When the final Test at Centurion kicked off, there was not a lot at stake for the two teams since the series had already been decided in the visitors' favour. But, what the England capitulation in the final Test went on to reiterate was the fact that they are still chinks in the team's armour. This was the second series in succession when they won the battle comprehensively, but were completely lost when there was nothing much to play for. Not the stuff world beaters are made of. As for South Africa, this was their second Test series loss in a row, which means there is definitely something wrong with a team which, till recently, seemed rather invincible.
While England would be disappointed with the manner of defeat in the final Test, they would like to focus more on the positives, of which there were quite a few. Stuart Broad was outstanding in the third Test as he turned the match around on its head. And, while he couldn't repeat the magic in the other matches, he remained threatening throughout. Ben Stokes played that mind-boggling knock at Cape Town, which proved to the world what he is capable of. If anything, England would expect better consistency from him. Joe Root has continued to flourish, and he has been one of the key factors behind England's recent successes.
On the flip side, England have continued to fail in their endeavour to find a stable opening partner for Alastair Cook even as the captain has himself struggled. Alex Hales had only one fifty to show for his efforts, which were far from encouraging. With Adam Lyth failing before him, the opening slot is becoming an Achilles Heel for the Englishmen. Nick Compton began the series impressively, but as the series progressed his concentration levels faltered. And so, while he ended with reasonable numbers, he needs to do more to be a threat in international cricket. James Anderson's lack of effectiveness would worry England as much as Broad's rise would please them.
For South Africa, the biggest gain from the series was undoubtedly unlocking the match-winning ability of Kagiso Rabada in the longer version of the game. Before this series, the 20-year-old pacer had flourished in the one-dayers, but there were doubts over his ability in the Tests. But, with three consecutive five-wicket hauls, he has laid all those queries to rest as of now. Another major plus for South Africa was the return to form of Hashim Amla, who quit the captaincy after his Cape Town epic. Amla was back to his resolute best in the last Test, and even batted with much more fluency as compared to some of his scratchy recent knocks.
The fact of the matter though was that the Proteas ended up losing the series 2-1, which means a lot went wrong than right for them. The opening spot was a massive problem from them, and by the time they went to Stephen Cook, the series was lost. Better late than never though. Towards the end of the series, AB de Villiers began losing his rhythm, and he actually finished off with a pair at Centurion. South Africa will hope his loss of form coinciding with Test captaincy is just that -- a coincidence. The hosts would be pleased to end a poor series on a high note, but it is equally important they build on from here.
-- By A Cricket Analyst