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July 23, 2012
England's bowlers took only two South Africa wickets in the first Test at The Oval but their captain, Andrew Strauss, backed them to take ten times as many in each of the final two Tests at Headingley and Lord's to win the series and retain their No. 1 Test ranking.
England's place as the top-ranked Test team in the world could not look more precarious after South Africa pulled off victory by an innings and 12 runs in an extended afternoon session to go 1-0 up in the series - a win described by former England captain, Nasser Hussain, on Sky TV as "an annihilation".
England were bowled out a second time for 240, with fast bowler Dale Steyn finishing with 5 for 56 and the legspinner Imran Tahir 3 for 63. It was England's first defeat by an innings at home since they lost to Australia at Headingley in 2009 - and Leeds is next up.
But Strauss said: "We have an outstanding bowling attack. You have to give South Africa credit for how they batted but I still back our bowling attack's ability to take 20 wickets on most Test match surfaces.
"Our bowling attack has huge reserves of confidence. They have taken 20 wickets pretty much every time they have played for the last two years and this game doesn't change that for me."
England were kept in the field for nearly thirteen-and-a-half hours and two key members of the attack had needed injections before the game to ensure their fitness, but Strauss suggested their gruelling experience had left no long-term side-effects.
"They are all fine," he said. "They are a bit weary having spent two days in the field, but there are no causes for alarm at this stage."
England's bowlers went straight from a five-match one-day series against Australia to the Test series, but Strauss refused to accept that as an excuse for a defeat that has caused reverberations around the cricketing world.
"Our preparation was fine," he said. "No excuses. We have to win the next two games. I believe we can do that. I didn't think our bowlers bowled that badly, but we didn't get the ball swinging conventionally or reverse.
"You have to give credit to the South African batsmen. They got in and they went big. South Africa played some outstanding cricket and deserved to get on top of us. The concentration they showed with the bat was outstanding. There is a lot of frustration but there are lessons to be learned and we will learn them."
Strauss conceded that England, having lost four wickets on the fourth evening, were up against it on the final morning as a large fifth-day crowd packed into The Oval hoping to witness a great escape.
"The odds were always against us having lost four wickets last night," he said. "The wicket was still pretty flat and we are frustrated that we didn't make it harder for them in those conditions. I suppose South Africa had a bit of a psychological advantage with us having been in the field for a period of time. We did not react well enough to that and that leaves a sour taste in the mouth."
England now have some difficult decisions ahead of the second Test. Ravi Bopara, whose Test batting place has never been secure, will again come under scrutiny after a double failure at The Oval and there will be calls for Steven Finn to add some aggression to the pace attack. The approach of this England set-up would make it a major surprise if they made more than one change.
Strauss also had an answer for those wondering just how highly this defeat ranked on the scale of England disasters. "I don't sit there ranking defeats," he said.
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