ENGLAND wrapped victory by an innings and 53 runs on the fifth morning of the third Test against South Africa, guaranteeing an unassailable 2-1 lead after finally ending a remarkable last-wicket stand.
The tourists needed four wickets at the start of play and threatened to race over the line in style as Stuart Broad, Mark Wood and Dom Bess left the Proteas on the brink at 138 for nine.
They were one ball away from a triumphant finish to their stay in Port Elizabeth but found themselves subject to an astonishing display of tailend hitting as Keshav Maharaj (71) and Dane Paterson (39no) swung their way to a 99-run partnership.
With the ball disappearing to all parts of the ground it required a run out to finish the job, Curran throwing down the stumps as Maharaj sprinted to bring up the century stand.
The result marks a notable achievement for Joe Root and his side, the first time England have enforced a follow-on overseas since 2013 and the first time they have done so in a winning cause since 1992 in Christchurch, but the captain took the brunt of the late fireworks himself.
Bowling on longer than he should have as he looked to convert his career-best overnight figures into a maiden five-wicket haul, the skipper sent down 11 wicketless overs for 56. South Africa scored 28 off the last of them — 24 from Maharaj’s bat and four byes — to equal the Test record for most runs in an over.
The Barmy Army had not yet completed their morning rendition of Jerusalem when Broad got the game moving, dismissing Vernon Philander early for the second day in a row.
Yesterday he had needed just five balls to take out his off stump and this time the veteran seamer was even quicker off the mark, his third delivery taking a thin inside edge and looping up off the pad.
Ollie Pope was stationed at short midwicket and snaffled his sixth catch of a match that also saw him post a maiden Test century during England’s big first-innings.
Root could not resist continuing his unexpectedly long and profitable spell from the previous day and kicked things off from the Duck Pond End.
He spent four overs trying before Wood replaced Broad and grabbed England’s second at the first time of asking. With two men back for the short ball, he surprised Kagiso Rabada by starting with a full one.
The number nine made 16 in boundaries including six off Root, but departed in the meekest of manners, chipping a simple catch to Broad at mid-on.
That was Rabada’s last act of the series after his ill-judged reaction to bowling Root on day one tipped him over the threshold for a one-match ban and the deciding match — not to mention South Africa’s chances of victory — will be poorer for his absence.
Root was working away as he stubbornly chased his fifth wicket of the innings, growing less effective by the minute.
Dom Bess eventually got his turn at the Pavilion End and reasserted his credentials as the team’s specialist spinner, beating Anrich Nortje with his fourth delivery and splaying the stumps.
Things began to take a vaguely comic turn as Root took the new ball and kept going while Broad and Curran kicked their heels in the outfield.
Maharaj provided swift and emphatic punishment for the hubris of that decision. He swatted the first three deliveries for four and then slogged the next two for six.
Root managed to avoid another big hit with his final ball but when the ball skipped past Jos Buttler’s gloves it confirmed his unwanted place in the history books alongside James Anderson and Robin Peterson.
The runs kept coming even after he exited, Maharaj ending with 10 fours and three sixes while Paterson hit 24 in boundaries even as the field began to spread.
Wood was dragged into another spell and Curran shipped 28 from two overs, but the all-rounder got his revenge when Marahaj took him on at mid-on.
Despite a bruising final hour England wholly outperformed their hosts over the course of the match and will retain the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy regardless of the result at the Wanderers.