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.

A test of missed chances

Well well, after writing England off midway through day 3, I am pleased to say that I got it all wrong again.

With around 20 overs left I was thinking how I would be writing about a comfortable draw for England, about how Collingwood and Bell batted for over two sessions to see England to an easy draw with 5 wickets remaining, how wrong that was as well.

As an England fan I had let my guard down, I dared to believe we had done the job. I had forgot why England are one of the most enthralling sides in the world to watch.

We were about to see the two sides of English cricket at its best and worst, the sublime to the ridiculous.

Both sides had their chances in this match and neither took them. England will be the happier with the result but surely South Africa have to be the happier with their performance.

Disappointed with the result I’m sure Graeme Smith is, but he must take a lot of heart and give his side plenty of credit with the way they battled back from 127/5 on the first day. They lost the toss, had the worst batting conditions on day 1, and when England batted on day 2 in favourable conditions they restricted them to 273 all out.

Considering when they were staring down the barrel of test and series defeat at lunch on day 1, to turn the match around and be on the brink of a win is a remarkable achievement.

Conversely, they lost overs at the end of day 2 due to their slow over rate and missed the chance to have two goes with the new ball as they ran out of time in the evening session just after taking it.

They also batted slowly on day 4 after the wicket of Graeme Smith and lost valuable extra overs to bowl at England, and it was strange how little JP Duminy bowled during day 5 when he looked to be their most dangerous spinner, ultimately any one of these oversights could have been the difference between winning and drawing the test.

From an English point of view they have again battled their way to a draw for the third time in their last eight test matches, the kind of games they would have easily lost in the past.

But from a negative perspective they had the best of the conditions when asking Graeme Smith to bat on day 1 and didn’t cash in.

They also didn’t cash in on favourable batting conditions on day 2 and threw away wickets stupidly when the chance was there to bat past SA’s 1st innings total, we all seen what happened in the 2nd test when SA went out to bat in their 2nd innings 200 runs behind.

How they managed to find themselves hanging on for a draw after all the things they had in their favour must be a worry to Strauss and Flower.

They both must be delighted with the form of Ian Bell though. Is this the series that finally gives him the self belief to go on and be the top world class batsman his talent demands he should be?

Paul Collingwood was his usual solid self and Alastair Cook continued his good form with two half centuries, although he did also throw his wicket away twice in his usual fashion.

All in all Englands performance was the usual mix of excellent at times with a touch of stupidity thrown in. Only when they can cut out these mad hours will they consistently compete with the top sides home and away.

Speaking of studipity, what was the nightwatchman doing sweeping the spinner before lunch when he is supposed to be trying to help save the test match? Isn’t his job just to occupy the crease? Not get out in such a stupid manner.

England on the brink

After all the ball tampering talk was over (for the time being anyway), the cricket played was exciting and as a result of the ‘ball tampering’ row, hostilities on the pitch seemed to be fiercer than usual in what is becoming an absorbing test match.

South Africa set England an unlikely target of 466 to win, and for a mad moment at 101/0 the impossible dream seemed in with a chance.

As is usually the case with England, disappointment is never far away as the usual English disease – of throwing away wickets – stepped in to put all those (mad) hopes to bed.

In reality it would never have happened anyway. If England had got to lunch tomorrow at, say 220/1, then South Africa would have shut up shop and bowled wide of the wicket with defensive fields ensuring England couldn’t score the runs required. A tactic that maybe England should have deployed on day 3.

Nevertheless, surely only South Africa can blow this now. If they put the ball in the right areas then most of England’s batsmen will oblige with the shots required to give SA the remaining seven wickets needed.

One thing the majority of England’s batsmen don’t have is the application to occupy the crease for lengths of time in order to save a game, except maybe Paul Collingwood. A level series of 1-1 seems enivitable by tomorrow evening.

With the ball tampering debate seemingley not going away, there is going to be a red hot atmosphere going into the 4th and deciding test, Graeme Smith’s men will have the momentum, but as we seen at the Oval in the summer, that dosen’t guarantee you anything.

All over in Cape Town

After writing on here yesterday that the game was in the balance going into day 3 at Cape Town, it is clearly now time to write that the game is up in Cape Town.

After a day of pure dominance from South Africa, England looked destined for a day and a halfs batting to save the match, at best. South Africa were the clear winners of the key battles this time.

If events with the bat on day 2 – when conditions where far more conducive to batting – are to be used as a form guide, then what chance England batting out days 4 and 5 for the draw?

Destructive Smith

South African skipper Graeme Smith (162 n/o) played a real captains innings and in doing so he moved the game along at great pace. In pushing his innings along and attacking England in the way he did, he looks like he may well have bought his side an extra session in which to bowl England out.

He put on a superb partnership of 230 with Hashim Amla (95) for the second wicket, batting a tired looking England out of the game in the process. Showing a fighting spirit which has dragged his team back from the brink of a series defeat, which they looked well on their way to after lunch on day 1.

England short with the bat

Now that we’ve had a chance to look at South Africa bat on this pitch on a good day, we can clearly see that England badly underperformed with the bat on day 2.

As stated on this site yesterday, Steyn and Morkel bowled well on day 2.

The problem was that the real damage had already been done with the wickets of Strauss, Trott and Pietersen. All didn’t make the SA bowlers get them out, they gifted their wickets, and in doing so put Cook and the incoming Collingwood and Bell under added pressure that they didn’t need to be under.

England have had the opportunity to make the most of the conditions in this match, and they have blown it. They won the toss and correctly bowled, then failed to make the most of the favourable conditions and let South Africa recover from 127/5 to 291 all out.

In that time they also dropped Graeme Smith on nought and in doing so allowed another hour to pass before Jacques Kallis came out to bat. Ok, he might still have got a century coming in to bat in the second over, but he also might have got out cheaply to the new ball. We will never know.

England then threw away the chance to put scoreboard pressure on SA by batting with little common sense or brains. In particular the reckless nature of Strauss and Pietersen’s wickets helped heap extra pressure on the middle order, and in doing so gave Steyn and Morkel the momentum.

With sensible batting on day 2, England would have had front line batsmen left going into todays play, and the chance to bat in the best conditions of the match and set up a match winning score.

Instead as a result of that reckless batting, England found themselves in the field and watching the South Africans set a match winning total. Another gift for Graeme Smith’s men.

England have only themselves to blame for this mess in my opinion. If as is expected, South Africa go on to win the match and level the series, England will at least have the chance in the 4th test to bounce back and maybe do what they did to Australia in the summer.

If they can pull that off, it would surely be a better achievement.

All to play for on day 3 in Cape Town

Hard to say who is on top at the moment in Cape Town. At a push I’d say South Africa, just, with England having to bat last on this pitch. A mixed second day saw 11 wickets fall to some bad shot selections, but mixed in with that was some pretty decent bowling.

There was an engrossing battle taking place almost all day today, some gritty determined backs-to-the-wall batting alongside some top class pace bowling.

There seemed to be a constant struggle from almost the moment Strauss and Cook walked out to bat with South Africa’s bowlers giving them nothing.

It was noted at the start of the test that there would be some key battles to be won over the course of the 5 days, and at the moment we would appear to be right in the middle of the main fight.

It’s hard to gauge just how England did with the bat today. On one hand they gifted wickets to South Africa with bad shot selections, but from the opposite point of view South Africa will say that they earned their wickets with good, aggresive bowling.

Alastair Cook and Ian Bell did the hard graft, they battled (yes, battled) through a decent testing spell of fast bowling from Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn before both got out to soft dismissals.

At least they had scores of 65 and 48 respectively before doing so, which is more than can be said for some others as one of England’s old failings came back to haunt them as Strauss, Trott and Pietersen also threw their wickets away.

South Africa will also take some positives out of their performance so far. After the trouble they were in after lunch on day 1 (127/5), to find themselves in with a chance to possibly close out England’s batting and take a 1st innings lead will be regarded as a remarkable fightback.

Jacques Kallis’ innings and the bowling of Steyn and Morkel have shown England just why South Africa made it to the pinnacle of test cricket last year. It would be easy to just slaughter Englands’s batsmen, but the fact is that they were put under some immense pressure today, Friedel de Wet backed them up with some tidy stuff as well.

I do think Graeme Smith made a bit of a mess of things with his slow over rate though. As a result Steyn and Morkel managed less than two overs with the new ball, with a full (think it was) seven overs left unbowled as time ran out. South Africa managed to deprive themselves of two spells with the new ball.

With this test being played on a result wicket the first session tomorrow should go a long way to deciding the outcome of this test match, and maybe even the series.

After two days of test cricket between two evenly matched teams the battle is well and truely on.

England let things slip

England – and in particular, man of the moment Graeme Swann – let a great chance slip them by on the first day of the 3rd test from Cape Town. Unlike in Sydney, Andrew Strauss put the opposition in after winning the toss, electing to bowl in seam friendly conditions.

A wicket (Ashwell Prince) in the first over of the day and all was going to plan. Then man of the series to date, Graeme Swann dropped Graeme Smith in the next over. It was as easy as slip catches get, two hands and in the midriff.

That would have brought Jacques Kallis to the crease when conditions where best for bowling, as it was he didn’t need to emerge for another crucial hour.

Kallis then went on to give a masterclass in batting, showing that he is still by far the best batsman on show in this series, making 108 not out.

Kallis now has 33 test centuries, 52 half centuries and an average over 54, quite a record. It was a gutsy backs to the wall innings that got South Africa out of a big hole. It was typical Jacques Kallis.

England had South Africa at 127/5 at the fall of Duminy’s wicket. For Kallis and South Africa to get up to 279/6 at the close and within reach of a more than respectable 1st innings total is a great effort, when the series looked to be slipping away they came out fighting. They showed England you don’t get easy test series victories in South Africa.

England for their part will hope to wrap up the tail early in the morning, and then – hopefully – bat sensibly, like in the last test. They know they should only be chasing something around 220-250 after the situation they had the South Africans in.

It is still far from a disaster and England must be looking to go past South Africa’s total and put their fragile looking batting under pressure again. England are ahead in the series and can dictate the pace of the game, so don’t need to be over attacking with stupid rash shots.

Andrew Strauss has emphasized the fact that England can’t get carried away with one victory, lets hope his level headedness has rubbed off on the rest of his team and they can keep their feet on the ground and play sensible cricket.

There will be some key moments yet in this test match and it is up to England to try and make sure they win them. I don’t expect as many easy runs to come as they did last week as Friedel de Wet has replaced the iconic Makhaya Ntini, who looks like he may have played his last test. And they still have to remove Kallis.

Thankfully from an English point of view, Graeme Swann won’t let the drop effect his confidence too much. If it does cost England, it just goes to show how quickly your fortunes can turn in cricket.

Is Graeme Swann, England’s missing link?

Without getting carried away with one win, albeit an exceptional one. In Graeme Swann, England may just be unearthing the gem in their attack they have been searching for, for many years now.

It is often said that England’s attack is a top fast/strike bowler short of being a top class attack. Anderson, Broad and Onions are decent honest swing and seam bowlers who on their day, or in helpful conditions can destroy batting line ups.

With comparison, put them on a flat track and they can at times look clueless and lack that bit of extra creativeness or explosiveness you can get from a McGrath or a Steyn.

If, and it is a big if, Swann can continue at this rate, he might be able to become that elusive bowler that can prise out a top batsman on an unhelpful surface. In having that bowler who can unlock the door it would surely give the rest of the of the attack more confidence too.

He could also be the answer to the five or six batsmen conundrum if he could become a wicket taker, one which also offers an element of control and the option to hold up one end for the majority of a day. Almost two bowlers in one. Leaving the not so positive Strauss and Flower the option of playing six batsmen, a safer policy in their eyes, which I think they would much prefer.

Lets not get carried away with Swann’s performances though, after all Monty was supposed to be the new world beating spinner just 2 to 3 years ago and where is he now? Swann needs to keep performing at this level for many years to come yet if he to become a great test player.

Swann’s other assets for England are his positive, attacking batting, he is a good fielder and he seems to add a lot of colour and humour to the England dressing room, which I imagine could be a bit bland at times with some of the characters in there.

Let’s hope this is not another false dawn for England, and that Swann is the real deal and he can continue to perform at this high level rather than this just being an exceptional one off year.

Only time will tell.

South Africa V England – Top Wicket Takers

Top Wicket takers in South Africa V England series after 4th test. Final Standings on 17/01/10.

21 – Graeme Swann ENG
19 – Morne Morkel SA
16 – James Anderson ENG
15 – Dale Steyn SA
13 – Stuart Broad ENG
11 – Paul Harris SA
8 – JP Duminy SA
8 – Graham Onions ENG
6 – Friedel de Wet SA
2 – Wayne Parnell SA
2 – Ryan Sidebottom ENG
2 – Jacques Kallis SA
2 – Makhaya Ntini SA
1 – Ryan McLaren SA

South Africa V England, Series Top Run Scorers

South Africa V England – Top Run Scorers

Top Wicket takers in South Africa V England series after 4th test. Final Standings 17/10/10

427 – Graeme Smith SA
363 – Jacques Kallis SA
344 – Paul Collingwood ENG
341 – Mark Boucher SA
313 – Ian Bell ENG
311 – Hashim Amla SA
287 – Alastair Cook ENG
276 – AB de Villiers SA
190 – Jonathan Trott ENG
177 – Kevin Pietersen ENG
171 – Graeme Swann ENG
170 – Andrew Strauss ENG
158 – Matt Prior ENG
114 – JP Duminy SA
97 – Paul Harris SA
97 – Ashwell Prince SA
78 – Dale Steyn SA
76 – Stuart Broad ENG
73 – Morne Morkel SA
56 – James Anderson ENG
33 – Ryan McLaren SA
20 – Friedel de Wet SA
15 – Ryan Sidebottom ENG
11 – Makhaya Ntini SA
11 – Graham Onions ENG

South Africa V England, Series Top Wicket Takers

Ian Bell, England’s new world beater!

While watching the afternoon session on Monday, seeing Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood milking the stop gap easier bowling, waiting for the new ball, I just couldn’t help but think I knew what was going to happen to Ian Bell.

You just knew that when he came out to bat, that he would have a new ball zipping around his ears, with no assistance to the batsman whatsoever.

Unlucky for him you could say, and with Alastair Cook releasing the pressure on himself as well with his century, Bell would have known for definate that he would be the fall guy if changes where to be made later in the tour.

Cook did him no favours by getting out when he did either, exposing him to the new ball.

In 2008 after he scored his 199 at Lord’s against South Africa, I kept hearing about how Bell looked in good form but he kept getting out for 20’s and 30’s.

That for me is the main area that Bell lets himself down, when he is in form he dosen’t cash in enough. The bad times can be just around the corner at test level so you really need to make the most of things when you are in good touch.

When he finally came to the crease, I thought, here we go another failure.

But no, the top lip was curled up in the way it was during that 199 against South Africa, and the 72 against Australia that set up the Ashes victory, the fearsome side of Ian Bell was there for all to see (the one Shane Warne knows too well).

Bell stood firm and fought for his place in the side and is 55 not out over night.

He could again be accused of getting his runs easy as England were 297/4 when he came out to bat, in the eyes of the selectors though, they will be vindicated with their selections of Cook and Bell.

Lets see what tomorrow brings!