Graeme Smith’s second innings declaration had a whiff of safe aggression about it. It was like swearing at a pedestrian from the top deck of a moving bus. England could have run and climbed aboard at the next stop, but it was never likely. They settled for doing a half-jog and waving their fist a little bit.
It was a decent Test that was a little bit knackered by the weather. A couple more sessions would have been nice, but one-nil down the onus was on England to make the running and the draw was always favourite once South Africa had taken a giant, fat man mouthful of time from the match with their first innings.
That’s the thing about a three-match series: if one team takes the lead, they can play conservatively and hedge their bets a little. It’s not that the South Africans aren’t playing to win, it’s that they don’t need to really pursue victories. They can remain on the bus.
England have to disembark and confront their opponents, but it has to be said that they’re naturally better suited to being in South Africa’s position. They’re strongest when they bide their time and apply controlled pressure.
This isn’t a complaint about the nature of the cricket, by the way. It’s actually pretty intriguing. There’s a no-time-to-waste, hit-and-run quality to three-match series which gives them an interesting dynamic. It’d be great if it got to a best-of-three scenario after two Tests had already been played, obviously, but what are you going to do?
That isn’t a rhetorical question. What are you going to do?