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July 24, 2012
England have had an "honest" discussion about their failings during the first Test against South Africa, but Ian Bell insists the team can still lay claim to the No.1 Test ranking despite the innings margin of defeat and the fact they managed to take just two wickets at The Oval.
In the moments after the match finished on Monday Andrew Strauss said each player would be told to take a look at themselves after England suffered one of their most comprehensive losses of all time. That process began in The Oval changing rooms as South Africa headed back to their team hotel to celebrate a famous victory.
"We've had a chat. That's the one great thing about this team is we talk and there will be honesty," Bell said. "We're not going to say we were outplayed - we're going to discuss why. Andy Flower will want everyone to scratch their minds and work out how they can improve. That's why he is such a great coach."
The result meant England have now lost five of their nine Tests in 2012, starting with the whitewash against Pakistan in UAE before losing the opening Test against Sri Lanka in Galle. As is the case now, their No.1 ranking was on the line but they responded with an impressive victory in Colombo. The series win against West Indies was workmanlike rather than emphatic and this most recent outing has brought them crashing back down to earth.
A series win for South Africa will see them move to No.1, although a drawn series would allow England to cling to their ranking a little longer. "You don't just look at the last nine Test matches, you look over the last two or three years," Bell said. "That's why we're ranked No.1. The points are monitored over a long period of time. It's been a consistent effort over a long period but there's no doubt when you see how South Africa played we're going to have a real scrap on our hands."
"I wouldn't say that is a concern," he added about the Test side's inconsistent year. "But it proves to us that no matter where you are ranked you have to keep performing, training hard and doing the right things. Opposing teams see us a bit differently now. Maybe they turn up desperately wanting to beat us because we are ranked No.1 and we have to react to that. In a way, this match has forced our hand. In the next two Tests, we have to go out and fight for every single run and wicket and try to hold on to No.1."
There are a number of areas where England were exposed during the opening Test. The most notable from the scorecard was that South Africa compiled an astonishing 637 for 2 in 189 overs which finished with the partnership between Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis unbroken on 377. It was a sobering experience for the England attack, which has remained a consistent part of their game even while the batting has faltered during the year.
"Our attack has been so good for so long and, even on flat wickets in the sub-continent, they normally excel and take 20 wickets," Bell said. "But for some reason it didn't quite work in this game. Maybe that is credit to South Africa who really made it count when they got in. That's again something we've normally done."
As Bell hinted, England's batsmen did not come close to matching the South Africans' longevity at the crease, even with Alastair Cook scoring an opening-day hundred. In both innings they carelessly lost wickets shortly before the second new ball was taken while the sweep shot came back to cost them dear as they tried to save the match.
"The ball did a bit on that second morning but we can't use that as an excuse," Bell said. "We should have been good enough to get through that period. Despite losing four wickets on the fourth evening, we still believed we could save it. Myself and Matt Prior were very positive at lunch, we've done it before and believed we could get to tea. The new ball would go soft again after that, but Dale Steyn led their attack brilliantly and showed why he is No.1 in the world. He put in a spell when it really mattered."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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