England capitulated on the fifth morning at Centurion as Kagiso Rabada inspired South Africa to a commanding consolation victory in the fourth Test.
The hosts took seven wickets for just 49 runs in little more than an hour’s play, sealing a 280-run success as the series ended 2-1 to the tourists. Twenty-year-old Rabada was again the star, taking six for 32 to finish with 13 wickets in the match – the second best match figures in South Africa’s history – but England were at least partial authors of their own downfall.
The tourists had already secured the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy at the Wanderers, but the ease with which they were brushed aside will serve as a timely reminder of their fragility.
Toppling the world’s No1 side on their home turf is a considerable feather in England’s cap, but they will leave South Africa on a familiar end-of-series blowout and with plenty of questions to answer.
None of Alex Hales, Nick Compton or James Taylor can consider their place in the batting order secure, while Jonny Bairstow’s wicket-keeping and Chris Woakes’s status in the pace-bowling hierarchy must also be reviewed.
Going into the final day, England would surely have looked to their great escape on this ground in 2010 for inspiration, when No11 Graham Onions batting out for an unlikely draw alongside Paul Collingwood. However, the script went awry almost immediately.
Taylor departed to the last ball of the third over, perhaps expecting low bounce but instead seeing a Morné Morkel lifter buck off a length and graze a glove. Like Hales and Compton in the top three, Taylor has hardly provided solid evidence that he should retain his spot in the summer.
Joe Root has no such concerns, and can reflect on another fine series for his country, but he was a walking wicket here. He was dropped off his first ball of the morning, nicking Dane Piedt into Quinton de Kock’s thigh, and beaten twice more before heading to the pavilion. All at sea against the sharply turning ball, he lunged at Piedt and sent a thick edge straight to Dean Elgar at slip.
That brought together Ben Stokes and Bairstow, the men whose 399-run stand in Cape Town will go down as one of the abiding memories of the trip. They attempted a brief reprise, scoring 25 runs in 24 balls together but it was never likely to last. Having crashed Rabada for a pair of boundaries Bairstow went hard at the seamer again and sent a high catch into the hands of AB de Villiers at slip.
Rabada celebrated his 10th of the match only for replays to show he had overstepped. Entirely unconcerned he returned to his mark, kept his foot behind the line and found the edge again with his very next ball.
Stokes’s tour ended on a bum note, lazily chipping a pull to deep midwicket to give Morkel a cheap triumph, and Rabada wrapped up England’s lower order. Woakes wafted away from his body and was held by De Kock, Broad drove loosely to slip and last man James Anderson bagged a golden duck as a swinging yorker rapped him on the boot.
England’s carefree surrender was an ignominious way to close what the series, but that is to take nothing away from Rabada. A young, athletic seamer with the world at his feet, he will already take some beating as cricket’s breakout name of 2016. He is already the youngest South African to claim 10 wickets in a match and his return over three Tests – 22 wickets at 21.90 made him the most effective bowler from either side.