South Africa v England, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 3rd day January 4, 2005

Sleeping on the job

Steve Harmison rubs his eyes as England are caught dozing © Getty Images

We've all done it. The alarm goes off on Monday morning, and you know you mustn't ignore it, but it's just too tempting to tap that snooze button. The next thing you know, you are stashing your coffee mug behind a bin on the station as you straighten your tie in the ticket-office window, and you arrive at work breathless, late, and dishevelled.

It is not a great way to start the week, and as England discovered after dozing through the first day at Durban, it leaves an horrendous backlog to catch up on for the rest of the week. Miraculously, on that occasion they covered their tracks to such spectacular effect that they almost earned themselves a bonus (almost, but not quite - the fates weren't quite that generous). But you might have thought they had learned their lesson by now.

Not England, however. They just can't help themselves at present. Their alarm bells have been jangling ever since that first "wake-up call" at Potchefstroom in the tour opener, and they have been steadfastly ignored at every turn. They sleepwalked to victory at Port Elizabeth and put in some serious overtime at Durban, but at the third time of asking, they have been caught fast asleep on the job.

Today's collapse of six for 68 in 24 overs really was as dozy as it gets. On a blameless pitch, England succumbed to a succession of brainless dismissals, not least Andrew Flintoff, who began the day as England's pivotal batsman, but instead sowed the seeds of their downfall with his loose carve to Herschelle Gibbs at point.

Though his bowling today carried him into the 1000 run/100 wicket club, Flintoff has regressed as a batsman on this trip - he has now made 107 runs in four innings, and even his vital 60 at Durban was a streaky affair that might have been cut short twice if Hashim Amla at midwicket had been a foot taller. And once Geraint Jones had gone as well, the situation was beyond salvation for even Graham Thorpe, whose flimsy clip to square leg was a shot of resignation, after being becalmed for the best part of two hours.

The worst thing about the performance, however, was the weary familiarity of it all. Remember Charl Langeveldt? He was the workaday swing bowler whose seven wickets for South Africa A condemned England to defeat at Potchefstroom. Then, as now, he earned his success by living up to South Africa's favourite press-call cliché, and landing the ball in "good areas" with a hint of movement. It was all too much for England's swaggering batsmen, who have become too used to forcing the pace against enthusiastic scatterguns, such as Tino Best, Fidel Edwards, and latterly, Dale Steyn.

Today they possibly took Langeveldt even more for granted than usual. Not only was he on his Test debut, but he also entered the attack with the minor inconvenience of a broken hand, courtesy of a Flintoff short ball yesterday afternoon. It may yet keep him out of the rest of the series, but that merely made him all the more determined to make his one big break count. In sporting terms, his effort was the equivalent of the office junior driving two hours through a blizzard with pneumonia to impress on his first day of work. He may not be seen again after this match, but he will be remembered for future engagements.

The net result of England getting their comeuppance was that it allowed South Africa's early birds to take an extended lie-in. As the sun settled over Table Mountain and Jacques Kallis and Boeta Dippenaar snored their way to an impregnable advantage, the only entertainment on offer was the sight of the Barmy Army - heroically drunk and in their best voice of the tour - making and breaking a succession of plastic-beer-mug-snakes, while informing Kallis just how tedious he was becoming. And they were absolutely right. Clocking in on the dot of nine every day can become a bit of grind.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following England on their tour of South Africa