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January 8, 2010
Coach Andy Flower hailed Paul Collingwood's "bulldog spirit" after his role in England's latest great escape at Newlands, saying that it typified the fight of the team. Collingwood added 112 in 57 overs with Ian Bell for the sixth wicket, but England still needed Graham Onions to block out the final over - in a repeat of his heroics from Centurion - to secure the thrilling draw.
For Bell, his five-hour 78 was a breakthrough innings after he responded to a pressure-cooker situation with a composure not previously seen at the highest level, but Collingwood's innings was his third match-saving contribution in the last seven months following his efforts at Cardiff and Centurion. He was given a serious working-over from Dale Steyn in a gripping hour after lunch, but resisted everything the paceman could throw at him during an electric spell.
"He's a typical British bulldog," Flower said. "He's a great fighter, great to have in the changing room, lots of energy and what we have seen is he's been using some of the experience gained over the years to help him through these situations.
"When you talk about consistency of selection, that is one result of it - you get hardened cricketers from this exposure to playing the best sides in the world. We want to go on to greater things with this England side, so we're happy to have fight as a characteristic in our dressing room. But it's also something I think English cricketers will inherently have, because they're playing for their country."
Flower was also impressed by Bell's contribution, which followed his 140 in the second Test at Durban, and his career appears to have turned a corner. "His big hundred in Durban, that contributed to getting us into a winning position, and then a match-saving innings yesterday certainly will make him feel personally more confident," he said. "It was good for us to see that he can perform like that under pressure again."
However, as the team began a few days off in Cape Town, Flower remained a realist and knows England avoided defeat despite other periods of sloppy batting. In the first innings, the top six all contributed to their own downfall while Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss also played weak shots second-time around. With a series to win in Johannesburg next week, he knows those mistakes can't be repeated.
"One of the most obvious areas where we can improve is losing some of those soft dismissals that we had in the first innings," Flower said. "If we'd got a proper first-innings score, we would have been able to put them under more pressure in their second innings."
Of England's batsmen it is Kevin Pietersen who is struggling the most after a barren Test at Newlands in which he followed his second-ball duck in the first innings with a sketchy 6 on the fourth day. Despite his 81 at Centurion, which played a key role in that draw, there is still something missing from Pietersen's game and his footwork appears out of sync. It is a sign of England's collective resolve that his shortcomings haven't proved costly, but Pietersen's form is now a cause for concern.
"All players have dips occasionally, and he's no different," Flower said. "He's got a superb record. He's had a dip just very recently and this last Test wasn't a good one for him personally.
"What we're looking for is for him to get back into his normal, confident form and I'm pretty confident he'll do that. We always tweak things in our techniques, all through your career. Even the real greats like Tendulkar will be doing that. But I'm pretty sure he'll be back at his confident best very soon."
Flower also backed his bowlers after the ball-tampering row that emerged on the third day following TV pictures of Stuart Broad standing on the ball. "If they wanted to raise it, they should have done it formally," he said of South Africa's approach. "But relations are fine. They are two competitive units battling it out, so you expect a little bit of toing and froing."
"Our bowlers have shown a lot of skill with reverse-swing. The abrasive pitches here have helped get the ball into condition to do it. We'll be going about things in exactly the same way."
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?