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August 22, 2012
Just as few recall the somewhat controversial catch that sealed the 2005 Ashes Test at Edgbaston and turned the series England's way, so history may not record the key moments that allowed South Africa to take control of the 2012 Test series against England.
Few dispute that they deserved to win the series and few dispute that England, with six losses in 11 Test in 2012 and one series win in four, have no place on top of the Test rankings. As England coach, Andy Flower, put it: "We have been beaten by a slightly better side in this series. I think that's fair to say."
The disappointment from an England perspective was that they failed to do themselves justice. They dropped nine catches, gave wickets away cheaply and failed to trouble South Africa's batsmen with medium-paced fare.
The failure of England's bowling attack is most worrying. The bowlers have impressed in all conditions in Tests since the Ashes of 2009 - even in the UAE last winter, they performed well only to be let down by poor batting from their colleagues. The series against South Africa - and the drubbing at The Oval in particular - was an abrupt departure from the norm.
While South Africa batted with impressive skill and dedication, England also failed to take chances that might have altered the series. Hashim Amla was dropped before he reached 50 on the way to his triple-hundred at The Oval and before he had reached 10 at Lord's; Alviro Petersen was dropped before he had reached 30 in his 182 at Leeds. Had such chances been taken, England's ugly bowling averages may be a good deal prettier.
"We had our chances," Flower said. "At Lord's we dropped two crucial catches. They've caught well in the slip area but I think their bowling attack was a little bit more incisive than ours. I don't think that's unfair on our bowlers to say that.
"Their batsmen cashed in and got the big, match-turning innings. Yes, with the assistance of a dropped catch here and there from us. But in the main they deserved to win. We haven't grasped the opportunities that came our way. And, against a good, hardened, experienced side like South Africa, you'll suffer the consequences of that."
England are taking steps to improve the bowling. Stuart Broad has been omitted from the ODI series against South Africa not just for rest but to undergo some strength and conditioning work, which England hope will enable him to recover his nip. "We don't often get windows with the guys that play all three forms of the game to do conditioning work," Flower said. "Broad, we believe, needs a rest; or a combination of rest and strength work."
Tim Bresnan, James Anderson and, at Leeds anyway, Steven Finn also appeared somewhat jaded. In the longer term, it may be that England need to accept that the burden they have placed on their players - an international schedule that offers little time for mental or physical recovery - is the biggest obstacle to consistently performing at their best.
Flower also suggested a decision on Andrew Strauss' future as England captain will be left to the man himself.
"Andrew is a bit drained," Flower said. "It's been a hard series for him. Obviously he's been a superb leader for us, but he would have wanted to score more runs and that has a wearing effect. And then these peripheral issues have taken a lot of his energy and his enjoyment out of the last few weeks.
"I think he's done the right thing to get away for a few days with his family so he can recuperate. He's a strong bloke and he'll come back feeling very strong."
England's attempt to regain the No. 1 ranking will begin with a four-Test series in India, where their record is not promising. The team is set to be weakened not only by the absence of Kevin Pietersen but also by the departure of players at various parts of the tour on paternity leave. Flower hopes, however, that the lessons learned in the UAE and the emergence of several promising young players can help England recover lost ground.
"We will definitely be plotting our challenge," Flower said. "We want to get back there. We've got a tough outing first up in India, but that'll be exciting. It'll be exciting to see if we've actually embedded some of the lessons we've learned in the UAE, because no doubt we'll be playing on spinning pitches.
"Jonny Bairstow handled the situation well. The skill, timing and courage he showed was outstanding. James Taylor has handled himself calmly as well. We'll make our decisions based on what is best for the England side and not be scared to do so."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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