The home side went into this series with high expectations and plenty of support. With this series deciding the world number spot, like England's 4-0 win over India last summer, there was always going to be a lot of hype surrounding The Oval over the past few days. The home fans left happy on Thursday after an imperious hundred from opener Alastair Cook put England in an excellent position on 267-3. However since then there was not much to cheer about as South Africa completely crushed the hosts to win by an innings and 12 runs.
There were signs of a home fight-back today when Ian Bell and Matt Prior put on 86 for the sixth wicket only for the wicket-keeper to give his wicket away with a daft sweep-shot that he gloved to a gleeful Kallis at slip. As leg-spinner Imran Tahir went off on his customary celebratory sprint the writing was on the wall. Once Bell had half-heartedly dangled his bat at a Dale Steyn delivery to edge behind the game was well and truly over.
The first day had seen a completely different England side as they put the screw on the South African attack as Cook and Trott dominated. They let their hold on the match slide away early on Friday though as the centurion played a loose drive at Steyn and played on. From there Andy Flower's men could only manage a slightly below-par 385 but would have felt well in the game, especially when James Anderson trapped Alviro Petersen for a duck in the second over. Little did they know that they would only take one more wicket for 636 runs. Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis left England groping in the dust as they declared at tea on Sunday with a 252-run lead, Amla's 311 not out the first ever Test triple-hundred by a South African.
In that final session the England top order was blown away as wickets fell as much due to poor shot selection as good South African bowling. The pattern continued into the last day as hopes of an unlikely draw slowly faded. Ravi Bopara played a needless waft outside the off-stump to play on and attract more criticism for his controversial inclusion. Bell and Prior built a good partnership but after the latter's non-recommended shot the final few wickets tumbled as world number one bowler Steyn finished with 5-56.
Captain Andrew Strauss still holds high hopes for the remaining two Tests and backed his bowling attack to bounce back: "I still think we have a great bowling attack and I back them to take wickets in any condition. However we have to give the South African batsmen credit, they played exceptionally well and we have to bounce back. We need to win the next two Tests and we will not make the same mistakes again."
The number one team in the world now have two more chances to prove their worth while the Proteas will be confident of taking that title from them after an excellent display. Onwards to Headingley where this intriguing battle will continue.