From dunces to diamond geezers
After writing England's, and Michael Vaughan's, summer obituaries at the end of the first day at The Oval, the English newspapers were forced to change their tune after England's historic win against South Africa yesterday.
Champagne moment: Andrew Flintoff guzzles the bubbly after England's historic win
Mike Walters, in The Mirror, summed up the buoyant mood of the English public and players, describing the win as sensational and swashbuckling. He gushed: "In a summer of more twists than the London Underground map, Michael Vaughan's men went from dunces to diamond geezers in the space of five days." And he added that Vaughan, who joined in a playful game of football with a space-hopper on the outfield, was lucky that "five of his foot-soldiers ensured the final npower Test will go down in the pantheon of their greatest wins".
And those five foot-soldiers - Marcus Trescothick, Graham Thorpe, Andrew Flintoff, Stephen Harmison and Martin Bicknell - all received accolades in varying degrees. Christopher Martin-Jenkins, in The Times, more soberly pointed out that those individuals had "played to their potential" and that the team performed "as a whole with a determination and professionalism that did them all proud".
The Sun splashed a photo of Alec Stewart hoisted on his team-mates' shoulders, with the corny headline "We're Oval the moon". John Etheridge described the win as staggering and mind-boggling, and insisted that this victory "will rank alongside anything Stewart experienced in his time at the top".
But while most eyes were on the departing Stewart, Vaughan didn't escape the column inches. Angus Fraser, in The Independent, wrote that even though Vaughan has had only four matches in charge of England, "He will have been through a far greater range of emotions than Steve Waugh in the four years he has led the world champions."
And although Fraser said that Vaughan can feel proud after coming through his "biggest test", Oliver Holt in The Mirror noticed a note of reservation in Vaughan's manner. "Quite why Michael Vaughan looked as if he'd just been told his mum had found a stack of porn mags concealed under his bed is a more complex issue," Holt said. "Vaughan had just led his team to one of England's most remarkable victories to square a series that seemed on the first day to have slipped into their opponents' hands. But the England skipper appeared somewhere on the sheepish side of morose after this nine-wicket thriller of a win. Drained by the relief flooding out of him. Just glad it was all over."
Well, you can't blame him after leading England in a season which has been consistently inconsistent, according to Simon Barnes in The Times: "One minute we are watching a very decent side, the next we are watching a bunch of losers," Barnes pointed out, adding that "It is the sort of thing that unsettles a chap." He highlighted Trescothick as an example. "One day Marcus Trescothick is a spent force, the next he is the most imperious batsman in world cricket. Certainly, pressure inspired Trescothick. He moved from circumspection to certainty and from certainty to majesty. He made nearly 300 runs in the match for once out: not bad for a man who was all washed up." And Barnes concluded: "But if England are consistent only in their inconsistency, then we must come to terms with the fact that, in a perverse way, inconsistency is their strength."
But what of South Africa? They fly home this evening knowing that they ought to have won the series after dominating the first two matches. And we've seen it all before. While Michael Owen-Smith told us in The Mercury that Graeme Smith rejected charges that his team had yet to get rid of the label of being chokers, the Cape Argus ran a headline: "Wanted: Spin and swing."
Owen-Smith and the Daily Mail's Mike Dickson then picked out where South Africa, despite an encouraging tour, still fall short. Smith may have become "the darling of the English cricketing media for his availability, his transparency, his honesty and his humility," they said, but his team are short of a strike bowler and their spin bowling remains the biggest single concern: "Paul Adams had an up-and-down tour on pitches that did not always suit him, while Robin Peterson is early in the learning curve."
And then there is also the worry of replacing Gary Kirsten. They argued that "Kirsten's decision to play on has at least allowed Jacques Rudolph more time to settle," and that "Rudolph has had a disappointing series, but he has shown enough glimpses to suggest that he is a player of quality."
While South Africa take those concerns on with them to Pakistan, the England selectors have already been in discussions for the winter tours. As CMJ pointed out, "There has been, in the end, a strong contrast between England's success with a young team under Vaughan in the one-day internationals in the middle of the season and the manner in which the experience of Thorpe and Bicknell, both 34, and Nasser Hussain, 35, helped them to draw this series with the second-best Test team in the world."
However, he suggested that Bicknell is unlikely to join "the small band of seam bowlers on the slow pitches of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka before Christmas, even less so on the slightly faster ones of the Caribbean in March." And David Llewellyn in The Independent concluded: "It would appear that Harmison has the pace Bicknell lacks and that Bicknell has the consistency Harmison is missing. Old heads on young shoulders springs to mind. The selectors' job gets no easier."