Eng vs SA, 2nd Test, Old Trafford

A broken car with new wheels is still a broken car. So even if you scramble the sacking of Dean Elgar by James Anderson for the sixth time in 11 matches; Sarel Erwee’s nearly hour-long vigil ends with an edge; Aiden Markram fails again, and South Africa loses two wickets for 10 runs with the old ball and 5 for 7 with the second new ball, and just focus on the 87 run stand between Keegan Petersen and Rassie van der Dussen, you won’t be able to look beyond the obvious: South Africa’s stick is brittle.

But that question was dissected two days ago with a study of systemic issues in South Africa’s domestic system and depth, and seeing it again would just be depressing. This analysis could determine if Pieter Malan, who played in the 2019-20 series against England, should be recalled, or if his younger brother, Janneman, who is part of the white ball formation, should have an opportunity. He could go over the national cricket statistics over the past few seasons and he would throw out the same names and similar numbers, none of which provide compelling enough arguments to move incumbents. So it seems a bit pointless.

These are the players South Africa need to work with, and when they are most confronted, they offer slivers of hope that could turn into something bigger. On a morning that started with the Springboks losing 17-25 to Australia in the Rugby Championship and the top three losing their wickets inside 14 overs, it was Petersen – out of form in his county stint with Durham and without training since – and van der Dussen, with a broken finger, who revved South Africa’s engine.

Petersen is currently the most technically sound hitter in the South African squad. His defensive game is solid, he moves his feet well and he has a soft touch on the wrist. He is not afraid to take a good step against the fullest ball and he keeps his composure when the opponent is short. England tried to squeeze it in for room, but Petersen took advantage of the rebound and found a way to play some shots. The best quality he showed in this round was patience, as he faced 159 balls in four hours for just 42 runs. It’s not Bazball at all, and there may be criticism for how he dodged instead of trying to cut the deficit faster, but it would be harsh. South Africa didn’t have much to blame him for, so he had to play responsibly.

Van der Dussen’s approach is generally the same and this time it was enhanced with a dash of heroism as he went out to bat despite a series-ending injury. After hitting a ball to his left index finger as he lined up a short, thin leg late on day one, van der Dussen spent the entire second day off the pitch and was then seen in training gear on the third morning on the locker room balcony with an aluminum splint around the finger. When Elgar was fired, he changed to his whites. With his Testing career on the line, van der Dussen wasn’t going to let a lack of finger functionality stop him from making his point.

He left the first four balls he faced, but he had to dodge the fifth. Immediately after his bat made contact with the ball, he removed his top from the grip to minimize the impact on the injury. In total, van der Dussen hit 116 of the 132 balls he faced. Everyone would have been hurt. The bullets that pinned him in his crease and forced a block would have hurt him a little more. He finally got one from Stokes, in the first after tea, which scared him so much that when the next ball turned away he followed it and nicked himself. He left carrying his bat in his right hand.

While the South African management ignored questions about the extent of van der Dussen’s injury until the end of the game, their reactions implied it was serious. This has since been confirmed and van der Dussen will return home to see a finger specialist. He came out of the third test and may be wondering about his red ball future, given that he has averaged 24.16 in his last 13 innings and might have been dropped for this decider anyway.

Today, his sleeves were a microcosm of those in South Africa. It was painful but courageous and, in the end, it counted for very little. They have only themselves to blame. The days of blockathons are long gone, but even that wouldn’t have been enough after their first rounds unfolded. Being knocked down for 151 left South Africa in a dire position, against a top-notch English attack in conditions useful for both sewing and spinning, and left them with the questions about their batting resources that must be asked. The answers are proving hard to find.

But for this series, going to South London at 1-1 isn’t the worst thing that could have happened, and not just for neutrals. South Africa will now play just one three-Test series in this cycle (against Australia at the end of the year) before six two-Test series in the 2023-25 ​​World Test Championship. It could leave a generation of gamers who will never experience the ebbs and flows of multiple meetings over the course of a month or more, and the thrill of a decision maker.

This team may not have wanted that, especially since they had the opportunity to build on the momentum of their massive win at Lord’s and the quality of bowling that could have ended the series here. . So their broken car will keep rolling, knowing that it can’t be powered by the wheels alone. The rest of the parts need to be re-lubricated as they cannot be replaced, and South Africa will have to start again.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s correspondent in South Africa

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