Outbatted, outbowled ... and out-thought
Differing emotions: James Anderson and James Kirtley trudge back as South Africa celebrate their comprehensive victory
There was time today for Jacques Kallis to show England's five-man pace attack how to bowl on this Headingley pitch. Kallis is a somewhat reluctant bowler these days, but he bowled at the stumps, on a good length (with the occasional short one to keep the batsmen honest) and finished with match figures of 9 for 92. Compare that with Martin Bicknell (4 for 125), James Kirtley (5 for 145), Kabir Ali (5 for 136) and James Anderson (2 for 119). Only Flintoff put the ball consistently in the right place, and ill-luck contributed to ordinary match figures of 4 for 118. Horses for course? This lot were selling-platers.
The turning points of the match mainly hinged on England mistakes. Flintoff's marginal overstep that led to a wicket off a no-ball - Gary Kirsten added 102 more runs after that in the first innings. If Kirsten had gone then it would have been 70 for 5 at lunch on the first day, and without the wise counsel of the player one newspaper called "the dome-headed veteran", it's hard to believe that Monde Zondeki would have hung around long enough to make his 59. Upshot: South Africa, who should have been bowled out for about 142, made 200 more than that.
Next was England's dubious decision to go off on the second evening, at a time when they were creaming the ball around. The walkoff gave the South African think-tank a chance to sit their bowlers down and address their faults. It stopped the batsmen in full flow. And, with blue sky looming over "Will's Mother's", as they say up north, it was just about guaranteed that England would be back out there soon. They were, Marcus Trescothick departed immediately, Butcher soon followed, and South Africa never looked back.
Then there was the black comedy of the fourth morning. Quick wickets for England would have set up an intriguing finale - a target of between 220 and 250 could have led to a classic. Instead one feared that Billy Bowden would suffer RSI after signalling a succession of fours with that arm-waving arrangement straight out of the Last Night of the Proms. Yesterday South Africa helped themselves to 201 runs at five an over on a helpful pitch ... and the eventual winning margin was 191.
Overall England were outbatted and outbowled at Headingley - and more damagingly they were out-thought. It doesn't bode well for The Oval. England need a strike bowler, a spinner, and a middle-order batsman likely to manage more than a flashy fifty (and if Nasser Hussain is unfit, now that his poppadum fingers have tuned into twiglet toes, make that two). It's time for the selectors to swallow their misplaced pride and recall Graham Thorpe. Ashley Giles will presumably return, although Jason Brown might worry South Africa's left-handers more. But the strike bowler? It could be a long meeting ...
Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden CricInfo.