Onions makes hosts feel like crying
In a dramatic rearguard action, England secured a draw in the third Test against South Africa in Cape Town yesterday.
For the second time in this series and the third in six months they had one wicket left when a pulsating final session of the match concluded.
The man who had to keep out the final over, as it was in the opening match of this series against South Africa, was Graham Onions, the No 11. He played it nervelessly as he had at Centurion, keeping out all that Morne Morkel, the tall, menacing South Africa fast bowler could hurl down at him, which was a considerable amount.
England were entitled to their jubilation as Graeme Swann, the batsman at the other end, sprinted down the pitch to embrace his colleague. Equally, South Africa could be excused for feelings of dejection. How England almost mucked it up, how South Africa almost prised a win from highly unpromising circumstances.
For most of the day it had seemed that the tourists would comfortably gain the result they needed to retain their 1-0 lead in the series. Although they had lost two wickets in the morning, the damage was repaired in a long sixth-wicket stand between Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell. For over after over they played nothing which did not need to be played.
Together they wore down South Africa's attack by refusing to become engaged in any fancy business. They observed the age-old verities, they played plumb-line straight. Collingwood had been there before many times, of course, from his Test debut six years ago when he played for three hours while scoring 36 to help repel Sri Lanka at Galle. It has become the sort of position in a Test match for which Collingwood was not only made but probably goes to bed to dream about.
Bell was a less welcome sight as he came to the wicket at the fall of Jonathan Trott to a whizz bang ball from Dale Steyn which ripped out his off stump. There is no doubting Bell's rich talent, but he has been out many times when he should not have been. Not this time. Bell went about his innings exactly. Each shot was tailor-made for the ball in question — there was no off-the-peg stuff in sight.
There were astonishingly few alarms until the second new ball was taken an over after lunch. Then Steyn, bowling like the wind, produced one of the great unrewarded bursts. It lasted six overs and 29 of the balls it contained were bowled at Collingwood.
Time and again Steyn made the ball move away sharply and late, just occasionally he made it hold its own. Collingwood played and missed maybe four times but he left resolutely as well. At the other end, Morkel was not testing Bell quite so specifically or regularly but it was still of the torrid variety.
That safely negotiated it seemed that England must survive the last hour easily. But in the second over of the final 15, Collingwood pushed forward at the occasional spin of JP Duminy and edged a regulation chance to slip. One of the epic rearguard partnerships had lasted 57 overs in which 112 runs were accrued. Collingwood had faced 188 balls for his 40, 162 from which he did not score.
Collingwood had played crucial roles in the draws at Cardiff against Australia (74 from 245 balls) and at Centurion in the first Test of this series (26no from 99) but even by his standards this was self-denial to last for a thousand Lents.
Poor Matt Prior lasted only nine balls before pushing one to one of the myriad close fielders. AB de Villiers, staying low, took the catch inches from the ground. Stuart Broad hung around for 35 minutes, survived a review of a catch at silly point, faced 22 scoreless balls and then gloved to short leg. The review did not save him this time. Swann came in and dealt with the pressure by immediately square-driving his first ball for four. Only Swann.
All the time Bell was there England were safe. Suddenly he was not. Morkel, brought back one last time, got one to lift from a length and it took Bell's edge and flew to first slip where Graeme Smith pouched the chance. It was Bell's greatest innings for England, perhaps his only great one so far, and it lasted nearly five hours.
South Africa had one wicket to get, 17 balls left. But Onions stood firm and England had earned a crucial draw to remain one ahead with one to play.