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

England limitations exposed

Technical deficiencies on slow, dry pitches mean England have now lost five from nine
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Let's talk about England. A consistent batting group were given first use of a good pitch and cocked it up. A celebrated bowling attack took two wickets during a match that lasted almost five days. The opposition took 20 wickets and made more than 600 runs. There you go. Like the story of World War Two, you can tell it on the back of a cigarette packet if you have to.

England are not half the team if the pitch is dry and slow. Dry with pace, fine. Slow with seam movement, fine. Dry and slow, big question mark. Five out of nine Tests lost this year, all on dry and slow surfaces. The whisper before the match was that England were after something that spins, backing Graeme Swann against Imran Tahir and figuring everyone else would cancel themselves out. During the match this whisper did a splendid u-turn and became England asking for, but not getting, a pitch with pace that offered some lateral movement to seam bowling. I am inclined to run with the first of these, manly because it makes some sense and worked well at The Oval three years ago against Australia. But that pitch had more pace than this one. This might just as well have been the subcontinent, so foreign were the conditions.

Any which way: whoops. The wheels came off and now need Formula One pit-change-speed replacements if the series is to be saved. Andrew Strauss admitted mistakes and an off-colour performance while reiterating his faith in a high-class set of bowlers. Quite right. He will also hope that Headingley is, shall we say, a little more English.

England have started badly in a number of relatively recent and important series. Cardiff 2009, the bizarre Panesar draw; Centurion 2009, the squeaky Onions draw; Brisbane 2010, the top-three inspired miracle. You could, if in a mind for it, argue the right to those escapes. Not this time, not close. If the contest had been in a ring, the ref would have stopped it. Perhaps we should have known that in the week of Nelson Mandela's birthday, all things South African would flourish. Poor Adam Scott, the force was against him. Think about it, even the sun shone.

Hunted, haunted during the winter in the UAE; initially whipped in Sri Lanka in the spring and now this, a proper midsummer shellacking. Why are England so much less good on dry, slow pitches? Limitation is the answer. There is an inherently mechanical nature to English batsmanship and a culture of line and length amongst bowlers. English batsmen are body and arms, not wrists and twinkling toes. English bowlers are seam, swing and orthodox spin not pace, bounce, reverse, leggies and doosras.

Of course, this is not across the board. In fact, the most obvious improvement to England's cricket since the beginning of Michael Vaughan's period in the seat has been the range of bowling talent and, in particular, the ability to reverse swing. That four-man seam attack in 2005 had everything but a left-arm pacer. In Australia in 2010-11 the bases were covered by three bowlers in perfect harmony and Swann's considerable fortitude and talent. But during this long weekend South Africa neutered Swann brilliantly - oh Hasim, what an innings! - and the others, well they got the snip too. Sometimes it it not obvious why. Sometimes, the other blokes just played better.

"England in the main are thoroughness before invention, practicality before originality"

There was a bit of that and there is superb batting to consider too. The modern Test match game sets over-defensive fields in the knowledge that freewheeling, dubiously disciplined batsmen will press the self-destruct button eventually. Not Graeme Smith though, not in his 100th Test. Not Jacques Kallis, who had never quite conquered England. And not Amla, who speaks for mankind with each hour he spends at the wicket. They wound back the clock, they occupied the crease. They out-thought and out-lasted the No. 1 team in the world.

English cricket rarely thinks out of the proverbial box and it showed at The Oval, at times quite shockingly so. The great bounce back in Sri Lanka came via one man's amazing expression, the South African Kevin Pietersen. England won because he ripped up the rule book and played a very exceptional, often outrageous innings. It was a fine victory to level the series - set up by the touch of genius, stamped by the thoroughness that supported it. That is England in the main, thoroughness before invention; practicality before originality.

None of which begins to explain the madness that actually cost the match. Agreed, it was daft of Pietersen to fall for Kallis' slow-bouncer, fast-bouncer thing - the old one-two - on Thursday evening, but 267 for 3 is a nice overnight platform by any book. No, it was Friday morning what done it. Alastair Cook's tired stroke; Ian Bell's lapse of judgement; Ravi Bopara's lack of conviction; Tim Bresnan's waft, etc. That was the morning that was and it cost the match. Sure, the ball moved around at pace but England were caught asleep, deep in the dreams of assumption, and South Africa had sprung from their sheets.

Do not count against England turning this around, there is a history of it. Strauss is no quitter and alongside him is a coach, Andrew Flower, who will wring every inch from the next ten days. But then again, do not count on South Africa's dereliction. Smith and Flower's opposite number, Gary Kirsten, are not the sort to ignore their duty.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • i.love.ice.creams on July 26, 2012, 13:34 GMT

    12 months back they said that Indians were holding #1 spot merely because of their strong batting line-up. Is it not reasonable to say now that English are #1 attributed to their bowling, viz, pacers?

  • 5wombats on July 26, 2012, 9:40 GMT

    @zenboomerang. The weather here this "summer" has been SHOCKING. The forecast before this match was very obviously for rain/bad light/grot on Days 1 & 2. Winning the toss and putting the Saffers in was a no brainer, I even said so in the Preview before the match; Here's what I wrote; "Posted by 5wombats on (July 18 2012, 18:04 PM GMT) Be quite nice to win the toss and put SA in - then we'll really see how mentally strong they are....". So, why the hell did he do the other thing!?! I'm not usually critical of Strauss or any of the players - but I think on this one he got it completely wrong. He should know better than to look at a pitch and say "that's a belter, we'll bat" without any regard to the weather. Fellow England fans on here are too polite - they won't say anything for fear that the indians will jump all over us and call us excuse makers (which, all things considered is a bit rich), but I've spent many years in Aus and have learned to call a spade a spade.

  • zenboomerang on July 26, 2012, 5:30 GMT

    @5wombats... re: pitch - many forget quickly that the game is often won/lost by who bats first when weather is a consideration (not excusing this loss)... Looked at the weather forecast before the match & guessed that whoever won the toss would field first... Strauss as capt has won 26 tosses & fielded 1st 8 times, so he should have picked it right... Still a lot better than Pontings stats - as capt he won 37 tosses & batted 1st 35 times, pretty much regardless of weather conditions... No reply needed :P ...

  • Hammond on July 25, 2012, 5:07 GMT

    @Marcio- interesting post. So England must be pretty good hey? You know beating Australia and getting to the number one ranking and all that.

  • Sanj747 on July 25, 2012, 4:08 GMT

    Great article. England well and truly exposed. A limited side and goes to show how the number 1 ranking is meaningless with recent performances against SAF and PAK. The tour of Sri Lanka was not a victory but a draw. James Anderson jumped the gun earlier this year on how great a side England was. Vik Patel spot on with your thoughts. Won't say England can't come back in the series but 1 nil down in a 3 test contest makes it all the more difficult.

  • Meety on July 25, 2012, 1:31 GMT

    Imagine what the English press will be like if Sth Africa were to whitewash them? They'll of gone from invincible aura's to hacks in a space of months. A bit of perspective, first home loss in a while, & whilst statistically it was a walloping, the fact is, it was taken to Tea time Day 5.

  • 5wombats on July 24, 2012, 22:27 GMT

    @cric_fan_ Yours is an honest post. You are right - there was nothing wrong with the pitch. A lot of people would have us believe that English pitches are grassy unplayable meadows. Thats BS designed as an excuse by fans of teams that lose on them. And yes - it didn't deteriorate into a minefield. In England it's Atmospherics that make the difference. Friend, conditions were NOT always great for batting... Batting in a Test Match under floodlights in the rain is NOT conditions great for batting. I was there - sat in the rain under the floodlights in sessions 1, 4 and 5 of the match. At those times and in those conditions the ball swung alarmingly - the batsmen struggled to pick it up. I know what I saw. Strauss knew that the forecast was for hot sunshine on days 3, 4, 5 and grot on days 1 & 2. SO - what does he do? He says "right, we'll have a bat" in poor damp weather with bad light and interruptions. AND "SA, you go and bat in the hot sun - enjoy". It's not rocket science. please pub

  • yorkshirematt on July 24, 2012, 22:22 GMT

    @left Brain I don't know if you actually read the article but you just summed it perfectly in a few little words! As for "over analysing", well, that's what Mark and others are paid to do. Itwould be a pretty pointless article if it just said "England play well in conditions that suit them, but not in conditions that don't. Fact is cricket is a complex game where a lot of analysis is a necessity. if you don't like it watch another sport.

  • cric_fan_ on July 24, 2012, 18:30 GMT

    @5wombats are you sure strauss waking up the wrong side of the bed wasn't the actual reason for this defeat? That might be the real excuse. You win the toss, you make the wrong decision misreading your own pitch well that's one more weakness Eng have then. About the match, the pitch was beauty to bat on, the plan was to get SA to bat last and trap them in swann's web of spin, which never happened. The pitch didn't improve 10 times for batting by the time Eng finished their 1st innings and it certainly didn't deteriorate into a mine field by Eng's 2nd innings, the conditions were always great for batting only thig is SA bowled well and batted well and if English team can't handle a cloud or two then they should really consider playing somewhere else as in England you'll always encounter such weather conditions

  • Marcio on July 24, 2012, 17:27 GMT

    @ pommyadders "who can't beat Australia these days?" Lots. Australia hadn't lost a single series in tests or ODis for 18 months - ten total series, mostly away from home - before the recent silly series in England. You don't get ranked #2 in tests and # 1 in ODIs by being easy-beats (England's winning ratio in tests is significantly lower than Australia's since the Ashes, BTW). Maybe you should bother to do a little research before you post. But then again, you are not alone in bashing before you think. Every comment section here seems to be full of such postings.

  • i.love.ice.creams on July 26, 2012, 13:34 GMT

    12 months back they said that Indians were holding #1 spot merely because of their strong batting line-up. Is it not reasonable to say now that English are #1 attributed to their bowling, viz, pacers?

  • 5wombats on July 26, 2012, 9:40 GMT

    @zenboomerang. The weather here this "summer" has been SHOCKING. The forecast before this match was very obviously for rain/bad light/grot on Days 1 & 2. Winning the toss and putting the Saffers in was a no brainer, I even said so in the Preview before the match; Here's what I wrote; "Posted by 5wombats on (July 18 2012, 18:04 PM GMT) Be quite nice to win the toss and put SA in - then we'll really see how mentally strong they are....". So, why the hell did he do the other thing!?! I'm not usually critical of Strauss or any of the players - but I think on this one he got it completely wrong. He should know better than to look at a pitch and say "that's a belter, we'll bat" without any regard to the weather. Fellow England fans on here are too polite - they won't say anything for fear that the indians will jump all over us and call us excuse makers (which, all things considered is a bit rich), but I've spent many years in Aus and have learned to call a spade a spade.

  • zenboomerang on July 26, 2012, 5:30 GMT

    @5wombats... re: pitch - many forget quickly that the game is often won/lost by who bats first when weather is a consideration (not excusing this loss)... Looked at the weather forecast before the match & guessed that whoever won the toss would field first... Strauss as capt has won 26 tosses & fielded 1st 8 times, so he should have picked it right... Still a lot better than Pontings stats - as capt he won 37 tosses & batted 1st 35 times, pretty much regardless of weather conditions... No reply needed :P ...

  • Hammond on July 25, 2012, 5:07 GMT

    @Marcio- interesting post. So England must be pretty good hey? You know beating Australia and getting to the number one ranking and all that.

  • Sanj747 on July 25, 2012, 4:08 GMT

    Great article. England well and truly exposed. A limited side and goes to show how the number 1 ranking is meaningless with recent performances against SAF and PAK. The tour of Sri Lanka was not a victory but a draw. James Anderson jumped the gun earlier this year on how great a side England was. Vik Patel spot on with your thoughts. Won't say England can't come back in the series but 1 nil down in a 3 test contest makes it all the more difficult.

  • Meety on July 25, 2012, 1:31 GMT

    Imagine what the English press will be like if Sth Africa were to whitewash them? They'll of gone from invincible aura's to hacks in a space of months. A bit of perspective, first home loss in a while, & whilst statistically it was a walloping, the fact is, it was taken to Tea time Day 5.

  • 5wombats on July 24, 2012, 22:27 GMT

    @cric_fan_ Yours is an honest post. You are right - there was nothing wrong with the pitch. A lot of people would have us believe that English pitches are grassy unplayable meadows. Thats BS designed as an excuse by fans of teams that lose on them. And yes - it didn't deteriorate into a minefield. In England it's Atmospherics that make the difference. Friend, conditions were NOT always great for batting... Batting in a Test Match under floodlights in the rain is NOT conditions great for batting. I was there - sat in the rain under the floodlights in sessions 1, 4 and 5 of the match. At those times and in those conditions the ball swung alarmingly - the batsmen struggled to pick it up. I know what I saw. Strauss knew that the forecast was for hot sunshine on days 3, 4, 5 and grot on days 1 & 2. SO - what does he do? He says "right, we'll have a bat" in poor damp weather with bad light and interruptions. AND "SA, you go and bat in the hot sun - enjoy". It's not rocket science. please pub

  • yorkshirematt on July 24, 2012, 22:22 GMT

    @left Brain I don't know if you actually read the article but you just summed it perfectly in a few little words! As for "over analysing", well, that's what Mark and others are paid to do. Itwould be a pretty pointless article if it just said "England play well in conditions that suit them, but not in conditions that don't. Fact is cricket is a complex game where a lot of analysis is a necessity. if you don't like it watch another sport.

  • cric_fan_ on July 24, 2012, 18:30 GMT

    @5wombats are you sure strauss waking up the wrong side of the bed wasn't the actual reason for this defeat? That might be the real excuse. You win the toss, you make the wrong decision misreading your own pitch well that's one more weakness Eng have then. About the match, the pitch was beauty to bat on, the plan was to get SA to bat last and trap them in swann's web of spin, which never happened. The pitch didn't improve 10 times for batting by the time Eng finished their 1st innings and it certainly didn't deteriorate into a mine field by Eng's 2nd innings, the conditions were always great for batting only thig is SA bowled well and batted well and if English team can't handle a cloud or two then they should really consider playing somewhere else as in England you'll always encounter such weather conditions

  • Marcio on July 24, 2012, 17:27 GMT

    @ pommyadders "who can't beat Australia these days?" Lots. Australia hadn't lost a single series in tests or ODis for 18 months - ten total series, mostly away from home - before the recent silly series in England. You don't get ranked #2 in tests and # 1 in ODIs by being easy-beats (England's winning ratio in tests is significantly lower than Australia's since the Ashes, BTW). Maybe you should bother to do a little research before you post. But then again, you are not alone in bashing before you think. Every comment section here seems to be full of such postings.

  • Major_Hammad on July 24, 2012, 17:22 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.

  • on July 24, 2012, 16:40 GMT

    @Dick Richard Barry. So why can't SA beat England in SA? If they immeasurably better surely they should have won with more or less the same team 2 years back on their own turf? Please explain that and I might accept your assumptions.

  • khanc on July 24, 2012, 15:23 GMT

    England's bowlers kept bowling full even though the South Africans had no trouble against it and there was no swing. Their pace also sufferred. This was a tactical error. Steyn and co. bowled short of length. The other aspect was Tahir is a finger spinner, good for slow wickets. Swann will always be a liability on slow wickets - the upcoming India tour will be worse for him. India never suffered against even Warne, so Swannie is no big deal. The next couple of matches against SA will be closer, but England will surely lose against India if they sit on their hands.

  • stormy16 on July 24, 2012, 15:20 GMT

    No shortage of examples of 'whinging' here - the wicket (at certain times!), Finn, Swan, pitch, clouds you name it but here's a beauty - the conditions suited SA! I am not sure where some of you are watching SA at home but you will not see a wicket like this in SA, not at the Wanderers, Newlands, Supersport park or Durban - the main test venues. Last summer the Newlans test V Aus finished in two days with Aus being bowled out for 47, the 2nd test was cliff hanger. Supersport against SL looked like a golf course - its another pathetic excuse from Eng and the failure to be a gentleman and accept they were flogged! You can take 2 wickets, the opposition score 600+ and lose 20 wickets and come up with excuses - that is pathetic. Spare a thought for the Saffies who were simply brilliant.

  • on July 24, 2012, 15:11 GMT

    Funny how everyone is saying that if the pitch had some pace or swing England would have won. Hmmm... So pace won't help Morkel and Steyn and swing won't help Philander and Steyn again? Anything that helps the English bowlers will help the SA bowlers as well. Beating up the likes of India and WI at home is a lot different to what they are facing now. True number 1 test teams (The last of which was probably the Aussies) don't get beaten as often as England do and especially not like this, home or away. England are a good team, but they need to win consistently away from home before they can be called great. 2 wickets taken and losing by an innings...shameful.

  • ihaq1 on July 24, 2012, 15:09 GMT

    i think south africa might be the only team with a better away record...australia got them by playing new bowlers like cummins...i sometimes think that anderson and broad bowl the same deliveries again and again...Finn is needed and play bowlers according to teh pitch...i also think sometimes that trott and cook should be opening...not many teams lose after scoring over 350 in the first innings...my thinking is bad selection and depending too much on standard attitudes...south africa might not be good at home but they have good fast bowlers and i must say good batsmen...the english will have to concentrate on getting smith, amla and kallis out...they have a reputation...after that there are still a couple of batsmen left...

  • LeftBrain on July 24, 2012, 15:02 GMT

    Excuses, excuses, excuses.......... this is part of English problem too, since they are, and never were, talented, they try to cover it by over reacting, over analyzing and use of a lot of words, a whole lot of words. The fact of the matter is, England performed well only in conditions that suits them, and it happened during a period when other teams were on great decline. Even during that period, any quality opposition exposed English in competence ruthlessly, Pakistan in UAE and now SA at Oval. And Swann doesnt even deserve a mention in any debate which is about quality with consistency, he had one good season, but English spinner's bench is so barren, even he became the next big thing there, well he isn't.

  • NaniIndCri on July 24, 2012, 14:59 GMT

    Yeah yeah its the conditions, No.1 team cannot play in conditions that does not suit them. Have a idea play all the tests in one ground that suits you and you can keep your chest thumping. Now go back to sleep.

  • 5wombats on July 24, 2012, 13:41 GMT

    @jackiethepen. Agreed. Thinking inside the box; "win toss, bat" caused England batsmen to be exposed to an outstanding SA bowling attack in conditions favourable to them, esp on Day 2. "win toss, bat" also allowed outstanding SA batsmen the opportunity to bat in perfect conditions. Outcome = Match lost. By batting Strauss handed the best conditions for bowling and then batting to SA. There was no reason to not put SA in - sometimes a bit of belief needs to take over. Why didn't he show that belief in his bowlers? I was there I know what I saw. In all likelihood England would have taken a pasting had they put South Africa in to bat - but we seriously doubt it could have been any worse than what actually happened. Having decided to bat in ordinary conditions against a fine bowling attack, the onus is on the batsmen to back the captain. Some of them did - most of them didn't. They won't be queueing up to thank Strauss for making them bat in bad light and rain under floodlights either.

  • cricjaffa on July 24, 2012, 13:41 GMT

    Mighty England humbled in their own backyard and guess who is the culprit, the "sub-continental" wicket. Hats off to the world's best fast bowler Dale Steyn for his spell in the second innings and Hashim Amla's mastery innings. England need to come up with better excuses for the up coming defeats in this series....

  • Nutcutlet on July 24, 2012, 13:33 GMT

    Yes, that was an atypical Oval wicket - and it suited our visitors very well indeed. Nonetheless, there are, IMO, a few cracks that are beginning to appear in the XI England like to put into the field. The most obvious is that when confronted with classy, patient and focussed bats of high calibre, the attack looks pretty toothless if 'there's nothing in it for the bowlers'. 'Ah,' some may say, 'but we have a plan for that. Dry up the runs with persistent accuracy. Let the batsmen get themselves out in frustation!' Well, that plan didn't work, because with the exception of Jimmy there were plenty of runs to be had. SA's bats sat in to begin with, worked out what each bowler was offering - and then moved effortlessly through the gears. The rest was predictable; this team doesn't know how to draw! Changes must be made. Broad looks spent and may not be fit: Finn comes in.And is Swann really fit? The debate must begin now.This result provides no 'if only' bolt-holes to run to, does it?.

  • BeastofBarnsley on July 24, 2012, 12:51 GMT

    I'm not usually bothered about England, or comment on here due to the ridiculous schoolboy bickering that goes on, but feel I should offer a less emotional English perspective. Firstly, South Africa gave a perfect test performance. They didn't panic after a tough first day and came back out and turned the game completely on its head with some superb bowling and good technical, disciplined batting. The main difference, I believe, was that South Africa were able to get something out of a flat looking pitch, whereas England did not. I'm at a loss to explain why because they bowled well on similar pitches in the UAE and Sri Lanka, although the quality of the South African batting compared to Pakistan and Sri Lanka could explain that. They didn't attack the stumps enough and South Africa were more than happy to leave, then put away any bad deliveries, of which there were a few. I don't think big changes need to be made but it would need a huge change from teams both for England to even draw

  • buntyj on July 24, 2012, 12:41 GMT

    eng are still strong enough to beat most sides save rsa, maybe oz; these 3 are a cut above others now; eng missed finn- they need 4 not 3 fast bowlers n in form n fitness n full pace; selections shouldnt be based on rep or last years performance; the win again proves that again 80% of tests are won by the team with the better pace attack; last year i had commented in various fora that this wasnt eng's alltime best xi, not a patch on the the 50s teams for instance but were lucky to be playing in an era in which only oz n rsa presently compete at test level without overwhelming home advantage; also, shows that rsa are getting their act together away too better than in the past and in later years critics and commentators are going to question the current high status of india's top 6 (since 96) on the basis of their regular sub par performances over time n many tours in rsa which over the past 2 decades has probably had the best pace attacks; amla isnt dravid class.

  • paps123 on July 24, 2012, 11:36 GMT

    England should definitely play Finn ahead of Bopara, I believe at Test level, Bresnan's as good a batter as Bopara is and with Prior batting so well, No 6 they don't need a pure batsman. On slower pitches, Samit Patel's a good option too. Don't forget he is as good as Bopara with the bat and he is not a bits and pieces player. Food for thought

  • pommyadders on July 24, 2012, 10:53 GMT

    Yes Dick, but you seem to be forgetting that South Africa also seem to have problems wining series. That's a very impressive record in any book, any team that hasn't lost away from home for 6 years should surely be ranked higher than 3??. WELL THEY WOULD BE IF THEY HAD WON THE SERIES INSTEAD OF DRAWN THEM!!! Since beating Australia in Oz in 08/09 the only side you've beaten of note is Sri Lanka, you've drawn against India (twice) Aus, Pakistan and Eng, you're only test wins are against the might of NZ and West Indies. I mean who can't beat Australia these days?? Well apparently the best team on the planet can't. If SA win this series then they'll be No 1 and deservedly so, but recent history would suggest there is a long way for them to go before that happens my friend. Best side on the planet LOL, they should be, I'll give you that...and would be but for their "choker" issues.

  • jackiethepen on July 24, 2012, 10:43 GMT

    Mark Nicholas writes in headlines. But his day by day analysis is wide of the mark. England fell on day 2 because of superb bowling - but not because Cook and Bell had suddenly changed as players - they had played the new ball comfortably the evening before sent down by the same bowlers. The media called the attack "pop-gun"!! But conditions changed to suit the bowlers. Dark, muggy, pre-storm which burst after lunch. The ball was swinging wildly. But if you deal in stereotypes and cliches then you ignore the weather. Suddenly the "pop-gun" attack are superheroes! SA admitted conditions suited them. We know Nicholas is a KP fan but KP played poorly, why not just say so? He played a blinder in Colombo. But England did not get whipped in Galle by Sri Lanka. I was there. We should have won that game and lost it due to dropped catches by Panesar and no ball by Broad. If England had shown the fightback of Bell we should have drawn this game. He is a fabulous stroke player but he put it away.

  • neo-galactico on July 24, 2012, 10:39 GMT

    I have no doubts that England will come back very strongly in the next test, and will give a better account of themselves. SA should not be complacent and/or inconsittent as they ususally are, although we statistically superior to our opponents in most series we have a habit of drawing. And that should bring hope to the English, but hopefully the Proteas can retain their lofty standards of play from the previous match and even if England do improve then it won't be enough. We are the most talennted side in the world and we should dominate more and win more series not just drawing and not losing but WINNING. And what happened to the Poms Bowlers' speeds, Broad used to bowl in the 140s. Oh! He was THE ENFORCER then. Good luck Proteas you'll need it.

  • on July 24, 2012, 10:22 GMT

    Sometimes the other team is just better. Much better in this case. No shame in it. South Africa are currently by far the best test team in the world, and they showed it. Forget about David Kendix's ridiculous rankings where a team that has not lost away from home in 6 years are ranked at no 3, and a team (England and India before them) that plays most of their test cricket at home gets a HUGE advantage in the rankings. England's (and their supporters') problem is that they started to believe these ridiculous rankings. Now at least it is plain to see who is the best, by far. No shame in losing to a team like South Africa. No drastic changes required. Just acceptance.

  • RyanHarrisGreatCricketer on July 24, 2012, 10:05 GMT

    @karnor pak have got a bad batting unit

  • 5wombats on July 24, 2012, 9:54 GMT

    @RyanHarrisGreatCricketer (July 24 2012, 08:17 AM GMT) "England= lot of talk , little walk". Yeah - walked all over Australia last time and the time before. You're just as bad as the other lot. Show a bit of style and don't lower yourself.

  • on July 24, 2012, 9:54 GMT

    Gee what happened to "Fortress England" Mr. Nicholas?

  • 9ST9 on July 24, 2012, 9:36 GMT

    @Amanullah Khan - 'Bracewell?' you mean Doug Bracewell? He plays for New Zealand.

  • on July 24, 2012, 9:30 GMT

    my bowling attack for next test would be for England James anderson,Steven Finn and Reece topley with a spinner and one allrounder

  • on July 24, 2012, 9:05 GMT

    England is better side than they performed on Test 1. Amla is a prolific batsmen, no way less talented than Dravid. Unless England come up with a solid strategy against him, he will make them suffer throughout the series.

  • othello22 on July 24, 2012, 8:51 GMT

    Seriously, I think England have simply become a bit one-dimensional - Their no-frills, bore the opposition to death brand of cricket worked well against undisciplined, poorly coached teams who, as Mark has beatifully put it here, will be driven to agitation and push the self destruct button sooner or later. Think India 2011 and Australia 2010, did England really win these series' or did their poorly prepared opponents simply lose them? Have England been tricked into thinking they are genuine contenders by constantly playing against rubbish? Kind looks like it. They will bounce back in this series at some point but I still feel they will lose not only the series but also their coveted No. 1 ranking, and worse still, bigger challenges await - They soon will have to play India at home and then a vastly superior Australian outfit to the one they last encountered in back-to-back Ashes series. Sucks to be them right now.

  • ste13 on July 24, 2012, 8:23 GMT

    Yes, England can bounce back, but this time the prospects are different. Winter tests vs Pawkistan and Sril lanka was a struggle. Three games against West Indies were more competitive than the last Ashes. The difference between the teams in the Oval was huge and change in bowling unit is needed. We will see, but it can be only a sudden collapse of South Africa superior capacities rather than anything else if England is to have any chances. Also I cannot see England taking 20 Indian wickets this autumn, unless something extraordinary happens.

  • Karnor on July 24, 2012, 8:19 GMT

    Am I the only one who remembers England bowling pretty well on those dusty subcontinental pitches in Pakistan? This article suggests the England attack was toothless in Pakistan whereas in fact they bowled Pakistan out for surprisingly low totals on those pretty flat wickets.

    The problem in Pakistan was terrible batting which lost the series. I'm not quite ready to write off the England attack based on one bad performance.

  • RyanHarrisGreatCricketer on July 24, 2012, 8:17 GMT

    England= lot of talk , little walk

  • criexpert on July 24, 2012, 7:19 GMT

    No point squabbling over who is the best..England have an average side who performed well coz 1) they were in home conditions.2) Sometimes they showed killer instinct.3)Collective performace was the key. Now if the same 3 thing are done by a more than average side like SA. This is what the result would be.630\2 and 20 wickets for 600.

  • Patchmaster on July 24, 2012, 7:11 GMT

    Finn has to play surely ? Bopara is done, he just doesn't look a Test cricketer. Time to try some young hot talent from the Lions. Compton looks good. Its worrying that Since Tino Best tooked strike last series, English bowlers have taken 3-780. Swann has 0-251. That doesn't read like a number one test team. They need a BIG improvement. Kevin Peterson threw his wicket away twice, that's really annoying for an ENG fan to see that happen. Why doesn;t the ENG batting coach just ban the sweep shot, why are test players like Strauss and Prior playing a sweep shot out of the rough in a game they need to save, eventually one will spit and turn and get you out - so why play it ?

  • Jack_Tka on July 24, 2012, 6:48 GMT

    Some people have been mentioning that SA generally wins the first match and later on falters. Yes, the history validates that point. But this time around, the coach is GARY KIRSTEN. The guy who made the Indian Team TEST #1 and ODI WORLD CHAMPIONS. I don't believe that this type of SA history of losing from 2nd game onwards is going to be repeated under his supervision.

  • jmcilhinney on July 24, 2012, 6:41 GMT

    I think the last paragraph sums it up. England beat SA by an innings in SA last time after having been beaten by an innings prior. SA showed some inconsistency against Australia in their last series in SA. England can play much better than they did here at the Oval and are capable of winning one if not both of the remaining matches. If SA continue to play to a high standard though, improvement from England may still not be enough to get them home.

  • mrgupta on July 24, 2012, 6:28 GMT

    No doubt England were comprehensively beaten in their own yard but SA have this habit of squandering the early lead. India defeated them in the second test after loosing first one, Aus did the same followed by Sri Lanka. It may not be a big surprise to anyone if England Wins the next test to square series.

  • on July 24, 2012, 6:20 GMT

    Mark you are right but England has the capability to come back strongly in next test. England should drop Rave Bopara for the next test. England should open with Ian Bell alongwith Cook. Strauss may play himself at No.3. Bracewell position is also doubtful. England either should give a chance to genuine pacer. Panesar option is also available in place of bracewell. History shows that South Africans are vulnerable against spin. Good Luck England for the next game.

  • 68704 on July 24, 2012, 5:59 GMT

    Nice piece Mark. Just shows you how good Ricky Ponting"s all conquering Australians were! But back to the present. England have been very good in recent times but there is a sameness to them. It has been built on the success of Cook and Trott and the swing and seam of Anderson and co. with Swann being there to take vital wickets. But most of the successes ( a bit like India"s} have been achieved at home. They have lacked the will to fight in alien conditions like the sub-continent and the dry Oval was more subcontinent than England. Of course no 1 teams will fight back ,otherwise they would not be no 1 teams. Though somethng tells me that South Africa will not choke this time around. They have great bowlers and solid , unpretentious achievers like Amla. I just hope that England do not capitulate as they did in Asia. If this is not a wake up call, I wonder what is and the Ashes, something tells me wont be all that one sided next year. Ramanujam Sridhar

  • venkatesh018 on July 24, 2012, 5:55 GMT

    This result especially after the first day, has been a real turnaround nobody predicted. I don't think the difference between these two sides is as huge as this result suggests. The series is still there for the taking if England can concentrate hard enough for five days and play their usual brand of hard, disciplined cricket.

  • nulla on July 24, 2012, 5:55 GMT

    Since Tino Best tooked strike last series, English bowlers have taken 3-780. Swann has 0-251.

  • harshthakor on July 24, 2012, 5:54 GMT

    Captain_oblivious let us hope for South Africa that history does not repeat itself after the Springboks have registered arguably their best test victory ever.Imagine defeating the unofficial test champions on their home soil by an innings that too with 8 wickets in hand.

    I think England will have to play out of their skins to come back with the South African morale at such a high ebb.I was reminded of the great West Indian teams and Australian teams of the past when South Africa won the 1st test at the Oval.South Africa has more talent and matchwinners than England,who are though on paper a more organised unit.I may well back the Proteas to win the series 3-0.

  • aashishcalla on July 24, 2012, 5:36 GMT

    This England team lost 0-3 to Pak., lost a test in Sri Lanka, won against West Indies but didn't wallop them as all were expecting (WI competed in every test match), their no. 11 made 95 !! And here, they lost by an innings on their home turf. The fact is: If the conditions aren't really helpful, this England bowling attack isn't good enough to give sleepless nights to the opposition batsmen. Barring Anderson, no other quick looks test class (Finn's good, but they don't play him). Swann has been off color for some time now. The batting's great, and verry long, but the bowling just isn't good enough, sorry !! Team India's bowling wasn't good but they still managed to hold onto the no. 1 ranking for over a year. I doubt whether this England team will be able to do that. RSA look worthy of being world no. 1, with brilliant test match batting and bowling that can get batsmen out on any pitch.

  • on July 24, 2012, 4:13 GMT

    yes england cricket team, we indians are waiting for you ....come november ....dust bowls are waiting and i can't wait for it

  • on July 24, 2012, 4:06 GMT

    England have had a history of comebacks from bad starts(The same was true for the Indian side before 8-0 happened). But let us not forget that England lost 4 out of 5 tests in Asia earlier in the year on tracks more or less similar to the Oval,one of them on a real minefield at Galle.The next test is at Headlingley,the most fearsome track in England.Looking at how miserably their strategy to nullify SA's attack and use the Swann factor against SA's batsmen early in the series on a slow,wearing subcontinental track has failed I would give 65:35 to South Africa at Leeds given the Steyn factor with support from Kallis and Philander.One heartening thing the English could take though is SA have the bad habit of throwing away good starts.Drawing 1-1 vs Aus last year n 3 series with India in the recent past,losing at Durban to Lanka last year,WC QF etc.

  • satish619chandar on July 24, 2012, 3:49 GMT

    I wouldn't write off England that simply.. Though i predict them to lose, i will never say THEY WILL LOSE.. They got some good bunch of guys.. The problems for England are, No.5 and No.6 slots.. Though KP fails, he always has that aura to come good next game. Though Bell hits 100, he will be expected to fail next game. Bopara is still a enigma. Did everything to get into the team but fails there.. Rohit and Bopara are one and the same.. Given the fragility of the No.6 player, i wouldn't still mind Prior at 6, Bresnan at 7 and include Finn in.. England were poor with bat too but bowling is their forte.. Would be better to strengthen there..

  • Captain_Oblivious on July 24, 2012, 2:32 GMT

    As badly as they were beaten, England have come back from situations like this in the past. And South Africa have a long history of looking invincible before inexplicably losing when you think they're the No.1 team in the world. After their brilliant away win against Australia in 2008/09, they undid all that good work a couple of months later against a fairly mediocre Australian team. Even as recently as 2011 they humiliated Australia for 47 in the 1st Test and lost the next Test, with the much-vaunted attack failing to defend 300-odd in the 4th innings. Funnily enough, many commenters here are very quick to remember Australia's 47, while failing to acknowledge Australia's amazing comeback in the next Test. This is a real danger match for the South Africans.

  • Divinetouch on July 24, 2012, 1:32 GMT

    Is this the same Mark Nicholas who wrote recently about Fortress England?

    Mark, please confirm or deny.

    I lke when you commentate alongside the greatest opening batsman ever Sri Sunil Gavaskar. Sunilji, knows how to counter your comments.

  • A..B.. on July 24, 2012, 1:09 GMT

    Last year, right about now (after the first test), Indian supporters were citing the fact that India has amazing 'bouncebackability". And then 0-4 happened. England supporters would be best served waiting till the end of the 2nd test before making any statements altogether.

  • Simoc on July 24, 2012, 0:22 GMT

    This is the South African team that drew a home series 1-1 against Australia this year. That was a top command performance to slaughter England. To bad if you wanted to see A B de Villiers bat. England have to win now so they will need to be enterprising and lots more to even draw the series.

  • Pennyweight on July 23, 2012, 23:46 GMT

    The pitch wasn't that flat. It looked more as though England had a test match to forget, rather than conditions they couldn't cope with. This South African side is wonderfully strong though. We saw it earlier this year in NZ - there were no real weaknesses. That doesn't mean that England can't beat them though. It just means that they will have to play out of their skins to do so - especially now that SA have momentum.

  • landl47 on July 23, 2012, 23:28 GMT

    The real story is in this sentence from this article: 'Sometimes, the other blokes just played better.' Post-mortems aren't much use; the South Africans did everything right and England weren't able to match them. If they continue to play at this level, England will lose the series. If, on the other hand, the South Africans don't play quite as well next time (and since, for example, this was the first triple century ever made by a South African, odds are pretty long against it being repeated) and England plays a bit better, then England has a chance. Don't forget, after Cardiff '09, Centurion '09 and Brisbane '10, England won the next game very handily in all three cases. The series isn't dead yet.

  • thruthecovers on July 23, 2012, 23:26 GMT

    Also, ENG and the ECB find themselves somewhere between a rock and a hard (and fast) pitch. This SA bowling performance was no fluke, as much as the whole of ENG want it to be. Mainly to help ease the pain and shock that their much vaunted and self-proclaimed "best in the world" bowling attack was rendered toothless in nearly 200 overs of cricket. Steyn and co realy are this good. To think Vernon Philander hardly made an impact in this Test. So what do they do now? Do they ask for pace and bounce or go with another spin-friendly gamble? My gut says it will be pace and bounce and by that, play right into SA hands. It's already been settled as to who has the better batting line-up. This SA attack is more than capable to out-bowl the ENG one on a pacier pitch too. Just the other day they bowled out AUS for a meager 47 after being skittled for 99 themselves. See what I'm getting at? Whichever way they decide, it's going to be interesting viewing. My money is on SA

  • KiwiPom on July 23, 2012, 23:24 GMT

    This team is one of England's better ones, yes, but nevertheless a classic England team. Against top class batting the attacks are never quite good enough and against top class bowling the batting is never quite good enough. England teams classically shine when there is a bit of a lull in the production of top class players elsewhere - particularly in Australia. I don't think it's necessarily technical deficiency in specific conditions, it's more just what I'd call "nearly syndrome".

  • thruthecovers on July 23, 2012, 23:06 GMT

    Nice article Mark. Your take on the nature of the pitch is exactly the conclusion I came to. They backed Graeme Swann to the hilt and underestimated one, SA batsmen's ability against spin and two, Imran Tahir's ability as leg-spinner eventhough yet relatively unproven in the Test arena. As a SA fan, I can only hope that this bowling experience, maybe not made him come of age but instilled in him the confidence and believe that he has what it takes to succeed at Test level. There was times in ENG's 2nd innings if I realy squeezed my eyes shut and wished, the SA attack resembled the great Aussie attack of Shane Warne and co. Maybe not all in quality but for mine, there was definite elements of the Great One in all his spells. At times I could even hear AB shout down the pitch..."well bowled Immi" lol I tell you what, if he learns only half of Warne's control and ability to exert and build pressure, SA will be very hard team to beat. His got the wicket balls. It's the control that lacks.

  • on July 23, 2012, 22:28 GMT

    Yes, England were bad in this test, I have read a lot from their detractors, but I have seen it all before. Thaey will come back strong, look at the thrashing they tookj in the first test in 2005, and the near defeat at Cardiff. They won both of those series, and they are still the team to beat at home. The fight will be there for the next test, these guys are excellent cricketers, a bad test is not the be all and end all. If SA are good enough to win here, good luck to them, but I can see England coming back in the next test, their pride won't have it any other way.

  • on July 23, 2012, 22:18 GMT

    Then again, you could also admit that South Africa simply played exceptional cricket.

  • SurlyCynic on July 23, 2012, 22:18 GMT

    England are the home side. It's not an accident to get such a dry pitch in the middle of the wettest Summer ever, they got the pitch they asked for. They tried to negate Steyn and co and it backfired horribly. So to read all the moaning about the pitch and the complaints over conditions (after they won the toss) has been hilarious. Hope to see faster pitches so the SA attack can really fire.

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  • SurlyCynic on July 23, 2012, 22:18 GMT

    England are the home side. It's not an accident to get such a dry pitch in the middle of the wettest Summer ever, they got the pitch they asked for. They tried to negate Steyn and co and it backfired horribly. So to read all the moaning about the pitch and the complaints over conditions (after they won the toss) has been hilarious. Hope to see faster pitches so the SA attack can really fire.

  • on July 23, 2012, 22:18 GMT

    Then again, you could also admit that South Africa simply played exceptional cricket.

  • on July 23, 2012, 22:28 GMT

    Yes, England were bad in this test, I have read a lot from their detractors, but I have seen it all before. Thaey will come back strong, look at the thrashing they tookj in the first test in 2005, and the near defeat at Cardiff. They won both of those series, and they are still the team to beat at home. The fight will be there for the next test, these guys are excellent cricketers, a bad test is not the be all and end all. If SA are good enough to win here, good luck to them, but I can see England coming back in the next test, their pride won't have it any other way.

  • thruthecovers on July 23, 2012, 23:06 GMT

    Nice article Mark. Your take on the nature of the pitch is exactly the conclusion I came to. They backed Graeme Swann to the hilt and underestimated one, SA batsmen's ability against spin and two, Imran Tahir's ability as leg-spinner eventhough yet relatively unproven in the Test arena. As a SA fan, I can only hope that this bowling experience, maybe not made him come of age but instilled in him the confidence and believe that he has what it takes to succeed at Test level. There was times in ENG's 2nd innings if I realy squeezed my eyes shut and wished, the SA attack resembled the great Aussie attack of Shane Warne and co. Maybe not all in quality but for mine, there was definite elements of the Great One in all his spells. At times I could even hear AB shout down the pitch..."well bowled Immi" lol I tell you what, if he learns only half of Warne's control and ability to exert and build pressure, SA will be very hard team to beat. His got the wicket balls. It's the control that lacks.

  • KiwiPom on July 23, 2012, 23:24 GMT

    This team is one of England's better ones, yes, but nevertheless a classic England team. Against top class batting the attacks are never quite good enough and against top class bowling the batting is never quite good enough. England teams classically shine when there is a bit of a lull in the production of top class players elsewhere - particularly in Australia. I don't think it's necessarily technical deficiency in specific conditions, it's more just what I'd call "nearly syndrome".

  • thruthecovers on July 23, 2012, 23:26 GMT

    Also, ENG and the ECB find themselves somewhere between a rock and a hard (and fast) pitch. This SA bowling performance was no fluke, as much as the whole of ENG want it to be. Mainly to help ease the pain and shock that their much vaunted and self-proclaimed "best in the world" bowling attack was rendered toothless in nearly 200 overs of cricket. Steyn and co realy are this good. To think Vernon Philander hardly made an impact in this Test. So what do they do now? Do they ask for pace and bounce or go with another spin-friendly gamble? My gut says it will be pace and bounce and by that, play right into SA hands. It's already been settled as to who has the better batting line-up. This SA attack is more than capable to out-bowl the ENG one on a pacier pitch too. Just the other day they bowled out AUS for a meager 47 after being skittled for 99 themselves. See what I'm getting at? Whichever way they decide, it's going to be interesting viewing. My money is on SA

  • landl47 on July 23, 2012, 23:28 GMT

    The real story is in this sentence from this article: 'Sometimes, the other blokes just played better.' Post-mortems aren't much use; the South Africans did everything right and England weren't able to match them. If they continue to play at this level, England will lose the series. If, on the other hand, the South Africans don't play quite as well next time (and since, for example, this was the first triple century ever made by a South African, odds are pretty long against it being repeated) and England plays a bit better, then England has a chance. Don't forget, after Cardiff '09, Centurion '09 and Brisbane '10, England won the next game very handily in all three cases. The series isn't dead yet.

  • Pennyweight on July 23, 2012, 23:46 GMT

    The pitch wasn't that flat. It looked more as though England had a test match to forget, rather than conditions they couldn't cope with. This South African side is wonderfully strong though. We saw it earlier this year in NZ - there were no real weaknesses. That doesn't mean that England can't beat them though. It just means that they will have to play out of their skins to do so - especially now that SA have momentum.

  • Simoc on July 24, 2012, 0:22 GMT

    This is the South African team that drew a home series 1-1 against Australia this year. That was a top command performance to slaughter England. To bad if you wanted to see A B de Villiers bat. England have to win now so they will need to be enterprising and lots more to even draw the series.

  • A..B.. on July 24, 2012, 1:09 GMT

    Last year, right about now (after the first test), Indian supporters were citing the fact that India has amazing 'bouncebackability". And then 0-4 happened. England supporters would be best served waiting till the end of the 2nd test before making any statements altogether.