London: South Africa captain Graeme Smith was left lamenting his team’s lack of killer instinct at The Oval after England came from behind to win the fifth and final Test by nine wickets on Monday.
The result saw England square the series at 2-2 and left South Africa still searching for a first Test series win in England since 1965. But the Proteas were on top at 290 for two in their first innings before being bowled out for 484 — still a good score but not the total in excess of 500 that would have killed off England hopes.
“We have to learn to be a bit more ruthless,” said Smith, at 22 South Africa’s youngest ever captain, who cited the moment when Herschelle Gibbs got out for 183 as one turning point.
“It’s the best win of my career,” said England captain Michael Vaughan. “For them to get 484 and for us to come back, it’s my best Test win as a player, not just as a captain.”
Vaughan admitted he felt “pretty doomed” as South Africa powered their way to 290 for two. “But when they got 484, I had a suspicion that it wasn’t par on that pitch.”
Smith praised the England duo of Marcus Trescothick and Graham Thorpe whose stand of 268 got the hosts back into the match before allrounder Andrew Flintoff’s hurricane 95 took England to 604 for nine declared and a vital first innings lead of 120.
“England played the better cricket in the middle of this Test match. There was Trescothick and Thorpe’s partnership. Then Flintoff’s knock took the game away from us. He (Flintoff) is the England player who has impressed me most,” added Smith of the allrounder who was the hosts’ Man of the Series.
“He’s always charging in, even when the other team is 400 for two. That’s the mark of a great sportsman, he never lies down.”
Even the England captain praised Flintoff. “When you’ve got a guy who can clear the ropes with such ease, well he’s a phenomenal talent,” said Vaughan of the Lancastrian. “I knew that once we got a lead we could put them under pressure.”
Flintoff, who before the series had a Test batting average of 19.48, finished the series with 423 runs at 52.87. He often found himself being deployed as a containing bowler and took just ten wickets at 59.2.
“He’d have probably liked a few more wickets, but I’d have liked a few more runs,” Vaughan said in a reference to his own lack of form with the bat.
After seeing his side become the latest South Africa team since re-admission after the 1994 and 1998 squads to see the chance of a series win in England evaporate in the final match, Smith insisted their character was not in question.
“I don’t think we’re chokers. England played good cricket in this match. But at Headingley (where South Africa won the fourth Test by 191 runs after being 21 for four and 142 for seven) we fought back well. England are allowed to play good cricket but it’s obviously disappointing not pushing on from 2-1.
“Test cricket is about pressure and we didn’t cope with it in this match.” Now the Proteas have just eight days at home after flying back on Tuesday before setting off for a three-Test tour of Pakistan. “It’s a bit ridiculous schedule wise,” Smith said. “But we’ve got our country’s badge on our chests and we’ve got to perform.”