England captain Joe Root praised the battling spirit of his under-the-weather charges, but pinpointed the key portion of the match that ultimately led to England’s defeat in the first Test to South Africa.
The tourists came into day four with hopes high of pulling off yet another miracle by chasing down a target even greater than that achieved in the Ben Stokes-inspired miracle at Headingley.
Despite a promising opening exchange on day four in which Rory Burns and Joe Denly ably saw off the South African opening seamers, the duo relinquished their wickets leaving England perennially on the back foot as the Proteas closed in.
The hosts eventually cleaned up the English order with pacemen Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje combining to take seven scalps, leaving England one-nil down in the four-Test series.
Captain Root reflected during the post-match presentation: “It’s been a really tough week off the field. Pretty much everything has been thrown at the group.
“We had 10 guys go down ill throughout the week, but credit to everyone, they stood up, tried to put in the best performance and at no stage have they let anyone down.
“It’s not been long since we’ve seen similar chases from a very similar group of players. We got ourselves in a position, even at lunch when it was me and Ben and it was pretty much the same as it was at Headingley a few months back.
“We were fully confident we could chase those runs down, we just knew it would take one or two reasonable partnerships and we needed to negotiate the new ball very well.”
Root felt England’s first-innings collapse was central to their defeat.
“That’s where the game was won and lost,” he said. “It’s really disappointing but in the same sense it’s really pleasing to see us very quickly put in a better performance in the second innings.”
On the positives he would take into the second Test, Root said: “I think pretty much everyone has been ill now, so hopefully that’s out of the way! Hopefully that’s the end of it and we can bounce back strong.”
England head coach Chris Silverwood told Sky Sports: “It was a difficult challenge but we came here with high hopes. We were backing ourselves, as we always do, but we knew it was going to be a challenge as well.
“To score that many runs on the wicket with everything else that’s gone on was going to be hard work, but we backed ourselves.”
Defending the decision to bat second, Silverwood added: “When we got here the wicket was a little bit damp and we suspected it would do a little bit with the new ball, which it did.
“We suspected that days two and three would be the best days to bat, when it would deteriorate. As it turned out, day three was the best day to bat.
“It was a game plan that we had. We looked at the wicket and it’s a direction we decided to take.”
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