South Africa Beat England in Third Test to Become World's Best Cricket Team

Adam MacDonaldAnalyst IIAugust 21, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 20:  Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis of South Africa celebrates with the ICC World Test mace after winning the 3rd Investec Test match between England and South Africa at Lord's Cricket Ground on August 20, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

South Africa has officially become the greatest Test side in the world, after beating England on a thrilling fifth day at Lord's.

With the win, the Proteas won the three-match series 2-0, leapfrogging England to regain the top spot in the ICC world rankings for the first time since November 2009.

Entering the final day, England were 16/2, still needing a monstrous 330 runs to win and hold onto their number one ranking.

They didn't start well. 18 runs into the day, Ian Bell went for four, failing to add to his overnight tally and getting caught at slip after a lacklustre, flat-footed effort.

Seven overs later, England provided the news networks with the perfect illustration of how this series—and 2012 in general—has gone.

Trott played a nice shot deep legside, from which he and James Taylor comfortably made three. But Taylor thought there was one more to be had and ran back. Trott stayed put, while Taylor floundered and was thrown out easily.

It was a pathetic display, which summed up nicely the form England's been in of late. In 11 Tests this year, they've lost six, drawn three and won just two. Every batsman has been below his career batting average, and it was only a matter of time before they lost the top ranking they had earned almost exactly a year ago.

That's not to say this day was a total loss, though.

Trott, Jonathan Bairstow, Graeme Swann and Matt Prior played some wonderful stuff, keeping their team in it until the evening and even giving them a shot at a miraculous victory.

At one point, with 12 overs remaining, England were 63 runs away from victory, with three wickets in hand. Anything seemed possible.

But in the end, the losses of Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook from the evening before and the early mistakes of Bell and Taylor proved too much for the English. The first four wickets fell for 44 runs. Then, 44/4 became 282/7, and things looked good for England.

Swann was run out, the new ball came and 11 balls later, the match was over.

Vernon Philander had a brilliant match, taking 2-for-48 in the first innings and a sublime 5-for-30 in the second. He was handy with the bat, too, making 61 and 37. His performance typified what went right for South Africa in this series and what went wrong for England.

The South African pace bowling had their opponents in all kinds of trouble from the beginning, and when one couples that with the bad mistakes England made, it's hard on the batsmen to gain any ground.

Meanwhile, South Africa didn't make those mistakes. They made their catches, batted responsibly and cleverly and had a good gameplan with their bowling attack. England did none of that and deserved to lose.

The day could have gone a lot worse for England.

At 45/4, no one would have been surprised to see the heads go down and the tail collapse before lunch. Nevertheless, they held in there, made a match of it and at least salvaged some pride.