Strauss’ men looked to be cruising towards a share of the spoils after Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott steered them to 172-3 early in the final session with a 145-run fourth wicket partnership. But after Pietersen was dismissed for 81 in a bizarre run-out, the tourists collapsed with six wickets falling for just 46 runs.
In the end, final pairing Paul Collingwood and Graham Onions held on for 19 balls to ensure the series remains at all square ahead of the second Test in Durban on Boxing Day.
“I don’t think it feels like a win as at tea time we didn’t see that coming to be honest,” a relieved Strauss said afterwards. “It was a bit of a crazy hour at the end. It was a fantastic effort by Paul
Collingwood in particular at the end there and also Graeme Onions.
“It was an excellent Test match full of ebbs and flows. Both sides had opportunities in this game. It was a great advert for the game. We are pretty relieved to still be 0-0.”
Tail-ender Onions proved to be the unlikely hero for tourists, joining Durham team-mate Collingwood at the crease and dramatically batting out the final over from fast bowler Makhaya Ntini with 10 catching fielders surrounding him. “With the amount of experience that Ntini has – all that was in the back of my mind was ‘don’t get out’, Onions said. “That’s the first time I’ve batted with Paul, who told me to keep out fighting hard.”
After losing both nightwatchman James Anderson and opener Alastair Cook in the opening 13 overs of the day, England were in trouble at 27-3.
This, however, brought Pietersen and fellow South African native Trott to the crease and the pair subsequently steadied the ship with a monumental partnership to leave England on the verge of safety. Pietersen played beautifully for his 81, and his 16th Test fifty, but then inexplicably called for a quick single and Trott stood his ground, forcing the Hampshire batsman back to the dressing room.
From that moment on, England fell apart. Trott, playing in only his second Test, soon departed for a well-crafted 69, one of four wickets for debutant Freidel de Wet, before Ian Bell (2), Matt Prior (0), Stuart Broad (0) and man-of-the-match Graeme Swann (2) all went in quick succession, leaving Collingwood stranded at the other end.
Onions then came in as a last throw of the dice and in scenes reminiscent of Anderson and Monty Panesar’s heroics in the first Ashes Test against Australia in the summer, kept his composure admirably amid intense South Africa pressure to save the match.