Right from the moment Hashim Amla pulled off a stunning catch to dismiss Andrew Strauss off Dale Steyn first ball of the match, the final Test of the South Africa v England series ended in an anti-climax. South Africa were outstanding in every single department - from Steyn and Morne's Morkel's threatening bowling on a helpful pitch to Graeme Smith and Mark Boucher's batting. England never had any glimmer at any stage - and given such a close-fought contest it had been, the standard of cricket from the visitors in Johannesburg left a lot to be desired. Paul Collingwood aside, they took no positives out of the Wanderers match. Unfortunately cricket did not take much out of its 1,948 Test either at a time when every effort is to be made to make the format result-oriented and appealing.
Umpiring howlers - in particular from TV man Daryl Harper - and the use of the referral system may or may not have contributed towards South Africa's victory, but this Test match brought the very fabric of the game into disrepute. The decision not to use Hot Spot or Snicko in this series meant that it was very difficult for both sides to decide when to call for reviews. Lack of additional technology made the TV umpire's life very hard indeed. Harper was certainly not blameless - he made a number of very bad decisions including claims that he did not turn up his volume knob before giving Graeme Smith not out on Friday - but he was certainly hindered by what he had available. The system seems to have damaged the spirit of the game. But more than that it is developing unnecessary tensions. England used their bad luck in this Test match almost as an excuse. And rather than using the age-old adage, walk if you're out, players are now testing the system. It was pretty ugly to see Stuart Broad make South Africa refer his second innings dismissal when he had clearly gloved Morkel to Boucher. It would have been a travesty of justice if South Africa had failed to win the final Test. In all but the second Test at Durban, the Proteas have dominated the play and were extremely unlucky not to win in Centurion and Cape Town.
Their wicket-keeper Mark Boucher was named man-of-the-series thanks in large parts to his batting cameos. He averaged nearly 57 in the series and his 95 at the Wanderers ensured there was no way back for England. But Morkel and Steyn have come back fighting in the last two Tests. Both have caused immense problems with the new ball and beyond. Morkel thanks to his bounce and Steyn thanks to his swing. But both go about their business at express pace. South Africa's challenge will be to find men who can support those two youngsters - and 20-year-old Wayne Parnell put in a promising debut at the Wanderers. Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis were equally dominant with the bat - as per usual against England - both averaging over 50. It was certainly a difficult 2009 for South Africa but they should travel to India in a much more positive frame of mind as they look to establish their No 1 Test ranking.
Apart from an exceptional spinner - Paul Harris disappointed in the series before being dropped for Johannesburg - South Africa look like they have the side to challenge India. As for England, a fine tour has ended in disappointment. In the first three matches, they played with such tremendous courage, it's difficult to believe they were so badly lacking in fight at the Wanderers. Collingwood, along with the re-emergence of Ian Bell and Alastair Cook, are major plusses for England but the disappointing form of Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Strauss certainly set them back. Pietersen is the biggest worry - he is having the first major test of his career in that he has so badly out of form that opponents are exploiting his naturally attacking game.
Graeme Swann was rightly named England's man of the series. The spinner took 21 wickets in the series with his performances in Centurion and Durban very impressive indeed. Swann also proved to be very useful with the back including a whirlwind 85 at SuperSport Park. James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graham Onions also more than did a job in the seam bowling department before Onions was shockingly dropped for Johannesburg with Ryan Sidebottom preferred. That decision, along with Strauss' move to bat first when winning his eighth toss out of 10, backfired severely. It changed a winning team and despite Sidebottom's left-arm danger, it was clear the Proteas would rather have faced him than Onions.