch the Newlands Test, one has to hand it over to the Englishmen for the manner in which he battled it out on the final day. Pakistan-like collapses and not gutsy efforts are what we have come to expect from English sides over the years. However, following their third great escape since the beginning of the Ashes, that definitely has changed.
The one common factor in all the three close shaves that England managed to survive has been Paul ‘rock solid’ Collingwood. There have been plenty of times in Collingwood’s career when he has been on the brink of elimination. But, each time he has come back with greater vengeance. And his efforts in recent times stand testimony to his never-say-die spirit and complete commitment to raise the level of England cricket.
The nerve-wracking battle against Dale Steyn on the afternoon of the final day at Cape Town would have undoubtedly been amongst Collingwood’s toughest in his entire career. With each and every moving delivering posing uncomfortable questions in front of him, Collingwood could have nicked any and been back in the pavilion. But, he stayed put, leaving alone the deliveries he could. And there was a divine soul up above who realized that here was man who needed his blessings to survive. Not that Steyn didn’t deserve it, but it was just that Collingwood’s efforts were way too indomitable to be ignored.
It wasn’t just Collingwood whose effort stood out though. Another under fire England batsman stood up to the cause. Ian Bell hasn’t done justice to his potential till date. Hopefully, this series might prove to be the making of Bell. Having already registered a century earlier, Bell had a tougher task on hand after Collingwood’s departure, to see the team through to safety. And boy, did he put up a brave front. If Collingwood had weathered the storm, Bell ensured that the danger bells did not ring in England dressing room, holding his own against Morne Morkel – the first innings hero for the Proteas – and the less effective Jacques Kallis as well as left-arm spinner Paul Harris. Both bowlers tried their level best, but while Kallis’ lack of pace hurt him, Harris’ limitations also came to the fore. He is a trier no doubt, but one can’t see him running through oppositions too often.
In the end, a frustrated Graeme Smith had to turn to JP Duminy. And the magically talented cricketer provided yet another twist in the tale. Following his breakthrough, there was another familiar England lower-order collapse. However, Graham Onions once again stood in the way of victory and South Africa. It was his second fairy tale effort, but it was undoubtedly the Paul and Bell show that saved England’s skin.
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