England v SA, 1st Investec Test, The Oval, 5th day July 23, 2012

Losing at their own game

England were hammered playing attritional cricket in their own backyard - a defeat that may have signalled a power shift in Test cricket
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This was not the first time The Oval has witnessed a setback for English cricket. It was here, after all, that the legend of the Ashes was born in 1882, that the West Indies completed their 'blackwash' in 1984 and New Zealand sentenced England to bottom place in the Test rankings in 1999.

But there has rarely been an occasion when England have been so comprehensively outplayed as they have been in this Test. The innings and 12-run margin of victory - crushing though it looks - hardly does justice to the overwhelming difference between the sides. South Africa only lost two wickets to England's 20. This was a massacre.

It may be, in time, that we come to look back on this performance as an aberration. We may come to place it along Perth in 2010-11 and Leeds in 2009 as a bump on the road. England have shown admirable pluck in bouncing back from setbacks in the past and it would be foolish to discount them now.

But it was hard to avoid the conclusion that we were witnessing the changing of the guard in this game. South Africa looked so far superior with bat and ball that it would take a remarkable swing in fortunes for England to level the series in Leeds. Their record there is not hugely encouraging, either.

The most worrying aspect of this defeat from an England perspective that it is becoming something of a habit. England have now played nine Tests this year and lost five of them. That is hardly the form of the No. 1 ranked side and, as Oscar Wilde might have said, to lose one game might be considered unfortunate, but to lose five suggests an underlying weakness. While they could hide behind the excuse that the first four losses were in Asian conditions - an acknowledged Achilles heel - this time there can be no excuse. They were taken on at their own game - attritional cricket - in their own backyard, and thrashed.

Nor will life become any easier. After this tour, England face a four-Test series in India. Bearing in mind England's record in Asia and the determination India will have to avenge last year's whitewash in England and it is hard to be wildly optimistic about their fortunes.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of this defeat is that so many of the injuries were self inflicted. In the second innings, Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior fell to horrible sweep shots, Ian Bell, who had been badly dropped on 20, guided one to the slips as if offering catching practise, Ravi Bopara chopped on to his stumps and Graeme Swann drove to extra cover. England did not deserve to salvage a draw from this game.

In the first innings, England showed that a complacency has slipped into their game. With the score on 170 for 1, England had a chance to bat South Africa out of the match; to apply the sort of scoreboard pressure that was later used against them. Instead they lost concentration and Trott, Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen surrendered their wickets to careless strokes. All of them would do well to reflect on the remorseless way that Hashim Amla sustained his innings, ensuring that he made it count. All of them could learn from his hunger, his discipline and his concentration. All would do well to sell their wicket so dearly.

That is not to say that South Africa did not bowl well. They certainly did. Despite a sluggish pitch - the sort of slow track that does little to encourage spectators through the gates - every one of them gained movement in the air or off the pitch that was noticeable by its absence for the England bowlers. And that was enough to coax England's batsmen into mistakes.

England's bowling looked lacklustre and lame. They have been superb over the last couple of years so it would be wrong to overreact after one poor game, but the lack of pace and movement was alarming. There is growing concern, too, over the state of Graeme Swann's elbow. While there is no official announcement from the England team - quite the opposite actually; they suggest everything is fine - it would be no surprise if, sooner rather than later, Swann requires more substantial treatment for the problem than a cortisone injection.

"No doubt there will be speculation about Bopara's future but, after a long time in the wings, he surely needs security and support if he is to finally fulfil his undoubted potential"

That would present a significant challenge. Without the ballast of Swann's batting, it is hard to drop Tim Bresnan for either Steven Finn or Graeme Onions as England's tail would then start to look too long. Nonetheless, the calls for Finn, despite his patchy performance against West Indies at Edgbaston, will grow ever louder.

No doubt there will be speculation about Bopara's future, too. His dismissals here were not pretty but, after a long time in the wings, he surely needs security and support if he is to finally fulfil his undoubted potential. There really are not many better batsmen out there in county cricket, though someone like Nick Compton might, perhaps, have been perfect for this final day rearguard.

There is one other option. England could look at an allrounder for their No.6 or No.7 spot. While it may be a year too early for the extravagantly gifted Ben Stokes, Rikki Clarke might be worth consideration, as he could fill the role of fourth seamer and not obviously weaken the batting. It is Clarke's misfortune that he should mature so late - he is 30 - and with bridges smouldering in his past. But he is averaging 66.88 with the bat in first-class cricket this season and 19.27 with the ball and has developed, at last, into a fine all-round cricketer. He is also, arguably, the best slip catcher in the country. With Amla dropped by Strauss at first slip on 40 on day two, it is a skill worth bearing in mind.

But there is no point panicking or making wholesale changes. English cricket has been down that road before. It leads only to chaos and disappointment. By and large, the same 10 or 11 men will have a chance to make amends for this performance in Leeds. They will need to play substantially better to defeat a foe that, in this game at least, looked hungrier, tougher and more skilful.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • zenboomerang on July 26, 2012, 4:53 GMT

    @yorkshirematt... Apologies if it sounded as a put down... The Yorkshire comment was actually just the coincidence that Yorkshire & Victoria nearly have the same population - I was surprised, just hadn't thought about it before... Seeing the Yorkshire***, I initially was just thinking it was the same person without reading properly... My bad...

  • yorkshirematt on July 25, 2012, 22:21 GMT

    @zenboomerang Finally (I hope) I accept my throwaway comment about the crowd and the australian examples opened up a bit of a debate and I was a bit over the top with it. Aus and Eng (and SA but they CERTAINLY don't get the crowds) are helping to keep test cricket alive through great series and huge interest in the greatest form of the greatest game. I should have used better, subcontinental, examples.

  • yorkshirematt on July 25, 2012, 22:07 GMT

    @zenboomerang Sorry just thought the "yorkshire***" at the end of your post was meant to be some sort of insult but couldn't work out what. Yet another misunderstanding. Tempting offer but not as tempting as a good old pint of Timothy Taylor's golden best and yorkshire pud with gravy in the "Wolly Sheep" pub in Skipton I'm afraid.

  • zenboomerang on July 25, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    @yorkshirematt... Seems you don't like apologies... Wont do it again... Try actually stating facts next time & I will agree :) ...

  • zenboomerang on July 25, 2012, 11:09 GMT

    @yorkshirematt :- "Anyway I won't insult your folk like you did mine as I have a good relationship with most aussies on here"... lol... ok, please repeat any insult I have ever made to Eng & Wales Cricket fans - even when they regularly bag Aussies... PS: you would always be welcome to a home brew & coral trout bbq if you are in the area :) ... Live & let live :) ...

  • yorkshirematt on July 25, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    @zenboomerang Oh yeah the olympics. How could I forget. Not like it's been all over the news for the last six years! Doesn't bother us up here though. It's London's event not our's. Probably why i failed to mention it as a plausible reason for the good crowd. Anyway I won't insult your folk like you did mine as I have a good relationship with most aussies on here.

  • Sanjiyan on July 25, 2012, 5:52 GMT

    @Shan156 Where does Gary talk like hes coaching the Aussie team of old? He says its a good team with lots of experience, but nowhere do i hear him making any comparisions to Warne or Mcgrath. Tahir definately isnt shane Warne, but like Shane he has all the toys(Shanes own words btw) so maybe thats the comparision youre hearing. As for Steyn, he is without a doubt a fantastic bowler and the way he plays will automaticly draw comparisons to the greats of old. Hes most certainly no Mcgrath( Philander looks more that type of bowler) but a holding or marshall, maybe. When you have a fantastic new prospect they will always be compared to the greats of yesteryear. Amir was being hailed as the new akram for example. Nothing wrong with drawing comparisions, in fact it shows that even tho those players have long gone, they are still being remembered. Take it as a compliment instead of an insult

  • zenboomerang on July 25, 2012, 1:56 GMT

    @yorkshirematt :- "What's the population of the whole of Victoria then? I doubt the punters only came from Melbourne"... ... OK then :) ... Victoria population 5.6 million & 237,000 sq km - England 53 pop million & 130,000 sq km - Eng has nearly 10 times the population in half the area... So again my point is correct - MCG had more than double The Ovals attendance in 4 days, with a lot less population... You seem to forget that with the Olympics starting in days their were many foreign nationals also attending the Saffa Test, as was well publicized by your media... PS: apologies, yes the wrong Yorkshire*** - with over 5.3 million Yorkshire population it must be an easy mistake...

  • Meety on July 25, 2012, 1:18 GMT

    @yorkshirematt - nope, just an odd viewpoint, which you correctly stated is your own! Dunno how anybody other than a one eyed Indian would place India above Oz atm, & Pakistan, well they are great one series, average the next, they had a good run earlier in the year. Under your rationale - a Saffa fan would rate cricket teams (at this point in time) as 1. Sth Africa, equal 2nd - Oz & India drawn series recently, 4th Pakistan (drawn series on batting paradise) & equal 5th SL & Eng, as SL won a match in Sth Africa recently. This could change significantly if England win the remaining 2 matches!

  • Major_Hammad on July 24, 2012, 17:20 GMT

    Congrates to South Africa on huge victory. Also Congrates to Legend Amla and Steyn specially, Kallis, Smith, Morkel and Imran Tahir also performed very well. England poor bowlers exposed again against quality batsmen and Eng poor batting line exposed again Quality bowlers.

  • zenboomerang on July 26, 2012, 4:53 GMT

    @yorkshirematt... Apologies if it sounded as a put down... The Yorkshire comment was actually just the coincidence that Yorkshire & Victoria nearly have the same population - I was surprised, just hadn't thought about it before... Seeing the Yorkshire***, I initially was just thinking it was the same person without reading properly... My bad...

  • yorkshirematt on July 25, 2012, 22:21 GMT

    @zenboomerang Finally (I hope) I accept my throwaway comment about the crowd and the australian examples opened up a bit of a debate and I was a bit over the top with it. Aus and Eng (and SA but they CERTAINLY don't get the crowds) are helping to keep test cricket alive through great series and huge interest in the greatest form of the greatest game. I should have used better, subcontinental, examples.

  • yorkshirematt on July 25, 2012, 22:07 GMT

    @zenboomerang Sorry just thought the "yorkshire***" at the end of your post was meant to be some sort of insult but couldn't work out what. Yet another misunderstanding. Tempting offer but not as tempting as a good old pint of Timothy Taylor's golden best and yorkshire pud with gravy in the "Wolly Sheep" pub in Skipton I'm afraid.

  • zenboomerang on July 25, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    @yorkshirematt... Seems you don't like apologies... Wont do it again... Try actually stating facts next time & I will agree :) ...

  • zenboomerang on July 25, 2012, 11:09 GMT

    @yorkshirematt :- "Anyway I won't insult your folk like you did mine as I have a good relationship with most aussies on here"... lol... ok, please repeat any insult I have ever made to Eng & Wales Cricket fans - even when they regularly bag Aussies... PS: you would always be welcome to a home brew & coral trout bbq if you are in the area :) ... Live & let live :) ...

  • yorkshirematt on July 25, 2012, 9:11 GMT

    @zenboomerang Oh yeah the olympics. How could I forget. Not like it's been all over the news for the last six years! Doesn't bother us up here though. It's London's event not our's. Probably why i failed to mention it as a plausible reason for the good crowd. Anyway I won't insult your folk like you did mine as I have a good relationship with most aussies on here.

  • Sanjiyan on July 25, 2012, 5:52 GMT

    @Shan156 Where does Gary talk like hes coaching the Aussie team of old? He says its a good team with lots of experience, but nowhere do i hear him making any comparisions to Warne or Mcgrath. Tahir definately isnt shane Warne, but like Shane he has all the toys(Shanes own words btw) so maybe thats the comparision youre hearing. As for Steyn, he is without a doubt a fantastic bowler and the way he plays will automaticly draw comparisons to the greats of old. Hes most certainly no Mcgrath( Philander looks more that type of bowler) but a holding or marshall, maybe. When you have a fantastic new prospect they will always be compared to the greats of yesteryear. Amir was being hailed as the new akram for example. Nothing wrong with drawing comparisions, in fact it shows that even tho those players have long gone, they are still being remembered. Take it as a compliment instead of an insult

  • zenboomerang on July 25, 2012, 1:56 GMT

    @yorkshirematt :- "What's the population of the whole of Victoria then? I doubt the punters only came from Melbourne"... ... OK then :) ... Victoria population 5.6 million & 237,000 sq km - England 53 pop million & 130,000 sq km - Eng has nearly 10 times the population in half the area... So again my point is correct - MCG had more than double The Ovals attendance in 4 days, with a lot less population... You seem to forget that with the Olympics starting in days their were many foreign nationals also attending the Saffa Test, as was well publicized by your media... PS: apologies, yes the wrong Yorkshire*** - with over 5.3 million Yorkshire population it must be an easy mistake...

  • Meety on July 25, 2012, 1:18 GMT

    @yorkshirematt - nope, just an odd viewpoint, which you correctly stated is your own! Dunno how anybody other than a one eyed Indian would place India above Oz atm, & Pakistan, well they are great one series, average the next, they had a good run earlier in the year. Under your rationale - a Saffa fan would rate cricket teams (at this point in time) as 1. Sth Africa, equal 2nd - Oz & India drawn series recently, 4th Pakistan (drawn series on batting paradise) & equal 5th SL & Eng, as SL won a match in Sth Africa recently. This could change significantly if England win the remaining 2 matches!

  • Major_Hammad on July 24, 2012, 17:20 GMT

    Congrates to South Africa on huge victory. Also Congrates to Legend Amla and Steyn specially, Kallis, Smith, Morkel and Imran Tahir also performed very well. England poor bowlers exposed again against quality batsmen and Eng poor batting line exposed again Quality bowlers.

  • Gerbs on July 24, 2012, 16:45 GMT

    Strauss over Smith? No. Cooke over Alviro? Yes. Trott over Amla? No. KP over Kallis? No. Bell over AB? No. Bopara over Rudolph? No. Anderson over Steyn? No. Broad over Morkel? Unlikely. Bresnan over Philander? No. Bopara over Kallis? No. Swann over Tahir? Maybe. Boucher's injury gives SA another batsman in Duminy, but before Boucher was ruled out, the only possible advantage was England's lower order batting. And home ground advantage. Even contesting some of the above, and acknowledging that the sum of the parts may be more important than the individual ratings, it is unlikely that anyone will objectively put all their money on England beating SA. Just as 20 wickets versus 2 wickets does not mean that SA is 10 times better than England. Be careful with the rankings. Their is no fair test match schedule and the rankings are imperfect.

  • on July 24, 2012, 16:27 GMT

    simply put South African attack was more potent on this pitch and their top 3 batted in perfect test match way. Somehow if they could find a good wicket keeper batsman and free de villiers from wicket keeping duties ( he is too good a batsman to risk ) then i think they will do good in future. Duminy should be persisted with ( feeling sorry for rudolph) and tahir too looks good ( not very good but good enough). Can anyone from S.A tell me about any upcoming young wicket keepers..there must be someone. in fact i have heard about some young wicket keeper who is very good with bat

  • Shan156 on July 24, 2012, 16:26 GMT

    On a different note, it was pathetic to read comments from Gary Kirsten as if he is leading the Aussie team of 90s/noughties or the WI team of the 80s. Did Gary forget all the thrashings he received at the hands of the great Aussie team (both home and away) or what? SA is a good team, no doubt, but no where close to those great teams. Steyn is not McGrath or Marshall as the SA/India fans would like us to believe. And, Imran Tahir is most definitely not Shane Warne. That is the worst part of this defeat - England batsmen are making these bowlers something they are most definitely not.

  • LeftBrain on July 24, 2012, 16:22 GMT

    PureTom on (July 24 2012, 11:33 AM GMT), thanks for saying the obvious, somehow England team management can get it. Highly in-consistent, highly over-rated and utterly rubbish attitude. But still able to get selected un-questioned.

  • Shan156 on July 24, 2012, 16:21 GMT

    OK it was a thrashing alright. No excuses. But, I still don't think SA is that much better than England. Remember, this was the same team that lost a test at home to the Aussies and the Indians. Why, we won a test against them by an innings in Durban too - the personnel largely remained the same. Of course, the fact that we were able to get only 2 wickets is a factor that should be of concern. But, you got to give credit to the Saffers. Their powers of concentration was amazing. But,it was not like you had Bradman batting there. With due respect to Amla, he is no Bradman or Tendulkar. It is not like he is the most skilled batsman England has ever played against, far from it. Like Strauss, I back our bowlers to do better than this in the next test. We have to get Smith early. If that happens, then it would not be as bad as it was this test. I am more worried about the batting. They make it appear as if they are facing the WI attack of 80s. Negotiate the new ball and be patient.

  • yorkshirematt on July 24, 2012, 14:18 GMT

    @Meety Yes. Is that a problem?

  • yorkshirematt on July 24, 2012, 11:41 GMT

    @zenboomerang What's the population of the whole of Victoria then? I doubt the punters only came from Melbourne.

  • yorkshirematt on July 24, 2012, 11:38 GMT

    @zenboomerang There are a lot of yorkies on here (yorkshire pudding, yorkshire lad for example) Maybe you're mistaking me for one of them, as i hardly ever mention Aus in my posts. Unless an aussie tries to argue with my points of view, because, as a yorkshireman I never like to lose an argument

  • PureTom on July 24, 2012, 11:33 GMT

    I don't know why everyone wants to drop Bresnan when he took fully half of the SA wickets to fall in the match. What I don't get is why Captain Sulky-pants, erm, I mean Stuart Broad, is guaranteed a place. Swann and Anderson have proved themselves to be world class over and over and over. Broad has had a few good games with the balance of those being fairly recently. He is not a bowler to make batting line ups quake and wake up in cold sweats. Drop him, pick Onions, or Tremlett or Finn. Having a tail that can bat is a limited overs way of thinking, it's a bonus at best and shouldn't a serious consideration. Players need to fulfil their primary role before worrying about secondary abilities.

    Best moment in the game? Stuart Broad getting bounced out at express pace after whining about the slow, low, lifeless pitch. But never fear, Captain Sulky-Pants will be back, because he's good looking, or something. Do they honestly think that atittude/body language is good for team moral?

  • on July 24, 2012, 11:16 GMT

    I was a bit concerned when the 4th seamer (Bopara) was bowling quicker than both Bresnan and Broad on the fourth morning. Was it just me that noticed this?

  • Meety on July 24, 2012, 11:01 GMT

    @yorkshirematt - ok so you are sticking with that opinion! Odd!

  • RyanHarrisGreatCricketer on July 24, 2012, 10:09 GMT

    @ Scube , mate , i will be fined and banned from watching england's next two thrashings if chris broad watches this comment!!!! by the way, dont u really think bresnan is an underrated bowler? He is a good exponent of reverse swing and always offers control unlike hit or miss broad.he is also a gutsy batsman

  • Tigg on July 24, 2012, 9:47 GMT

    I'd like Onions (assuming fitness) over Finn. He's quick (although not Finn pace) andn always attacks the stumps, something the England attack failed to do. I'd be tempted to bring both in for Broad (particularly if he has a niggle) and Bresnan.

  • yorkshirematt on July 24, 2012, 9:30 GMT

    @rooboy Hey, we've got to find some consolation somewhere. Yes 5% of the SCG and MCG were full for the last days of those 2010 tests, but at least 90% of that 5% were poms. The population argument is rubbish as well. London may be bigger but Melbourne and Sydney are hardly little villages. @Meety Yes that is my assessment, and my assessment alone, but it is just based on recent series England have played against these teams, nothing scientific

  • zenboomerang on July 24, 2012, 9:14 GMT

    @yorkshirematt :- "remember the empty grounds at Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney"... lol... Sure... The Oval had 15,000 (3/4cap) on the last day in a city of 8 million - the MCG Dec 29 2010 Day 4 (last day) attendance = 18,899 in a city of 4 million (220,000 over 4 days) - after 4 days The Oval had 100,000 - less than half than the MCG - speaks for itself, doesn't it... You really try to put down Oz in your posts, yet make the simplest of mistakes all the time... Feeling a need to justify your recent loss by trying to put down others?...

  • Rooboy on July 24, 2012, 8:46 GMT

    Have to laugh at yorkshirematt's attempt to find some consolation by patting his fellow fans on the back for filling the ground 75% full. What's 75% at an English ground, about equivalent to a 5% full MCG? England also has a much larger population, so larger crowds would be expected. As would the ability to produce 11 decent cricketers.

  • Scube on July 24, 2012, 8:33 GMT

    RyanHarrisGreatCricketer: Guess, you aren't a cricket player. Otherwise, Chris Broad would have called you for a disciplinary hearing!

  • RyanHarrisGreatCricketer on July 24, 2012, 8:04 GMT

    Why bresnan is under the scanner whenever changes have to be made to bowling line up? Has broad obtained ownership over the seamer's position?

  • venkatesh018 on July 24, 2012, 7:32 GMT

    I don't know whether Finn is the answer to England's problems. But a fit Graham Onions will trouble any batting line up in the world.

  • cric_fan_ on July 24, 2012, 7:14 GMT

    before this match everyone was talking about the 2 advantages England had over SA 1) swann over tahir 2) England's depth in batting. I wonder no one is talking about them any more. As SA showed if you do the job properly, you're hired to do, you don't need other bits and pieces talent to succeed.

  • bluebillion on July 24, 2012, 7:13 GMT

    What is the obsession with having 3 bowlers who can swing the bat around for a few runs? There are 7 batsmen who have to do their job and 4 bowlers who have to do theirs. SA tail is Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Tahir and they dont seem to worry too much.

  • ukcip on July 24, 2012, 7:11 GMT

    I'm not sure I understand why so many people think Finn is the answer. Granted, he's put in some decent performances, but he hasn't faced any real challenge. He's bowled well against, effectively, 2nd tier test sides. What makes people so certain he'll have SA quaking in their boots? Onions had the South Africans tied up in knots regularly on the last tour, in unhelpful bowling conditions, and even they admitted it was a surprise when he was dropped for the last test. He is surely the man to bring in - at Bresnan's expense.

  • anuradha_d on July 24, 2012, 7:07 GMT

    Those who blame the English batting.......are in self denial.

    with 385 in first inning........there is no way any reasonable team should be pounded such onesidedly.

    I have said a dozen times before...Eng's problem is that they pick their bowlers for their batting abilities...hence Tremlett, and Finn faster, and more potent......lose out to medium pacers like Broad and Bresnan.......because the latter can score 20 odd runs with the bat......

    so when the pitches are not green and seaming.....but only normal.......Broad and Bresnan are prety impotent.

    Eng's only ONE credible win this year has come in Lanka......Best's blasting and thumping by SA are bitter exposition of the realoity

    for the next two tests Eng needs to prepare green, seaming pitches that will hide the limitations of their medium pacers......will act like a potency injection .....and minimize the gulf between two sides that is so exabberated on normal pitches.....

  • satish619chandar on July 24, 2012, 6:14 GMT

    @bantersaurus : Lol.. May be he wanted to appreciate them and wanted them to think high of themselves.. Certainly Anderson and Swann are good but to be compared with Glenn and Warne was a joke.. May be, to a Zaheer and Bhajji could be fine..

  • satish619chandar on July 24, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    If England are going to make changes to their bowlers alone, it will drastically affect their much talked lower order batting.. Monty did pick wickets in UAE and SA have now mastered the technique of tackling the off spinners.. They did it to Bhajji, Hauritz and now Swann.. That is one option and the most important one is to bring in on Finn.. At the expense of Bresnan? Again weakens the batting ability.. the best possible solution on current form would be is to bring in Finn for Bopara and decide on the spin option.. Prior has all credentials to bat at 6 and Bresnan can do what the current No.6's are doing.. Finn can provide more attacking option with ball..

  • venkatesh018 on July 24, 2012, 6:02 GMT

    England probably underestimated South Africa after the first day and paid dearly for that. Now that they have been warned, Flower, Strauss & Co. have enough skills at their disposal to give a real fight to South Africa in the next two tests(especially if Onions comes back into the bowling line-up). The problem for England is that Kirsten and Smith know that England will come hard at them and are ready for it. Can't wait for Headingley !

  • sulie786 on July 24, 2012, 5:26 GMT

    i just hope English fans will stop talking up their team. i agree however in the past SA have tended to relax after starting strong in test series, but i believe that time has passed. the diffrence is tahir has settled in now and looks sharp when there is turn and even kallis has looked liked atking wickets when needed. with de villiers keeping the team also has a super batting line up and jp duminy has not even been required to bat or bowl yet. i wish england luck they will certainly need it

  • SamRoy on July 24, 2012, 5:26 GMT

    Another thing most people forget is how lucky England were to escape with a 1-1 drawn series rather than a 3-1 drubbing in SA. Collingwood and Onions saved England twice as SA were unable to get the final wicket. England hasn't improved much since then (except Finn whom they somehow show reluctant to play) whereas SA have added Philander and Tahir to their arsenal.

  • SamRoy on July 24, 2012, 5:17 GMT

    I think even though he was inconsistent Flintoff was a lot better than Bresnan. Always looked a threat with the ball and quite often blasted quickfire half centuries with the bat. Bresnan maintains a great bowling and batting average and is a good bowler and a handy bat who often remains not out. But he never looks threatening in either his batting or bowling.

  • Gupta.Ankur on July 24, 2012, 5:10 GMT

    I think the problem was that England believed that this team was one of the best ever simply by beating Australia and India who were on a decline on custom made pitches for swing and favourable overhead conditions.

    Not remembering that for decades Indians have been batting well there and Eng gave 3 of our test captains a wonderful debut in Azhar/Dravid/Ganguly.

    And Aussies had been hammering them home and away.

    English team is a group of players who can do well only if certain things go right for them on the ground, viz pitch& good cloud cover.

  • satish619chandar on July 24, 2012, 4:33 GMT

    @landl47: I wouldn't criticize Bell for this.. He did what was required for the hour.. Had Bopara and Prior stayed focused and didn't go for those needless strokes, England could have saved the game.. Remember the pitch was still good for batting and no wicket was lost because of the pitch.. Either good bowling or bad batting.. Patience and will to stay was what required..

  • albadinu on July 24, 2012, 4:21 GMT

    This was coming. The signs were evident during the windies series. Eng failed to take advantage of strong foundation and collapsed in third day in both Lord's and Trent bridge test. But they were masked by the oppositions tendency to frequent collapse and some good bowling. But SA are a different proposition. They maintained relentless pressure in the second innings. Eng couldn't play out for the draw. Having said that Eng have the firepower to stage a comeback. But if they fail in the first innings of second test, then the trend of Eng captain resigning after a SA series might continue!

  • RandyOZ on July 24, 2012, 3:36 GMT

    South Africa must be really looking forward to coming to Australia. AB and Duminy might actually get a bat!

  • sandy_bangalore on July 24, 2012, 3:18 GMT

    Dear oh dear! Whispers about a possible return for someone like Rikki CLarke? Where is Englands much vaunted reserve strength now? Saffers best team in the world by a mile!

  • tests_the_best on July 24, 2012, 3:14 GMT

    As complete as this annihilation was, SA have a notorious habit of suddenly losing a test after complete annihilation of a team in the previous game. Happened against sri lanka in durban this winter, happened against ind again in durban last winter and happened even last time when eng toured SA. I would hold back on any no 1 series clinching predictions till atleast the next test is over. Nothing to take away from the saffers though, they certainly have both the batting and bowling resources to be no 1, let's see if they can translate it this time around. As for england, 2 words - "reality check" lol

  • Meety on July 24, 2012, 3:11 GMT

    @bantersaurus - that's GOLD! Forgot about that!

  • Cantbowlcantbat on July 24, 2012, 2:10 GMT

    Great win to South Africa A over South Africa B! Next 2 Tests are a big test for South Africa A. This is their chance to move from perennial no. 2 to no. 1.

  • on July 24, 2012, 1:52 GMT

    Okay, what? This article is calling Leeds in 2009 an 'aberration'? Hold your revisionist horses right there. That series is what kicked off England's winning streak. Before then they were simply an okay team who were over-confident because Australia had been through some rough times. Look at the batting and bowling figures for that series and it is utterly dominated by Australians because Australia had a better team at the time. They were, however, lead by lambs. If captaincy and selection had made actual informed decisions the entire series could have gone the way of Leeds. The current English line-up owes as much to Ponting and Jamie Cox as they do to their own backroom boys...

  • aaamsaasza on July 24, 2012, 1:42 GMT

    I am a die-hard fan of Kallis and Company however for this test match I strongly believe England presented the game to SA. Every English Batsman including the all rounders and tail got a chance to stay at the crease and they stayed at the crease for sometime....but....but only to throw their wickets away when they were needed most. Of the 20 English wickets, only three were taken by the SA bowlers with genuine unplayable deliveries (cook's dismissal was one of them). Remaining 17 wickets were gifts from English team. It was a nice gesture from all English players. The man of the match was not Hashim...He didn't win the match for SA.... It was KP who when SA was looking down at the barrel...opened the flood gate for South Africa.... Bopara, Bell, Strauss, and Trott should be awarded with medallions for showing us the true techniques of RECKLESS stroke play.

  • jimbond on July 24, 2012, 1:39 GMT

    The question is not whether they can take 20 wickets; it is whether they can take 20 wickets within 5 days during the time SA bats. The problem is, England's top order is still not good enough- they dont believe that their top six can put enough runs. The focus on wicketkeeper who can bat, and bowlers who can bat, has limited their other options. Simple cricketing logic of getting in the six best batsman and the four best bowlers and getting in the best wicketkeeper- should have been their focus instead. Teams that have a batsman who can bowl or a wk who can bat well are lucky. A Kallis or an AB Devilliers are assets, which not all teams posses. But team selections should be based on whether the players make it to the team at least on one skill. England's selection is still not good enough. If they continue to play a Bopara/Bresnan/Swann instead of Finn/Tremlett/Panesar, they can win only against weak teams in favourable conditions.

  • bantersaurus on July 24, 2012, 1:28 GMT

    Lets go back to David Sakers call on Anderson and Swann being just as good, if not better than Warne and McGrath. I think you'll find Warne and McGrath never had 2dec/637 taken from their bowling and went on to lose by an innings.

  • NumberXI on July 24, 2012, 1:18 GMT

    Lots of focus and comments, mostly true, about England's depth or lack of it. But England should take heart from the fact that South Africa have, in the past, shown a tendency to go off the boil after a brilliant start to Test series. If England can pick themselves up, they can look for a win in the next Test. Having said that England's over emphasis on all-founders is debatable. After all the value a specialist can bring to the team is not easily replicated by every all-rounder. It is a familiar trap and trading in bowling depth for a shortened tail may not be the best strategy.

  • GMFoley on July 24, 2012, 1:05 GMT

    I personally think that even though the pitch was low and slow, the first day where the Poms only scored 270 runs, despite only losing three wickets during the day, set the tone for their performance. Far too conservative. If Trott and Cook had been more attacking (could be asking a bit much from these two though), scored 330-350 in the day, even if they lost 5-6 wickets, the game could well have been different. Case in point is THAT match in 2005.

  • Meety on July 24, 2012, 1:00 GMT

    @yorkshirematt - so I take it you are saying that India & Pakistan are better than Oz? Interesting! @Greatest_Game - ouch! That would hurt, glad I'm not a pom, or worse still a turn coat pretending to be Ozzy, like OzzyHammond! LOL! @landl47 - it is hard to bag a bloke who top scored & featured in the only 3 partnerships of substance, but... I agree, what England needed to do was take every opportunity to score runs. If they did, the conservative voice in Smith's head, would of started telling him to defend more. Bell IMO showed a lack of match awareness. If he scored at a S/R of 50, he'd of a) got a ton, b) forced Smith on the defensive, c) avoided an innings defeat margin, d) MAY of pulled off a draw. I think Prior had the right idea early in his innings, I think he caught up to Bell despite facing half the balls, got into a lull before he got out. @Peter Walcott - I think he said they had the same "aura", but that was during the hype of the Indian whitewash!

  • thruthecovers on July 24, 2012, 0:23 GMT

    @landl47 Imo, Bell played it exactly the way he should have. If only the others before him did the same. But the entire ENG batting line-up lacked the application and powers of concentration (throw in some bloody-mindedness for good measure) necessary to save this game. Cook got a good ball but I must admit, I was very suprised at Trott giving his wicket away like that. And so early in his innings. Graham Gooch has his work cut out for him in the next couple of days, it seems

  • Highflyer_GP on July 24, 2012, 0:09 GMT

    Its not just one of those rare occasions where England has been comprehensively outplayed. The were in fact on the receiving end of THE heaviest defeat in test history. And that's a very sobering thought.

  • on July 24, 2012, 0:06 GMT

    Someone wrote that England currently has one of the best teams of all times along with Aus & WI of previous eras. Is this the England team he was refering to???? Five losses and three wins from nine matches.

  • thruthecovers on July 24, 2012, 0:03 GMT

    Oh I see. So when you talked about the "the pitch being a imminent threat to the future of Test cricket", you actualy meant a setback and possible demise of English cricket? No doubt ENG will improve on this performance. Plainly put, it will be damn hard not to, so bad were the, but I firmly believe whatever ENG's bowling attack throws at them, the SA attack will do better. Look at what they did on a supposedly docile pitch? Consummate proffessionals is what they are. ENG bowling might spark a SA batting collapse, but Steyn and co will then come even harder at the ENG batting line-up. SA's victory confirmed to me that ENG's batting only realy have 2 prized wickets. Cook and Trott. Get them quick and early and the job is halfway done. Not that the others aren't good, which they most surely are, but ENG's big totals have nearly all been built on the batting of these 2. KP will always require that ounce of luck to go his way. And luck firmly ascribes to the law of avg's unfortunately.

  • CustomKid on July 24, 2012, 0:01 GMT

    That result has confirmed for me what I've always believed. Outside of Anderson England has a very average attack. Even Anderson averages 30. In this game all you can do is beat the team in front of you. Over the last 2.5 years England have done that but against team in decline. Their true tests outside of the Ashes have resulted in draws one in SA, one in SRI, and a loss in India and the UAE.

    When conditions suit they are good - when they don't they're cannon fodder. All this speak of the greatest bowling attack of recent times is laughable. Great bowling teams like SA at present, AU in 90's 00s and the WI of 70,80,90's performed on any surface.

    ENG have beaten minnows and teams in decline which is all you can do. When challenged they've crumbled like this test. God forbid they get a green top the SA bowlers will have a field day.

    Today England you got p0wned, that is all.

  • landl47 on July 23, 2012, 23:44 GMT

    Although it may seem churlish to criticize, given that Bell at least put up a fight, I think his tactics were misconceived. By only scoring at a run rate of 25 per hundred balls, he gave England no chance of making enough runs to create any kind of pressure on South Africa. Even if England had batted until there were only 10 overs left (there were actually 30 when the end came) the lead would only have been about 40 runs, not even a challenge. Bell's career strike rate is 51, more than double what he did today. He should have tried to maintain that and, with some help from the other end, England might have saved the game. OK, so they almost certainly wouldn't have succeeded in doing so, but it was their best chance. Tactically, it just wasn't well thought out.

  • wrenx on July 23, 2012, 22:31 GMT

    aberration, blip, anomaly... that's all we keep hearing, and it's sounding more and more desperate. In the context of the last year, isn't it the case that beating India was the aberration, and the manifold thumpings handed to England are the rule?

  • cricsavvy on July 23, 2012, 22:25 GMT

    George, England - beauty in the eye of the beholder????

  • Greatest_Game on July 23, 2012, 22:12 GMT

    Mr. Dobell writes " ... there has rarely been an occasion when England have been so comprehensively outplayed as they have been in this Test." This statement appears incorrect & I'm sure Mr. Dobell is unaware of this. On the Cricinfo Front Page is a Stats Report by Mr. Rajesh: the link to this report reads "Stats - Most comprehensive test win," & the report is titled "The most comprehensive Test victory." Mr. Rajesh cites the number 287.25 as the difference in Runs Per Wicket (RPW) between the teams, (SA 318.50 RPW, Eng 31.25 RPW,) asserting this to be the greatest Runs Per Wicket difference in a completed test match, & concluding this is, and I quote, "the most comprehensive win ever." Thus I believe Mr. Dobell would have written "…there has NEVER been an occasion when England have been so comprehensively outplayed as they have been in this Test" had he been aware that statistically England has just received the biggest thrashing ever administered in the history of test cricket.

  • SurlyCynic on July 23, 2012, 22:08 GMT

    What is the point of relying on Swann's batting when he bottles it against quick bowlers and gets himself out. This is not the Bangladesh attack they're facing. Panesar would probably make more runs.

  • yorkshirematt on July 23, 2012, 21:49 GMT

    People who assume there will be more life in the Headingley pitch are wrong. It's been dead as a doornail there for a few years now. I predict it will be a virtual washout anyway, with the unluckiest (along with warwickshire) and most cash strapped county in the country hosting it.

  • Snehaa on July 23, 2012, 21:47 GMT

    The answer to England problems is not Finn or Tremlett..It is the groundsman.

  • Chris_P on July 23, 2012, 21:10 GMT

    I think there is plenty of concern for panic. The so called strong point of English cricket managed to collect 2 wickets while conceding over 600 runs, and this on their home turf? If this doesn't ring alarm bells, then I believe it could well be a long period of sadness coming up for the Poms. As the writer correctly pointed put, alarm bells were ringing after losing 4 tests already for this year, yet everyone was in "cruise control" after defeating the West Indies thinking all was back to where it should be. Sides character are not measured by their defeats, but in how they bounce back after performances such as this. Every side loses, sometimes badly, so let us judge these guys at the end of the series.

  • fast_gun on July 23, 2012, 20:45 GMT

    South Africa are a very good side, We all know that. The real test for them is to keep up this intensity and not really take their foot off the gas. Too many times in the past have we seen a win in the first test, and series lead squandered. Sure England are going to bounce back, We all expect it. The noise from the camp is good, and I am confident they can take on anything England throw at them. So I say bring on Finn and bring on Onions, Bring a greentop!

  • Master01 on July 23, 2012, 20:41 GMT

    England this year have lost 5 test matches out of 9 against 3 different teams in 3 different countries. Great number 1 team

  • ozwriter on July 23, 2012, 20:24 GMT

    good piece. what an absolute domination. SA's loss of only 2 wickets, 3 centurions, triple century, Amla scoring the highest score in SA's proud 123 year history, 5 for steyn, 4 for morkel, 3 for tahir. who would have believed this before the test match. most critics predicted a close contest with england the better team at the end.

  • on July 23, 2012, 20:22 GMT

    Rikki Clarke? Ha now way Mr.Dobell. He is just a country all-rounder along the lines of David Capel, Chris Lewis, Mark Ealham, Ronnie Irani, Holliake Brothers who England used in the 90s in a hope of finding the new "Botham".

    Clarke would be a useless attempt in finding the new Flintoff. As things stands, trying to develop Bresnan further as batsman, could see him filling the all-rounder role in the near future. This would enable England to pick Finn and play 5-bowlers in every test.

  • the_wallster on July 23, 2012, 20:18 GMT

    As always, a fair article from Mr Dobell. Another alarming detail was the lack of pace in the English attack, in particular Stuart Broad. It has been noted that since Bresnan's elbow surgery, he has lost a yard of pace. Once bowling around 85mph, but in this Test around 79mph. But Broad can have no excuse. He was abysmal in this Test. The lack of intensity and ideas was embarassing from England. Broad averages 33 with the ball for good reason. He is far too inconsistent, and Bresnan was always going to be a 'tryer' rather than a match-winner. Ditch Broad and Bresnan for Finn and Tremlett.

  • the_blue_android on July 23, 2012, 20:15 GMT

    Glad not to see the phrase 'flat pitch' after three days of typical English media hyperbole.

  • yorkshirematt on July 23, 2012, 20:00 GMT

    England's short time as no.1 may soon be coming to an end but at least we have the best supporters in the world. We appreciate good cricket from the opposition (even aussies) and always support our team even when the odds are stacked heavily against them. About 75% of the ground was full today, the last day of a Test match that England were likely to lose before tea (remember the empty grounds at Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney when England were looking to wrap up wins on the last day?) The cricket loving public of England may not be able to control the performances of their national team, but they always do themselves proud. What of that aforementioned national team? Well I don't think they are suddenly a bad side. I think they are about on a par with India and maybe Pakistan, and slightly better than Australia. Not no.1 material but I always thought SA were truly the best.

  • letsgoproteas on July 23, 2012, 19:57 GMT

    SA had less time in the field with 20 wickets - compared to Eng 2 wickets. I think the men have been separated from the boys.

    Boucher must be so proud!

  • Spelele on July 23, 2012, 19:44 GMT

    I'm glad you acknowledge SA's superiority at last Mr Dobell. It is going to be a different ball game at Leeds of course with a spicy pitch as Smith has acknowledged elsewhere; but I'm sure the Saffers will be up to the challenge. I hope Swann is okay (not that I think he will play that much of a role as SA are excellent players of spin, and pitches are likely to favour fast bowling in the last two matches), but we don't want any excuses from any English fans. Finn is the solution to England's problems here. I would have thought that was a no brainer really?

  • on July 23, 2012, 19:40 GMT

    Yup. About sums it up. 20-2 is a big scoreline.

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  • on July 23, 2012, 19:40 GMT

    Yup. About sums it up. 20-2 is a big scoreline.

  • Spelele on July 23, 2012, 19:44 GMT

    I'm glad you acknowledge SA's superiority at last Mr Dobell. It is going to be a different ball game at Leeds of course with a spicy pitch as Smith has acknowledged elsewhere; but I'm sure the Saffers will be up to the challenge. I hope Swann is okay (not that I think he will play that much of a role as SA are excellent players of spin, and pitches are likely to favour fast bowling in the last two matches), but we don't want any excuses from any English fans. Finn is the solution to England's problems here. I would have thought that was a no brainer really?

  • letsgoproteas on July 23, 2012, 19:57 GMT

    SA had less time in the field with 20 wickets - compared to Eng 2 wickets. I think the men have been separated from the boys.

    Boucher must be so proud!

  • yorkshirematt on July 23, 2012, 20:00 GMT

    England's short time as no.1 may soon be coming to an end but at least we have the best supporters in the world. We appreciate good cricket from the opposition (even aussies) and always support our team even when the odds are stacked heavily against them. About 75% of the ground was full today, the last day of a Test match that England were likely to lose before tea (remember the empty grounds at Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney when England were looking to wrap up wins on the last day?) The cricket loving public of England may not be able to control the performances of their national team, but they always do themselves proud. What of that aforementioned national team? Well I don't think they are suddenly a bad side. I think they are about on a par with India and maybe Pakistan, and slightly better than Australia. Not no.1 material but I always thought SA were truly the best.

  • the_blue_android on July 23, 2012, 20:15 GMT

    Glad not to see the phrase 'flat pitch' after three days of typical English media hyperbole.

  • the_wallster on July 23, 2012, 20:18 GMT

    As always, a fair article from Mr Dobell. Another alarming detail was the lack of pace in the English attack, in particular Stuart Broad. It has been noted that since Bresnan's elbow surgery, he has lost a yard of pace. Once bowling around 85mph, but in this Test around 79mph. But Broad can have no excuse. He was abysmal in this Test. The lack of intensity and ideas was embarassing from England. Broad averages 33 with the ball for good reason. He is far too inconsistent, and Bresnan was always going to be a 'tryer' rather than a match-winner. Ditch Broad and Bresnan for Finn and Tremlett.

  • on July 23, 2012, 20:22 GMT

    Rikki Clarke? Ha now way Mr.Dobell. He is just a country all-rounder along the lines of David Capel, Chris Lewis, Mark Ealham, Ronnie Irani, Holliake Brothers who England used in the 90s in a hope of finding the new "Botham".

    Clarke would be a useless attempt in finding the new Flintoff. As things stands, trying to develop Bresnan further as batsman, could see him filling the all-rounder role in the near future. This would enable England to pick Finn and play 5-bowlers in every test.

  • ozwriter on July 23, 2012, 20:24 GMT

    good piece. what an absolute domination. SA's loss of only 2 wickets, 3 centurions, triple century, Amla scoring the highest score in SA's proud 123 year history, 5 for steyn, 4 for morkel, 3 for tahir. who would have believed this before the test match. most critics predicted a close contest with england the better team at the end.

  • Master01 on July 23, 2012, 20:41 GMT

    England this year have lost 5 test matches out of 9 against 3 different teams in 3 different countries. Great number 1 team

  • fast_gun on July 23, 2012, 20:45 GMT

    South Africa are a very good side, We all know that. The real test for them is to keep up this intensity and not really take their foot off the gas. Too many times in the past have we seen a win in the first test, and series lead squandered. Sure England are going to bounce back, We all expect it. The noise from the camp is good, and I am confident they can take on anything England throw at them. So I say bring on Finn and bring on Onions, Bring a greentop!