England tour of South Africa, Series Review

At the start of the series as a fan, I would have, and I imagine a lot of other England fans would have gladly taken a 1-1 series draw against what is widely regarded as the best Test side in world cricket.

On a positive note England have won the ODI series, drawn the T20 series and drawn the Test series, which all in all is a pretty successful tour.

During the series, England at times bowled well, and at times bowled average. The captaincy was the usual from Strauss, steady, conservative, you know what you are going to get, no major risk taking and nothing flamboyant, this is in no way meant to be a criticism of Strauss.

The way the team battled out draws in the 1st and 3rd Tests was impressive for the reason that they were resiliant and showed a lot of fight, a surprise as I think 12-18 months ago England would have lost both these tests.

Why did England find themselves in this position in both these Tests though? That is the problem, and the reason yet again, is the batting had failed.

Yes, Cook, Collingwood and Bell all had successful tours. We keep hearing about what good form they are in, yet at the end of the series England have only scored two centuries in four Tests.

There we have the problem. South Africa scored five centuries to England’s two.

Yes bowlers win you games but batsmen have to set up the win. 1st innings totals of 273 and 180 in the 3rd and 4th Tests has not been good enough. 356 in the 1st Test wasn’t enough after SA already had 418 on the board.

They showed what they are capable off in the 2nd Test at Kingsmead, Durban, when they scored 574/9 dec with 118 from Cook and 140 from Bell, thus putting SA’s second innings batting under pressure, and they then crumbled giving England the victory.

Runs on the board can do strange things to the opposition, they can make your decent bowlers perform better with the added pressure on the opposing teams batsmen.

With the exception of the 2nd Test, England didn’t put the SA batsmen under scoreboard pressure, they were put under pressure at times from good bowling, but the two together only happened once and we all seen what happened there.

It’s from this perspective that I am a touch disappointed with the series result, if England had been outplayed by a top class showing from SA then I could have accepted that, but this wasn’t the case. England were again architects of their own downful.

Not wishing to single people out but some of the shots were appauling. Pietersen was either out to loose shots or loose technique on every occasion (except his run out) in the series. Strauss at times played reckless shots, I think it was the 3rd Test when he tried to hit the leather of a ball from Morkel in the second over and gave his wicket away, not sensible play at a time when England were in control of the series.

Trott looked like a cat on a hot tin roof at times, he got his scores against Australia batting at No. 5, was it wise to promote him up the order so soon? The number 3 position still looks like it is a problem.

Then you had Matt Prior’s two dismissals in this latest Test, enough said.

Careful watchful batting displays in the 1st innings of both the 3rd and 4th tests would have been sufficient, after all the onus was on SA to try to force the result, if England had taken two days to score 450, then so what.

In the 3rd Test it would have taken England well past SA’s 1st innings total and put them under pressure, in the 4th Test it would have meant SA would have had to go out and play shots from ball one on a tricky pitch, would they have made the 447/7 dec that they did chasing Englands paltry 180? I doubt it somehow.

1st Innings Batting Problems

In the 1st Test they got 356 batting second in response to 418. They were 221/7 after Collingwood was out, and only after Graeme Swann scored 85 did they get up to 356 after the top 7 had failed.

2nd Test, 574/9 dec batting second in response to 343, no problems at all, a proper batting display. Just frustration from the point of view ‘why don’t England do this more often.’

3rd Test, 273 all out, batting second in response to 291 after winning the toss and bowling. Struass rightly put South Africa in to bat and then failed to make the most of favourable bowling conditions.

Then on day 2 in good batting conditions Srauss, Trott and Pietersen all threw their wickets away leaving Cook and Bell to negotiate a tricky spell from Steyn and Morkel before 76 from Matt Prior got them up near SA’s score.

Taking the conditions into consideration, SA batted first in bad conditions and got 291, England batted second in decent batting conditions and got 273. Quite simply, not good enough.

At the time England were in charge of the series and must have known a good 1st innings score would have put them in with a chance of as least not being able to lose the series, and if things went well, win the series. As I said earlier, two days to score around 450 would have been good enough (very boring I know), the point I’m tyring to make is that England didn’t need to take stupid risks with their batting, after all SA needed to force the pace not England.

We all know what happened in the 4th Test, it might have been wrong to bat first, who knows? I’m not questioning that decision, maybe it was a better toss to lose than win. What we do know is that it wasn’t a 180 all out wicket, Strauss was unlucky, although you could argue that Amla was there for a reason.

Trott, Pietersen and Prior, simple, all stupid shots.

I have never criticized Kevin Pietersen on this blog as up until 15-18 months ago he had carried Englands batting for 2-3 years. Maybe this is criticism now, he can’t help being out of form, it happens to everyone at some stage and he is coming back from an injury.

You can do something about the manner in which you bat though, if he was got out by good bowling, then fine, but on the whole he wasn’t. Surely if you are out of form you can’t expect to just go out and play in the manner you are accustomed to when you are in form. Surely he needed to adapt and be more watchful and try to guts it out rather than just smash his way back to form.

Overall views

The series was well contested with some good and some bad cricket, some controversy with the ‘referrel system’ incidents (which, by the way, is not the reason England lost the 4th Test) and some bad umpiring decisions. It showed Test cricket is still alive and well, during a period of dwindling crowds and people claiming it is dead and Twenty20 is the new way forward.

The South Africans will probably be happy with their performances, apart from Durban obviously, but unhappy with the result, as they will feel they should have won the series 2-1 or 3-1, either way a series win.

Morkel looked good and is starting to live up to his potential after struggling against Australia 12 months ago, Steyn showed why he is one of the best bowlers in the world and Kallis showed he is still a world class batsman.

Graeme Smith was again at his immense best, top scorer of the series. But on the flip side his opening partner is now a serious problem, Duminy struggled as well, and it looked like England finally sussed out how to bat to Paul Harris.

Graeme Swann and Mark Boucher won the respective player of the series awards. Swann continued his impressive form as the series leading wicket taker with 21 victims, while Boucher showed his worth with his usually reliable performances behind the stumps along with key runs at crucial times, no better highlighted than his 95 in the 1st innings of this match.

All in all for England the series has been a relative success and should be seen as so. The bowlers have done well, yes they are no world beaters, and are not good enough to defend totals of 180, as they are not in the class of your Warne and McGrath’s, or Wasim and Waqar’s. They will do well with runs on the board but don’t expect them to drag you back from a 180 all out.

Andrew Strauss looked frustrated and annoyed at the aftermatch interviews, whether that be with the performance of his team or the controversial referral incidents who knows? Probably a bit of both.

The team showed a lot of fighting spirit and on the whole are going forward under Strauss and Flower.

The batsmen showed what they are capable of at Durban, they also showed how crap they can be at Johannesburg. I’ve said it before on this blog, until they become more consistent, cut out the wreckless shots, learn how to assess the match/series situations and read a pitch better, they are not going to break into the top two or three sides and become a true world force.