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July 31, 2012
England's defeat in the opening Test against South Africa has been termed a "public humiliation" by Graeme Swann and continued what he said had been a "dismal" run of results since the team achieved their No. 1 ranking a year ago.
The innings-and-12-run loss was their fifth in nine Tests this year, which included a 3-0 whitewash against Pakistan in the UAE. In contrast, they did not lose a Test the previous year and won six of their eight matches, propelling them to the top.
After ending the opening day of the first Test against South Africa in a good position on 267 for 3, following a hundred by Alastair Cook, England lost their way on the second before being shut out of the match by a record-breaking performance from South Africa's top order. Hashim Amla hit the country's first triple century and added an unbroken 377 with Jacques Kallis.
With four sessions remaining England should have been able to save the Test but lost four wickets late on the fourth day and were bowled out by tea on the last after a succession of poor shots by the batsmen. The result has left them needing back-to-back victories to preserve their winning run on home soil, which dates back to the last time South Africa visited in 2008.
"After a few days it doesn't get any prettier," he said. "Even though we gave away a couple of soft dismissals you think 260 for 3 should have been a platform for 500. Almost from the moment we turned up on day two the wheels fell off the wagon - it was awful. Can't really describe it any other way.
"It was a sort of public humiliation by the end of it, fielding that long and then getting skittled afterwards. I think that prompted that meeting afterwards and prompted a lot of honesty and people saying that's not going to happen again.
"It's the old kick up the arse isn't it? You can approach everything holistically and be a bit trendy about things but sometimes a size ten up the backside is what you need and if ever you have a boot up the arse it was last week. I can't deny the fact that since we've been number one we've got a dismal record. Whether that goes hand in hand with being number one I don't really know, you need someone more qualified with the workings of the human mind."
In the hours after the match finished England held an honest meeting in the dressing room before departing their separate ways, with most players escaping the intensity of cricket for a few days. It was not the first no-holds-barred debrief the team have had while under the leadership of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, but rarely have they needed them more after such a comprehensive defeat.
"Normally you can't wait to see the back of each other after a loss and we disperse quickly but the two Andys were quite keen to make sure we focused on it," Swann said. "So we sat down and got quite a bit of honesty from the group, which happened. It was a horrible two hours as it was about 300 degrees in that hot, sweaty changing-room. But I think it brought the best out of the situation as there was a lot of honesty, a lot of people raising their hands saying we should have done this better and that better. I think that works, but for me if a game goes like that I just pretend it never happened."
England's rise up the Test rankings to No. 1 has given the squad a belief - highlighted by victories at The Oval in 2009, Melbourne in 2010 and Colombo this year, which followed heavy defeats - but the ever-honest Swann admitted that attempting to bounce back at Headingley will be one of the side's biggest tests.
"It will have taken a dent last week, because to get bowled out twice on that pitch was pretty inexcusable and to take two wickets in 190 overs was equally inexcusable. But having had that meeting afterwards and everyone switching their focus to this game hopeful it will be water under the bridge. We're behind now and hopefully people will come out fighting."
England's Test form in 2012 has been far from the consistent excellence they produced the year before. However, until last week at The Oval the bowlers had at least kept the side in with a chance by taking 20 wickets in a variety of conditions. Steven Finn, who Swann called "the unluckiest man in world cricket" for not finding a regular place in the team, and Graham Onions are again included in the squad for the second Test and, along with likely debutant James Taylor, were the only members of the 13 playing Championship cricket between the Tests. While a tinker with the attack may be required, Swann does not think the time has come to deploy five bowlers, despite the loss of Ravi Bopara's medium pace.
"There will be calls for it in some quarters after taking two wickets in 180 overs. I don't think we should change a great deal," he said. " I don't think we should hit the panic button because what we have done, even through the period of fairly poor results, we have still bowled well as a unit and bowled teams out twice."
Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, is the title sponsor of Test match cricket in England. Visit the Investec Cricket Zone at investec.co.uk/cricket for player analysis, stats, Test match info and games.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Alastair Cook has got used to feeling of the axe hanging over him. Only his team-mates can save England now
They have to see a glass that is half-full, and play the game as if it is just that, a game; and an opportunity