Sport

South Africa-England: Proteas battle to halt decline

Unceremoniously dethroned as the world's top-ranked Test team, an embarrassed South Africa are in a race against time to find answers to their steady decline before they begin the final test against England on Saturday (AEDT).

After allowing England to run amok with the bat in the second Test, South Africa imploded in the third Test as they were skittled for just 83 runs in their second innings – enabling the visitors to wrap up an unbeatable 2-0 series win inside three days at the Wanderers.

South African captain A.B. de Villiers is trapped in front by Stuart Broad.
South African captain A.B. de Villiers is trapped in front by Stuart Broad. Photo: AP

The seven-wicket loss also meant India take over as the world's top-ranked Test team even if South Africa win in Pretoria.

But for even the most ardent Proteas supporter, it is clear this is not the world's best Test team any more – and perhaps not even in the top three. While their bowling unit, even without the injured pair of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, has found a way to be competitive, their batting frailties show no sign of abating.

All-round talent: Ben Stokes celebrates after claiming the wicket of Proteas' Kagiso Rabada.
All-round talent: Ben Stokes celebrates after claiming the wicket of Proteas' Kagiso Rabada. Photo: Gallo Images

"Our form of late has been pretty poor and it'll take something special to turn it around," captain A.B. de Villiers said on Saturday.

"It's important for us to keep fighting and find that type of cricket that we're looking to play. But we're a little bit off-beat at the moment, that's for sure."

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In their previous 13 completed Test innings since the start of the tour of Bangladesh in July last year, the side has amassed more than 300 just twice.

In fact, they have failed to reach 200 in eight of those innings and recorded their two lowest scores since re-admission to international cricket in 1991 – 79 in India in November and 83 against England on Saturday.

While South Africa have come across some seriously bowler-friendly wickets during that period, it is also clear that their rivals have been able to expose their lack of application and skill.

"I think the talent is there ... it's just a matter of finding a bit of consistency and applying more pressure more often," De Villiers said. "This is the team we have and this is the team I believe in. It's now up to the 11 that get picked at SuperSport Park to turn things around and find something special."

Stuart Broad started the third Test feeling unwell but finished it on an incredible high after grabbing six wickets.

Broad's figures of 6-17 included an electrifying spell when he scooped up five wickets for just one run, leaving the shellshocked hosts in complete disarray.

It was a hugely impressive comeback for the 29-year-old, who had to keep leaving the field during South Africa's first innings after being struck down with a stomach bug.

Broad moved past Bob Willis into third on the list of England's all-time Test wicket takers with 330.

Reuters