Moeen Ali is used to dealing with a certain amount of confusion about his role in the England team. He started this series as England’s designated “second spinner”, when Liam Dawson (remember him?) was drafted in to shore up their options for Lord’s and Trent Bridge. And Moeen started this match by coming in at No. 9, after Toby Roland-Jones’ peculiar promotion as a non-batting nightwatchman in England’s first innings.
But the confusion, on this final day of the Investec Test series, was all in the minds of South Africa’s middle and lower order, as Moeen first broke the spirited resistance of their senior batsman, Hashim Amla, before ripping through the defences of Quinton de Kock and Theunis de Bruyn in the space of 10 more deliveries. He then put the seal on an emphatic 177-run win at 5.35pm, with the back-to-back scalps of Morne Morkel and Duanne Olivier, who was caught at slip for a golden duck to complete innings figures of 5 for 69, and a phenomenal haul of 25 wickets at 15.64 – the most by an England spinner since 1961.
By the break, South Africa’s second innings was in tatters at 173 for 6, with Moeen adding the cheap scalps of Quinton de Kock for 1 and Theunis de Bruyn for a second-ball duck, having broken a fourth-wicket stand of 123 between Amla and his captain, Faff du Plessis, who remained unbeaten on 60. South Africa’s senior batsmen had played with resolve and intent throughout a 31-over partnership, which would ordinarily have allowed them to bat clean through the session. However, an hour’s rain delay in the morning meant an extra half-hour had been shoehorned in before tea, and that window proved decisive.
The crucial breakthrough came when Moeen, who had switched ends after being negated in his earlier forays, tweaked a sharp offbreak into Amla’s pads as he attempted a clip to leg. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena turned down the initial appeal, but Joel Wilson the TV umpire confirmed that the ball would have been crashing into leg stump, in spite of a clear spike on the snickometer that did not appear to have been caused by an inside edge.
And Moeen was back in action in his very next over as well, when the left-handed de Kock was lured into a loose drive out of the rough, and was snaffled low at second slip by Alastair Cook as the ball bit and turned. De Bruyn was next in Moeen’s sights, and he wasn’t there for long, as England’s offspinner claimed the 23rd wicket of a stellar all-round series with the one that skidded straight on. Stokes this time was the slip catcher, as de Bruyn played back to fatal effect.
His trio of breakthroughs transformed the tale of a session that had been dominated by Amla and du Plessis. The pair had come together immediately after the lunch break, following Temba Bavuma’s dismissal to the final ball of the morning, to rescue their side from a bleak scoreline of 40 for 3. Stuart Broad and James Anderson had served notice of the challenge that South Africa faced with a pair of brilliant and at times unplayable new-ball spells that included the scalps of both openers, Dean Elgar and Heino Kuhn, and they knew that any hope of survival realistically rested on their shoulders.
Both men had proven track records when it comes to batting long and digging deep. Amla, whose national-record 311 not out came on their last tour of England in 2012, was the obvious focal point of South Africa’s resistance, while du Plessis made his name as a Test batsman in his very first innings, against Australia at Adelaide in November 212, digging in for 376 deliveries to produce a series-turning draw.—AFP