Alastair Cook accepts dropped catches cost England the chance to win the drawn second Test against South Africa and contributed to a nervy final day.
A first-innings total of 629-6 declared, reached in quick time thanks to Ben Stokes’s phenomenal double century and Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow registering his maiden Test centuiry, positioned the tourists for a victory push in Cape Town and an unassailable 2-0 lead series lead.
But after numerous chances and half-chances were missed –eight, of varying difficulty, went in and out of the hands – South Africa eventually ended their own innings just two runs behind.
A shaky display with the bat on day five from England then briefly raised hopes of an unlikely home win before Bairstow helped see the tourists to safety.
As the sides prepare to reconvene for the third Test in Johannesburg, South Africa will now be led by AB de Villiers following Hashim Amla’s decision to resign as captain following yesterday’s draw.
The Proteas can reflect on some major improvements since their defeat in the opening Test in Durban, while Cook was left frustrated more with his side’s costly poor fielding, rather than the final-day mini-collapse.
“Over the five days I was pretty happy with our performance but clearly the chances we missed cost us the victory,” said Cook.
“You need to take your chances. We practice hard and it seemed to be one of those games where we couldn’t take them... some were genuine half-chances, but Chris Morris took two half-chances for them and that was the difference.
“It was frustrating and the game would have looked very different if we could have managed to do that.
“We tried everything, we just couldn’t cling on to those chances.”
Cook was first man out on the fifth morning, feathering his second ball to the wicketkeeper, and watched uneasily from the balcony as wickets continued tumbling.
At one stage his side seemed genuinely vulnerable at 116-6, but Bairstow (30 not out) and Moeen Ali eased the score to 159 without further loss before bad light stopped play.
“It was a nervous day actually, when you nick off down leg side and then sit and watch it’s not a particularly enjoyable day as captain, I won’t lie,” added Cook.
“I thought Jonny and Mo calmed a few nerves and we always seemed in a good position to save the game. We’d like to have done it two or three down but that never is the English way is it? A few people came over to watch so we thought we’d make it exciting. It’s 1-0 and we’ve played really good cricket on tour. This was a disappointing day but it doesn’t really count for anything when we go to Johannesburg.”
If the hosts arrived at the ground for the final day’s action harbouring slim hopes of victory, the presence of ominous overhead conditions cannot have hurt the team talk.
The biggest sign it might yet be their day came when Cook tickled his second ball down leg side and into Quinton de Kock’s gloves. It was the kind of start that sets tongues wagging in the stands and the dressing room.
South Africa were ambitious in trying to win an lbw decision against Nick Compton first ball, but they were soon celebrating again.
Alex Hales did not look comfortable against Morne Morkel and, when his back-foot drive whistled towards third slip, Morris took a brilliant catch.
Morkel also had Joe Root caught off the edge for 17, but saw the Yorkshireman reprieved when replays showed he had overstepped. It mattered little, Root making just 12 more before Morris produced a terrific first delivery that swung, seamed and scattered the stumps.
By the time lunch arrived Compton had chipped Dane Piedt to mid-on and England had lost four wickets for 71.
On a pitch barely worse than it had been when they took one South African wicket in total on day three, that represented a poor show.
And yet time was running out, quick runs or steady progress could still kill the contest.
Stokes, predictably, went for the first option, managing 26 before top-edging a sweep off Piedt and being caught at long leg.
It was the kind of dismissal that infuriates onlookers, but England have empowered Stokes to be a middle-order aggressor and must accept there will be bumps along the way. James Taylor (27) followed 10 balls later, Piedt picking up a third with a hint of spin and a loopy catch off the glove.
One more wicket would take the Proteas into the tail and the introduction of slow left-armer Dean Elgar almost did the trick.
De Kock whipped off the bails when Bairstow pushed forward and made no contact, leaving third umpire Rod Tucker to adjudicate an extremely tight stumping. Eventually, the Australian decided Bairstow’s back foot had snuck back just in time and tea arrived without further drama.
When the evening session began, under dark skies and with floodlights on, the end was nigh.
Six more overs of spin were possible before the teams returned to the pavilion and finally called the draw – with Amla calling time on his leadership soon after.
Chris Waters: Page 21.