Strauss offers balanced appraisal
The final Test proved one too many for England at the Wanderers - leaving captain Andrew Strauss nursing disappointment but insisting his team still have reason to be proud this winter.
The innings-and-74-run margin by which South Africa raced to victory before lunch on day four was a fair summary of their domination.
Strauss must therefore come to terms with a 1-1 series outcome, and the fact that England - after their famously brave draws at Centurion and Newlands, and landslide second-Test win in Durban - did themselves scant justice in Johannesburg.
The match began with Strauss’ wicket first ball and featured a century for his opposite number, Graeme Smith, and 14 wickets for South Africa fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.
“It’s been three and a half really frustrating days for us,” Strauss said. “When you lose four wickets in the first hour of a Test, it is always going to be hard to drag it back.
“South Africa never let us back in the game. They kept the pressure on us, then were able to get through the tricky new-ball spells and build a sizeable lead. Steyn and Morkel were excellent, and we were below par.”
Strauss had been at pains before the match to acknowledge England were here to win the series, not draw it.
“That’s a disappointing end to the tour,” he said afterwards. “But you don’t want to lose sight of the fact it’s been a very successful tour, and I think we’ve made some improvements over the course of the 10 weeks.
“We’ve shown a lot of resilience and character, which is probably the most important asset to have as a side.”
He is convinced that - although England were unable to pull of a near miracle rearguard for a third time - they have still made great strides in South Africa.
“If you keep putting yourself in that situation, eventually the other side is going to win the game - which is what happened,” he admitted.
“But I said at the start of the tour, in pure cricketing terms, this would be a harder series to win than the Ashes. So to draw it 1-1 is a pretty notable achievement - after winning the one-day series as well.
“It’s been a great tour to be on. The players have applied themselves exceptionally well; the work ethic has been good; it’s been fun - and we’ve got a lot of good memories to go home with.
“It’s not all doom and gloom, but we certainly would have liked to finish the tour better than we did.
“It just leaves a little bit of a bitter taste in the mouth, but it’s easy to get too wrapped up in what has happened over the five days and forget to look at the previous nine weeks.”
Strauss does not subscribe to the view either that England’s draining experiences to close out last-ditch draws in the first and third Tests left them with little left to give.
“We were up for one last effort, but I just think we never got started,” he said. “From ball one, we were behind the eight ball.
“On wickets like that, you need to get through that new ball - and we weren’t able to do that in either innings.”
The decision review system may have dominated many discussions off the field, but on it Strauss believes the distractions were minimal.
“The review system generally in this series has worked pretty well,” he said. “I think we’ve got more decisions right as a result of it, but we haven’t got every decision right.
“We’re far more frustrated by the way we played than anything that went on with the review system in this game.
“When we needed things to go our way, they didn’t - which is often the case. When you’re behind and clutching at straws, it often doesn’t happen the way you want it to.
“We need to take this loss on the chin and accept it for what it was - which is not a very good performance on our part, and a very good one from South Africa.”
Smith’s emotions, inevitably, were very different after his team had finally managed to convert a winning position.
“We could easily be sat here 3-1 up,” he said. “We lacked knockout blows in Centurion and Cape Town; England showed great resilience throughout the series and played well at Durban. But we really dominated this game and came out deserved winners.
“I’m really proud of the way the guys performed. It could have been easy for us to run out of puff after giving so much in Cape Town, but we bounced back - and each guy was hungry to perform well.”
He believes England may be starting an upward curve, albeit one with a few blips possibly ahead too.
“I think England will have a few ups and downs - but there’s potential there,” he concluded.