Strauss credits South Africa
Andrew Strauss was magnanimous in defeat and admitted that South Africa deserved to win the Investec Series, which saw them take over from England at the top of the International Cricket Council Test rankings.
The Proteas won by 51 runs on a tumultuous last day at Lord’s to take the three-game rubber 2-0 and leave their opponents second in the Test table.
Fighting fifties from Jonathan Trott, Jonny Bairstow and Matt Prior kept the hosts in contention to make the 330 they needed today, which they began with eight wickets in hand.
However, it was just beyond them and Vernon Philander’s 5-30 ensured they relinquished the number-one spot they rose to two days shy of a year ago.
"South Africa definitely played the better of the cricket over the course of the three Test matches,” Strauss said.
"I think this Test match was how I envisaged all three going - very tightly-fought, small margins between the sides, one dropped catch or good bit of play could be the difference between winning and losing
"I am obviously bitterly disappointed to come out on the wrong side of the result in this game. But I can't fault the commitment and hunger and desire and application that everyone showed.
"I thought it was a fantastic effort from our players. But South Africa were just a bit too good, and they deserve all the credit they get. They outplayed us over the course of the three Test matches.
"We've got to take that on the chin, try to work out why that was the case and how best to move forward.”
Following an innings defeat in the Kia Oval opener and a draw at Headingley Carnegie, only victory would do for England at Lord’s.
As such, they had to pursue a target of 346 and were well ahead of the required run-rate when Philander’s two wickets in as many balls completed victory with 20.1 overs to go.
Strauss was left to reflect on missed opportunities, such as Hashim Amla being dropped on two down leg by wicketkeeper Prior off Stuart Broad en route to his second-innings 121.
"There was no value in a draw in this circumstance,” Strauss added.
"If we batted out the day, there was every chance we would get enough runs - especially with the kind of attacking players we've got in the batting order.
"But we left ourselves with too much to do. Obviously those two wickets last night, and a couple more quite early today, put us on the back foot.
"We certainly had our chances in this game, and I thought we fought outstandingly well. But South Africa deserved to win this game, as they did the whole series.”
Two partnerships in particular today kept the hosts in contention for a remarkable win.
First Bairstow’s 47-ball 54 dominated a stand of 89 with Jonathan Trott, whose innings was a steady 63. Later, Prior and Graeme Swann raced to a 74-run alliance in 11 overs.
The latter almost turned the game England’s way, but Swann was run out for 41 from 34 deliveries and Prior was caught at slip off Philander for 73 against the second new ball.
"I thought it was just getting into the realms of possibility,” Strauss said of the Prior/Swann combination. “If they'd put on another 20 or so, suddenly it would have looked like a fairly even contest.
"South Africa had a new ball up their sleeve, which was quite a big card to pull out. But Swann and Prior played outstandingly well.
“It's always disconcerting for the opposition when guys come out with that freedom and put them under pressure.
"That was the sort of fight we all wanted to show through the course of this match, and I'd like to think we did do that."
Strauss, who is due to go abroad on holiday this week and play for Middlesex next, was able to joke about the length of the series.
Many would have preferred it to be longer and the skipper observed two more Tests would have allowed his side the chance to square the rubber.
“It’s a shame it’s over. There’s been some outstanding cricket over those three Tests,” he added.
“From our point of view we’d like a couple more so we could get back and draw the series. The guys move on to the one-day series and I’m sure that will be tightly contested.”