England v SA, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 2nd day

England face up to awkward truth

Despite putting in a much better showing, it appears England are up against a side that are better than them in discipline, application and skill

George Dobell at Headingley

August 3, 2012

Comments: 81 | Text size: A | A

England's bowlers couldn't force an early breakthrough, England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 2nd day, August 3, 2012
England's best efforts have not looked like disturbing South Africa © Getty Images
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It was hard for England supporters to avoid a sinking feeling as South Africa extended their first innings past 400 at Leeds. It was not that England bowled poorly - far from it - and it was not that it has become impossible for England to level or even win this series.

It was more that England played some admirable cricket and it still was not quite good enough.

England bowled beautifully on the second morning. They did not concede a run in the first six overs and, finding just enough assistance from the surface to trouble both batsmen, built up pressure. Indeed, from two-thirds of the way through the first day, England's bowlers could not have bowled much better. And you cannot ask more from anyone than that.

It would, in these conditions, have been good enough for most rivals. It was good enough for Australia, good enough for India, good enough for West Indies and good enough for Pakistan.

But England have come up against a tougher foe here. They have come up against a side that seems able to better them in discipline, in application and in skill. They have come up against a side that, despite being put in and losing their four big batting guns relatively cheaply, still passed 400. In short, it is increasingly hard to avoid the conclusion that they have simply come up against a better side.

That has not happened too often in recent years. While England have been no strangers to defeat in recent months, there have always been some straws of consolation at which to clutch. Over the winter, they could - rightly or wrongly - take comfort from the fact that they were outclassed by Pakistan and, in one Test anyway, by Sri Lanka, in conditions of which they had little experience. England could console themselves with the thought that they remained formidably strong at home. And, while there have been one-off defeats to Pakistan and Australia at home, they were followed by resounding victories that suggested such results were aberrations.

Even after The Oval, there was a strange comfort in the fact that England had played so badly. The extent of the thrashing - quite colossal - could be partially mitigated by the fact that England, with bat and ball, had fallen well below their own high standards.

That is not the case here. Yes, England dropped an important catch and yes, they may well have erred with their selection. But their seamers have performed admirably after an uncertain start and their batsmen have started impressively. Yet an England win remains the least likely of the three realistic results with three days of the Test to go. Increasingly it is becoming clear that the biggest impediment England have is not selection issues, or dropped catches or disappointing batting or bowling, it is that they are up against a very good side.

But they can, just about, still win this game and therefore the series. Their best hope of winning here is to bat once, score in excess of 600 and bowl South Africa out cheaply in their second innings. It would be an unlikely scenario even without the poor weather forecast, but it is rendered even more unlikely by the fact that England went into this game without a specialist spinner. It is a decision that looked wrong at the time and was made to look even more wrong by Kevin Pietersen gaining extravagant turn before lunch on day two.

But it was the sort of selection decision that is made when flustered. And, sometime during the Oval Test, England's players, their management and their supporters had a reality check: South Africa are, almost certainly, the better side.

It is, for example, telling that South Africa can play seven frontline batsmen and still have a better-balanced attack than England. It is telling that South Africa's second-change seamer - a man with more than 12,000 Test runs - could bowl with more pace than England's opening bowlers and it is telling that while four of South Africa's top six have so far registered centuries in the series, only one of England's has done the same.

England could yet retain their No. 1 Test status even if they fail to win here. So long as they avoid defeat, victory at Lord's would be enough. But as Alviro Petersen and JP Duminy, two of the lesser lights of this excellent South Africa side, extended the tourists' first innings total here, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that England's grasp on the No. 1 ranking is slipping.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by JG2704 on (August 4, 2012, 22:07 GMT)

@IndnCrktfan on (August 04 2012, 16:32 PM GMT) Thing is I don't recall any comms pre the Eng series from fans worrying about the Indian batsmen falling apart. There was nothing to suggest this was going to happen beforehand. Anyway it's not meant to be a dig at India - just an example of why Eng deserved to get to number 1.

Posted by JG2704 on (August 4, 2012, 22:02 GMT)

@KeshavSeshadri85 on (August 04 2012, 09:05 AM GMT) We've heard all this before. Have you actually got anything original to say? We were number 1 because we were unbeaten home and away from early 2009 to early 2012 which is nearly 3 years , culminating in beating Aus in Aus and India (who were number 1) 4-0. Right now we're not playing cricket worthy of a number 1 side - no excuses. Even now (although the likelihood is SA will win this series - possibly 3-0) we've only lost 1 series in 3 years so is that so bad ?

Posted by Alexk400 on (August 4, 2012, 17:05 GMT)

Kevin Pieterson bullying best bowler in the world Steyn. What a batsman. He is the X factor. Yes England has cook , strauss , trott but Kevin is a fighter. He needs to be cajoled to get best out of him.

Posted by Alexk400 on (August 4, 2012, 17:04 GMT)

I see Kevin Pieterson the man for england. Great batsman when your team under pressure. England selectors should pay respect to him

Posted by StatisticsRocks on (August 4, 2012, 16:32 GMT)

@JG: Everyone knew India was on the verge of decline and it was one last hurrah for the great batting lineup who have been playing international cricket for atleast 15 years now. It was imminent for India to fail but what disappointed us Indian fans is the way they lost test matches against Eng. They just gave up except for Rahul Dravid. Given how much the Indian team depends on their batting lineup an injury to Zaheer did not help the cause as he has been the spearhead of India's bowling attack for a while now. Again no excuses as we were thrashed fair and square. It was bound to happen but for a team to lose the way Eng have lost since becoming #1 makes the title of this article more appropriate.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2012, 14:28 GMT)

One thing's for sure, the next few years of Test cricket will be fascinating, as England, Australia, Pakistan & a resurgent West Indies snap vainly at South Africa's heels, with New Zealand, Sri Lanka & Bangladesh providing the occasional shock & a one-man Indian team known as Virat Kohli sinking without trace as legions of their supporters sit in darkened rooms muttering "Revenge, revenge."

Posted by JG2704 on (August 4, 2012, 14:11 GMT)

@disco_bob on (August 04 2012, 09:21 AM GMT) - I actually don't know what you're querying me about. My points are that England got those results against those teams. Australia's result was similar to England's vs India. OK Australia played a full strength Indian side but how much confidence would the defeat Eng inflicted on India have affected them? Could be said that Eng laid the blueprint on how to beat India.

Posted by Winsome on (August 4, 2012, 13:00 GMT)

I think one of England's big problems is dropping catches to tell the truth. With most teams it doesn't matter too much as they will give more chances with the English bowlers keeping disciplined lines, but SA are a pretty disciplined bunch. I really believe they have to sort out the catching.

Posted by Tlotoxl on (August 4, 2012, 12:51 GMT)

Lets just not go OTT here - England lost the first test largely because of the weather, days 1,3,4 & 5 were brilliant batting pitches, don't forget England were 267/3 and looking completely untroubled, on day 2 the ball was swinging round corners and looking almost unplayable both in the England innings and in the 10 overs of the SA innings before the rain blew in and conditions improved. Any team coming in after being in the field for so long and with no chance of winning is going to struggle.

England have gone off the boil slightly, dropping rather too many catches but this is not a huge gap in class, unfortunately with a 3 test series there is little to no chance to recover.

Posted by Munkeymomo on (August 4, 2012, 11:52 GMT)

Their bowling speeds have been very disappointing to be honest, Broad was hitting 90 regularly last year, now he is barely hitting 80? Sad to see, SA batting lineup is quality through and through, Duminy at 7? That is scary. SA are blessed with AB (Not as good a keeper as Prior, but good enough and a much better batsman) and Kallis, who is still a world class seamer, which gives them immense balance. I'll be sad to see Kallis retire as he is one of my all time fav players, and for SA, it will create a huge hole. Not only do you leave a massive hole in the batting (one which is impossible to fill as Kallis is one of the best bats of all time) but a huge hole in the bowling too. England still have some fine players as well and Anderson is still, imo, by far the second best seamer in the world (and not as far behind Steyn as some would have you believe). If I hope for one thing in India it is that Anderson does well.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2012, 11:42 GMT)

A couple of years ago, South Africa were an opener, a number six, a third seamer & a spinner away from being a superlative side. The difference between that side & this one is that those gaps have now been plugged - by Petersen, Rudolph, Philander & Tahir. This current side have five all-time greats within their ranks - Smith, Amla, Kallis, de Villiers & Steyn - with Philander & Morkel both more than capable of joining them. By contrast, England have only Cook & Pietersen - with the jury still out on Bell & Prior - with the class to match them. This series, I believe, will mark the beginning of a period of global domination for South Africa which will last at least three or four years. If you're South African, enjoy it while you can; if you're not, simply stand back & enjoy the sight of a team who, if not as thrilling as the vintage West Indian & Aussie sides of the recent past, are every bit as ruthless & clinical.

Posted by JG2704 on (August 4, 2012, 11:41 GMT)

I do find the comments of one of our returning well wishers very strange if utterly predictable. I wonder why a team would deliberately prepare a flat track when it has been said time and again that we cannot bat on such tracks? So surely deliberately creating a flat track would be detrimental to our chances. I mean we have batted better on these so called green tops so why would our ploy be to employ a flat track if all it does is hinder our bowlers?

Posted by JG2704 on (August 4, 2012, 11:08 GMT)

@no.1_multicultural_team on (August 04 2012, 09:59 AM GMT) Being that India drew the last home series vs SA and SA have at least maintained their form while Ind have been in decline in tests then I'd probably back SA to win in India although it's an unknown as India have not played a top 4 side at home since their thrashings overseas so they might still be as hard to beat at home.

Posted by harshthakor on (August 4, 2012, 11:01 GMT)

Personally,I feel very sad that this English team has not blossomed into a great champion unit after their earlier triumphs.Losing on the sub -continent was the blemish against their being rated a true champion team.No recent top team vanquished the Aussies with such authority down under in 2011 or destroyed an unofficial world champion test team with such disdain as England did last summer against India.

It simply means that test cricket standards are falling with teams hardly able to retain their form and position be it England,South Africa or India.

Posted by harshthakor on (August 4, 2012, 10:55 GMT)

The lesson of the story is that we can a asses a team only over a prolonged period of time and not just on performances of one or two series.I can't imagine England playing like this if they retained the form they had on the 2001-11 tour of Australia.Remember South Africa beating Australia for the first time down under in 2008-09 and just after that losing a home series against the same team.West Indies and Australia in the past were rated great because of consistent performances over a prolonged period.The same could be said of Imran Khan's Pakistan team.This English team displayed no championship material on the sub-continent.

I really hope if S.Africa wins they retain their form and emerge into an all -time great unit,unlike the past when they fall very quickly from the top spot.

Posted by PrasPunter on (August 4, 2012, 10:30 GMT)

@ KeshavSeshadri85, would like to know how ind held it better ?! what way was it different from Eng ? Couldn't beat SA in 2008 and 2010, drew level with SL - as did Eng - beat Aus in a couple of series at home - no better than Eng !!! Infact Eng managed to beat Aus in Aus unlike.... Whatever said of Eng does apply to india as well - both teams managed to win only at home and just doesnt deserve the No 1 tag !! We Aus deserved it as we thrashed every team - even india - both at home and away during the peak of our powers !! Cricinfo, please publish - as this one contains just facts and nothing against ind or england !!

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (August 4, 2012, 10:23 GMT)

There's just nobody in the England team putting in that killer performance as of late. Wickets (if any!) are being shared out equally between both the part-timers and so-called specialist bowlers, whereas back in our winning days someone would click and pick up a 5-fer. Batting-wise: O.K. Cook got his ton in the first game, but that was clearly not enough as Amla & co. showed the pitch was capable of so much more. It's an odd one... The strange selections are not helping, but that's no excuse. The England players just need to find that killer instinct again and role with it. WAKE UP ENGLAND!

Posted by PrasPunter on (August 4, 2012, 10:19 GMT)

@Gupta,Ankur, Worlds greatest batting line-up ? Are you referring to the one that lost 0-8 in Eng and Aus last year, the sort of thrashing that no No 1 team has ever had before ?

Posted by no.1_multicultural_team on (August 4, 2012, 9:59 GMT)

I think you need a bit of education as well.The question is as of TODAY,not what has been the past.Today,if this SA team visits India,and play five tests,is there anyone who can confidently say,they will win the series,forget about dominating?

Posted by Meety on (August 4, 2012, 9:26 GMT)

@prashnottz - great call, another English contributor to this site was talking about the aura the side had too. That was BEFORE Pakistan in the UAE... @Si Baker - "... will mark the beginning of a period of global domination for South Africa..." - interesting call, even though this side drew Oz, lost a test at home v SL & were lucky to only draw against India at home, & couldn't beat Pakistan in the UAE???? Don't get me wrong I've been saying ever since Oz's dynasty came to an end (the series loss in Oz to the Saffas), that the Saffas are #1, but they have rarely played like it WITH the "...five all-time greats within their ranks - Smith, Amla, Kallis, de Villiers & Steyn..." @Marcio - "...without Swann this Eng team really loses a huge amount of its balance.." - particularly the slip cordon, let alone batting & bowling!

Posted by disco_bob on (August 4, 2012, 9:21 GMT)

@JG2704 "We can all say that India were poor or Aus in transition but who before Eng had beaten India by those sort of margins and who realistically expected that?" Hang on that doesn't make sense because the very same 'in transition' Aussie team gave the Indian team 4-0 thrashing soon after, and the Indians were at full strength by then too. So what are you implying?

Posted by KeshavSeshadri85 on (August 4, 2012, 9:05 GMT)

I am tired of these biased articles towards England. George maybe a good writer but why is is that England get so little slack while India got so much for doing much the same thing. ENGLAND AREN'T AS GOOD AS EVERYONE THINKS THEY ARE. THEY JUST WON AT HOME AND INDIA HASN'T LOST AT HOME SINCE 2004, which is more impressive than England. So why is it that England can make excuses for being thrashed (and make no mistake, they were thrashed and flattened) by Pak in Pak and now by SA at home. He even talks of them winning a test after conceeding 400+ to a team with Steyn and Philander in it. Nice try George, crazy optimism. Be objective for once England supporters. you were only No. 1 because you played at home, you play poorly abroad, are not a great dominant side like Waugh's Aussies and you are as much pretenders to the No. 1 throne as India were (frankly India held on to it better, until the 8-0 thrashes). Hand it over to SA, Eng, move over - The No. 1 teams is dead, long live the No. 1.

Posted by Shuaib_A on (August 4, 2012, 9:01 GMT)

@vrn59..whole i agree with most of u side, i have to point a glaring blunder!!! u have a spot for kevin peterson but no place for hashim amla???? i would remove broad n replace with morkel.

Posted by Marcio on (August 4, 2012, 8:32 GMT)

@Gupta.Ankur, I didn't see any of that 4-0 drubbing Eng gave Ind, but I did see the same result in Aus a few months later - and i recall some indian supportters saying the same thing: Aus prepared greentops. The truth? The pitches were, overall, a much less green than for the previous summer against Eng, when it didn't stop raining for three months. Anyway, good players and teams can - and should - adapt. In this current series the weather has been drier, especiallly for the first test. That does make a huge difference for the English fastbowlers. And I have to say that without Swann this Eng team really loses a huge amount of its balance. And great balance was what made this Eng team very good over the past few years.

Posted by BellCurve on (August 4, 2012, 8:30 GMT)

@No1_multicultural_team - You clearly do not have a clue. Allow me to educate you. SA has played 9 Tests against India in India during this century. SA won 3 of those matches (a third!) by more than an innings. Overall SA won 4, India won 3, and 2 matches were drawn. SA batsmen averaged 36.11 against India in India during this time, whereas Indian batsmen only averaged 31.33 against SA in India. Do you comprehend? India has been SA's whipping boys, even in their own backyard! It's been a pleasure to educate you!

Posted by Unomaas on (August 4, 2012, 8:28 GMT)

Here's another awkward truth. England are currently playing a Saffa team in transition...a team trying to pinnacle of its potential. While I agree that the 2 teams are currently equal, the Saffa team has a slight aura of greatness about it. The potential is there...its up to the Saffa's to claim their legacy. As George mentioned, its not the strength of their batting and bowling stars that makes them potentially better...its that the fringe players can step up to the plate when needed. That is something that the Saffa's are so guilty of. Not so long ago, we pinned our hopes on Kallis and if he got dismissed, we knew that a draw or a defeat were not far away. It was a fragile confidence we had in our team. NOW...Saffa fans have a lot to be cheery about. We have a TEAM that can deliver! We are not a group of individuals anymore! South Africa hungers for cricketing greatness. We are hoping that this team will take us there :)

Posted by vrn59 on (August 4, 2012, 8:17 GMT)

SA and England are both good sides, but SA certainly seem to have the edge. I was to name a world XI of 2011-12, then players from these teams would certainly dominate.

My world XI: 1) GC Smith (C) 2) AN Cook 3) KC Sangakkara 4) KP Pietersen 5) JH Kallis 6) MEK Hussey 7) MJ Prior (wk) 8) SCJ Broad 9) DW Steyn 10) Saeed Ajmal 11) JM Anderson 12th man: GP Swann.

Posted by prashnottz on (August 4, 2012, 8:04 GMT)

Mr. George dobell

As great as the sum of their parts- Top 5 team ever-- http://www.espncricinfo.com/greatestteams/content/story/538999.html Talk Nah, George :)

Answer that!

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (August 4, 2012, 8:01 GMT)

THEIR (SA) SECOND CHANGE SEAMER IS A MAN WHO HAD 12000 TEST RUNS & CAN BOWL FASTER THAN ENGLAND SEAMERS . LOLZ . THIS IS THE FIRST LINE OF DOBELL WHICH HAS MADE ME LAUGH . CERTAINLY IT IS TRUE NOW THAT BORAD & ANDERSON CAN BARELY BOWL QUICK . KALLIS IS MUCH FASTER THEN THEM EVEN AT THE AGE OF 36 .

Posted by Aboss on (August 4, 2012, 7:50 GMT)

Please stop saying that England lost to Pakistan and the 1 test to Sri Lanka because they have little experience of playing in the sub-continent. They won the ODI series 4-0 in the same conditions. Eng are playing defensive cricket by making flat wickets because they wanted to draw the series and hang on to the #1 ranking. They were hoping for marathon innings from Cook and Trott which has not happened. Basically Swanny was dropped to retain Bresnan a very bad move.

Posted by no.1_multicultural_team on (August 4, 2012, 7:48 GMT)

The problem with eng media is that they use the words great and best so much that they take the meaning out of them,like their pleases and thank yous. SA have just won test in thier home like conditions,and eng media is calling them great.SA are a very good team,but are they even the best?Answer me,will they be able to dominate India in India?

Posted by   on (August 4, 2012, 7:41 GMT)

A couple of years ago, South Africa were an opener, a number six, a third seamer & a spinner away from being a superlative side. The difference between that side & this one is that those gaps have now been plugged - by Petersen, Rudolph, Philander & Tahir. This current side have five all-time greats within their ranks - Smith, Amla, Kallis, de Villiers & Steyn - with Philander & Morkel both more than capable of joining them. By contrast, England have only Cook & Pietersen - with the jury still out on Bell & Prior - with the class to match them. This series, I believe, will mark the beginning of a period of global domination for South Africa which will last at least three or four years. If you're South African, enjoy it while you can; if you're not, simply stand back & enjoy the sight of a team who, if not as thrilling as the vintage West Indian & Aussie sides of the recent past, are every bit as ruthless & clinical.

Posted by JG2704 on (August 4, 2012, 7:08 GMT)

@Trickstar on (August 03 2012, 21:28 PM GMT) Not sure it's totally kneejerk. We can't say for sure that Eng would have dismissed SA for that sort of total had Cook not held on and by the same token SA could say that had Amla not been run out SA would have scored 500+ . And also it's not like we've played the sort of test cricket this year that we did 2011 and before - even in our winning series vs WI. Also , yes I did feel we beat the edge on a number of times but SA have also beaten the edge a few times despite not bowling that well , inc the Cook edge which fell just short of Smith

Posted by JG2704 on (August 4, 2012, 7:07 GMT)

England fully deserved to get to number one and were playing the sort of cricket which was right up there.We can all say that India were poor or Aus in transition but who before Eng had beaten India by those sort of margins and who realistically expected that ? When were Australia last beaten at home by more than a solitary test?Something,somewhere along the way has gone wrong since. Maybe we are a good on top side but have lost our ability to fight. Maybe a little mental toughness has gone. As for SA - most would agree that man for man they have the better side but they have often underachieved with this line up. Maybe they are finally clicking.Maybe they have upped their game or maybe it's because Eng have declined or maybe a combo of both. However I'll stand by my words that before this series started SA did not deserve the 1 spot any more than Eng did. Eng bt Aus 3-1 (A) , SA drew 1-1 (H) SA D Ind 1-1 (H) 9 month later Eng bt Ind 4-0 (H) just 2 examples

Posted by Gupta.Ankur on (August 4, 2012, 7:01 GMT)

Sorry, Mr.Dobell. the pitches you prepared against Indians was hell of a lot different.

England had prepared green tops to counter the threat of World's finest batting line-up... And this time around they have prepared sub-continent like slow-low pitches to counter world's best bowling line-up.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2012, 6:56 GMT)

As great as the sum of their parts- Top 5 team ever--

http://www.espncricinfo.com/greatestteams/content/story/538999.html

Talk Nah, George :)

Posted by JG2704 on (August 4, 2012, 6:54 GMT)

@Trickstar on (August 03 2012, 21:28 PM GMT) Not sure it's totally kneejerk. We can't say for sure that Eng would have dismissed SA for that sort of total had Cook not held on and by the same token SA could say that had Amla not been run out SA would have scored 500+ . And also it's not like we've played the sort of test cricket this year that we did 2011 and before - even in our winning series vs WI. Also , yes I did feel we beat the edge on a number of times but SA have also beaten the edge a few times despite not bowling that well , inc the Cook edge which fell just short of Smith

Posted by   on (August 4, 2012, 6:40 GMT)

So in short he's saying unless the opposition has some major issues within themselves, England aren't great!

Posted by tjsimonsen on (August 4, 2012, 6:39 GMT)

It will be interesting to see how this SA team will handle the inevitable retirement of the giant man Kallis. Now THAT will be a real challange of thier potential greatness.

Posted by tjsimonsen on (August 4, 2012, 6:35 GMT)

@drsankalp: Hardly. SA looks considerable better than England at the moment (although it is rather dangerous to say so in the middle of a series). But England are still better than any other team. If SA plays like this in Australia, Oz are in for a trashing second to none. The key so far has been the way SA batsmen have applied themselve. They have been more patient than Englands bowlers (although they did play and miss a bit Friday). It's the first time this had happened for years, and England has had no answer to that (before anyone starts "reminding" me about last winter, England lost in the UEA because of poor batting, not bowling). If Swann was playing, England would have had a faint chance of pulling this match of (if - and that is a BIG if - they can bat through today and most of tomorrow). Now, not a chance.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2012, 6:31 GMT)

To win this game, England have to score 621 runs at 3 an over in one innings, make a declaration with a lead of 250 and then bowl South Africa out for under 250, within 63 overs, without a proper spinner. In short, they have to play as well as South Africa did at the Oval AND make South Africa play as poorly as England did. And count on the weather. That's a REALLY big ask. But not impossible, if you're an English supporter.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (August 4, 2012, 6:15 GMT)

This series has been a throwback to Tests of the late 70's and 80's. Two tough teams producing hard, grinding style of cricket. These may possibly the only two teams left in the world actually capable of producing such attritional cricket, given the struggles of India and Australian batting lineups in the recent past. I agree with George that England have met their match. Unlike India last summer, S Africa's big players have risen to the occasion in a major overseas series and England's best efforts have been just not enough. The one amazing aspect to me of this series has been the fact that how bowlers of such pedigree like Steyn, Anderson etc. have struggled when bowling to left-handers. This is where England missed a trick by not picking Graham Onions and Swann. Onions is a class act against both right and left handed batsmen. He will walk into any International Test XI.

Posted by kh1902 on (August 4, 2012, 5:49 GMT)

The standard of test cricket is so low at the moment - if this South African team is regarded as the best then God help us. This is the same team which lost test matches at home to India, Sri Lanka and Australia within the last couple of years. The other teams are even worse. With the exception of Dale Steyn, there isn't a genuinely great cricketer left. Compared to the 90's when we had bowlers like Warne, Murali, Mcgrath, Donald, Akram and batsmen like Ponting, Lara and Tendulkar, there is virtually noone left to raise the game to those standards. No spin bowlers, no great batsmen - no wonder test cricket is in decline.

Posted by kh1902 on (August 4, 2012, 5:38 GMT)

Having underpeformed in the first test, England squandered chances on day 1 here. The chances on day 1 were crucial and had they been taken, we might have been looking at a completely different game. I don't think South Africa are that much better - they've been made to look much better by some very ordinary English cricket. I think SA's batsmen might face a sterner challenge when they tour Australia. Some of their batsmen will be looking to hide behind Steyn's performances when they go to Australia. They'll really need Steyn to perform to get over the line.

Posted by jezzastyles on (August 4, 2012, 5:20 GMT)

I recall quite a few comments having a dig at the Poms for the "building a dynasty" fiasco; I've heard quite a few suggestions that the current SA team has the potential to achieve the status of one of the "greats" - I'm incredulous. The last great team won three WC in a row and dominated test cricket for over 10-years (yep, struggled in India but generally put them to the sword at home). Kallis isn't exactly a spring chicken either. I guess only time will tell, but I'd be more worried about actually winning this series before contemplating the far-flung future. @Ross_Co; it may not be as enjoyable as you envision if we keep losing bowlers to injury with a consistency that our batting lineup could only dream of.

Posted by applethief on (August 4, 2012, 4:24 GMT)

Oh lord, still harping on about that hollow #1 ranking? It's getting embarrassing. Let it go and pretend you never made such a fuss about it in the first place, surely bringing it up again and again is humiliating enough

Posted by disco_bob on (August 4, 2012, 4:09 GMT)

@Subbass "My main defence of England is that Swann is clearly some way short of 100% fit and of course it was he who was the key in getting us to the summit.", Had McGrath not twisted his ankle after the 2005 Lords Test, where he took 5 for 21... We can play the injury game all day. Haven't England been banging on about 'strength in depth'?

Posted by disco_bob on (August 4, 2012, 4:00 GMT)

This match looks like a certain draw, therefore going on recent predicted 'certain draws' I have to predict a SA win by an innings. SA to bowl out England twice over the next 3 days for under 419. (180 and 220)

Posted by Hammond on (August 4, 2012, 3:42 GMT)

It looks like England are starting to slide a little bit, it is true. South Africa are not looking in much trouble. But England are still streets ahead of the rest of the rabble that make up the test playing nations. Teams like Australia and India must be must be far worse than people believe, firstly England just whitewashed India last year, and Australia hasn't won a test series against England since 2006. I expect carnage here at home this summer against South Africa. 3-0 to South Africa.

Posted by disco_bob on (August 4, 2012, 3:26 GMT)

@Trickstar "England but for a dolly would have dismissed SA for around 250", Can you understand that it is utterly meaningless to say that because it is certain that Amla would not have been run out had Peterson been caught. And would Amla have gone on to score 180? It's as likely as not.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2012, 3:18 GMT)

Just like India, too much cricket. But SA is the more balanced team in which one fails the other makes sure that he pulls off a decent knock, whereas India fall like a pack of cards like the second ODI in Sri Lanka.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (August 4, 2012, 3:17 GMT)

Just like talk of England being great was premature (and likely will not ever be warranted based on the current crop of players) so too is this story of their decline. There's no doubt that SA are a good team and any realistic England supporter knew that this series was going to be tough for England at best. There's also no doubt that England were vastly outplayed in the first Test. To all but throw in the towel at this stage is pretty pathetic though. This is essentially the same SA team that scored close to 400 against Australia and were then bowled out for 96 next innings. They won that match courtesy of Australia's capitulation with the bat but they lost the next Test and also lost a Test at home against SL. They are capable of playing very well but are also capable of losing and England are capable of winning. If SA have outplayed England in the final wash then I'll be the first to admit it but there's more than half the series still to play.

Posted by heathrf1974 on (August 4, 2012, 3:02 GMT)

After re-entering cricket about 20 years ago it seems South Africa may now have the mental toughness to reach no. 1 and hold onto it for a few years to come.

Posted by jango_moh on (August 4, 2012, 2:52 GMT)

@Cpt.Meanste... ur comments contradict themselves, u say eng are still very good side... then u say its not the case with other test playing nations... "India, SL and PAK all can only compete in Asian conditions"... and THEN you say, "Because away they are just as suspect as other teams" about ENG... make ur mind up, :-)... either eng is a very good team that are great at home, and can compete well away, or they are just like ur "other test playing nations"..... although, as an indian fan, i would be the first to admit that IND were pathetic last year away.... but in the 2 years away that, they did very well away which is why they maintained the #1 position for almost 2 yrs.....

Posted by goodgame123 on (August 4, 2012, 1:48 GMT)

... it was hard to avoid the conclusion that England's grasp on the No. 1 ranking is all but over. Its been slipping since the Pak series.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2012, 1:19 GMT)

India fell victim to greed deciding the schedule instead of common sense and the same is true with England. Too much cricket.

Posted by Ross_Co on (August 4, 2012, 1:12 GMT)

It'll be great to watch the two best sides in the world up against each other in Australia later this year.

Posted by addicted_to_chaos on (August 4, 2012, 0:54 GMT)

Quite right........ Anyhow, I still believe this English team is the only one who can challenge SA...... I am sure tomorrow will be Eng's day, they have excellent batsmen and had performed quite good against quality seamers..... I will rate Pak's pace attach of 2010 higher than today's SA attack, and english played them really good..... Lets C.....

Posted by drsankalp on (August 4, 2012, 0:53 GMT)

England were number one just by pure luck and I wrote that time that is is temporary thing they will not able to hold it for long time. I will not be surprised if England slips to no. 6 in next six months.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2012, 0:38 GMT)

@crindo77, You're comments are so true, Statistically the fast track bullies getting ready to be butchered on the flat tracks..By the way which one is harder to face , the swinging ball/seaming ball with even bounce , or the spinning ball off the track? Like to hear from the UK media.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (August 4, 2012, 0:34 GMT)

This England team is good but they are FAR from being called 'great'. There is nothing great about this team. In fact the team that won the 2005 Ashes was a much efficient unit in my opinion. So yeah England are facing up to the reality here. SA are simply the better side and would soon be crowned the no.1 side. England are still a very good test team though. The same cannot be said about many other 'test' playing nations. India, SL and PAK all can only compete in Asian conditions. Australia is rebuilding and I am sure that rebuilding has a life span of another 2 years. I won't even talk about WI, NZ and BAN. So yes, only SA are left and they look very good. But England have the coach, and the players to continue to be good, at least at home. Because away they are just as suspect as other teams. But I hope they put up a good show here. The game is not over yet.

Posted by   on (August 4, 2012, 0:29 GMT)

@Patchmaster, The speed got evaporated with the thrashing handed out in the first test!!

Posted by Soso_killer on (August 4, 2012, 0:27 GMT)

@trickstar, this article is a lil over the top, and a bit premature considering that the match is ongoing (or maybe george is making up for writting of SA). Bt lets be brutaly honest, England are a good team, bt SA are a better side. Man for man SA are better than Eng, (i.e. only jimmy, cook, swann could make it in the SA XI). However SA have always let themselves down, jst lyk da dutch football team.

Posted by Soso_killer on (August 4, 2012, 0:16 GMT)

@Whoster i thought it was only the english media who suffered from amnesia or short term memory, bt SA did win a series in Eng in 2008 (2-1) infact. "Best team to tour since the 2005 ashes", realy?.

Posted by Soso_killer on (August 4, 2012, 0:08 GMT)

Thank you george, bt now is nt the time for this article (i.e. wait until day 5). U guys (the english media) should hv written similar report/analysis before the series or after SA won the 1st test. Instead u guys deliberately ignored how good SA are with alot of arrogance. Which was dissapointing.

Posted by subbass on (August 4, 2012, 0:03 GMT)

It's certainly true that away from SA they are a formidable team and it's certainly true that they are odds on to be the number 1 ranked side come the end of the series. But it is strange how they can struggle to win home series, be interesting to see if that changes and if they do get to number 1 can they stay there as and when Kallis retires, as he is that good it's almost like they are playing with 12 players instead of 11. My main defence of England is that Swann is clearly some way short of 100% fit and of course it was he who was the key in getting us to the summit.

Anyway it ain't over till the fat lady sings but she is clearing her throat round about now. But I have been mega impressed with this SA team so far, so fair play and well done so far, you are making many Indians very happy no doubt !

Posted by Cropper03 on (August 4, 2012, 0:02 GMT)

I see everyone's getting nice and carried away as usual (even the journalists on here that change their minds repeatedly) and jumping on the anti-england bandwagon.

Why not wait until the end of the series to decide who's best?? If England go on to post 550-600 tomorrow (not that I'm saying they will), then really the series after two games would have been fairly equal (350 vs 550 and 400 vs 600). I'm not sure the weather will hold out in this test though, so I doubt England will get the chance to bowl out sa again, even if they do post a decent score.

Id agree that this sa team is better on paper, but they're quite good at messing things up as well, so it might be just worth waiting for them to leave with a 1-0 or 2-0, rather than spouting all this hyperbole before a 1-1 draw or something!

Posted by Patchmaster on (August 3, 2012, 23:43 GMT)

I don't understand why ENG bowlers such as Broad, Anderson, are bowling so slowly of late ? It wasn't long ago when Broad looked pretty quick, he looks pedestrian now, Bresnan looks injured and slow. Finn is genuinely quick, but it's fair to say we're playing a quick bowler and three medium pacers. Where did the speed go ?

Posted by Terrible_Terry on (August 3, 2012, 23:34 GMT)

Wow! what an article! I love it, and agree with everything on it!!! but mind you AB de villers has not kicked yet, so England are in more trouble there... Go team SA! Go Proteas!

Posted by on_the_level on (August 3, 2012, 23:06 GMT)

"they were outclassed........ in conditions of which they had little experience." To remain no.1, you have to adjust to, and win in, such conditions. India found that out, and were rightly regarded as being temporary No.1's. England, though, will lose their fleeting no.1 status in a home series!!

Posted by whoster on (August 3, 2012, 22:43 GMT)

It's a little premature to talk about SA simply being a better side. It may be borne out come the end of this ridiculously short series, but if England get bowled out cheaply by quality bowling tomorrow rather than batsman error, then it can definitely be claimed SA are a better side. England are certainly being given a very tough time by possibly the strongest side to visit these shores since The great Aussie team in 2005, and England are going to have to produce their very best to salvage this series. I'm hoping England can fight back to level the series, though have to say there's realistically only one team that could win this match with the dodgy forecast. SA have no doubt been the better team for 6 out of the 7 days of this series so far, but it's high time England's no.6 position was resolved, so here's to James Taylor scoring a double ton! If at the end of the series, England don't threaten to beat SA in either of the last two Tests, they'd fully deserve the no.1 spot.

Posted by thruthecovers on (August 3, 2012, 21:44 GMT)

Well, better late than never Georgie boy. It took you a while to get there, but it's good to see that reality has somwhat set in after the initial English euphoria. As far as ENG batting once and bowling out SA cheaply? Can't see it happening, I'm afraid. For that they'll need KP to have a blinder because he is the only one to get ENG there with enough time to bowl SA out. Our bowling attack was once again under par but should, like the Oval perform better from here on end, which all leads to ENG running out of time wo win this. The good thing to come out of this tho, is everyone on Mud Island should have their feet firmly back on earth now and all those outspoken comments of "best" this and "great" that should be a thing of the past. George Dobell's sudden humility bears testament to this, as does the likes of phoenixsteve et al. The transformation since the start of this series is quite something. I wonder if they manage a draw in this series, will they get carried away again?

Posted by Trickstar on (August 3, 2012, 21:28 GMT)

Credit where credit's dues, SA has played pretty well but I think there's far too much knee jerk and hyperbole going on. England but for a dolly would have dismissed SA for around 250 and would you be writing this piece, the guy who was dropped on 20 went on to score nearly half SA's runs. Last evening and this morning England bowled beautifully and SA played and missed about 30 times or more, they just didn't have any luck what so ever, can't remember a test match that the ball went past the bat as much, on another day they'd have edged them. The thing to remember SA have been this way for years, great side on paper but more often than not flattered to deceive, that's why they hardly ever win on their home turf, what is it one home win in over 3 years, stuff of champions that. Although there's time for SA to make amends they bowled very poorly with the new ball, there's still time for the true SA to come to the party.

Posted by Paulk on (August 3, 2012, 21:06 GMT)

Terrific article, spot on observations. It is often the quality of the lesser lights that demonstrate the depth of the great sides. Justin Langer, Damien Martyn, Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie were the great supporting acts as were Larry Gomes, Desmond Haynes and Jeff Dujon a generation earlier. Not sure who you can call a supporting act among Roberts, Holding, Croft, Garner, Marshall. Supporting acts of the quality of Peterson, Duminy, Philander is very promising for this team but we will just have to wait and see whether team do indeed reach greatness.

Posted by frankpotter on (August 3, 2012, 21:04 GMT)

Thanks George for your piece, good to see at last a reasoned assessment of the two teams in this series. Living in the UK (but a SA supporter) I find the almost universal attitude of cricket journalists and pundits here is that England are the world's best by some distance, and when they stumble or lose it's invariably because of a temporary blip in their powers or some bad luck - and never because the other side is, actually, better. Very aggravating. So, last winter Pakistan were definitely the better side in UAE but many were the excuses trotted out to explain England's apparent temporary loss of form. Why not just accept that you can't be no 1 all the time? you will have blips now and then. And that in many respects South Africa are better, and should win the series. If so, in time SA will be overtaken, but that's cricket life. Incidentally, I think the ICC ranking system is rather artificial and shouldn't be taken too seriously, but that's another story.

Posted by teo. on (August 3, 2012, 20:11 GMT)

Eng seems like the SA side of like 7yrs ago when Aus were rampant........ SA were very good against everyone, except Aus.. Not saying this SA side is comparable to that Aus side, but the roles comparative situation seems the same :) Agreed... mistake leaving out Swanny.. he's a match winner.

Posted by crindo77 on (August 3, 2012, 20:01 GMT)

How the mighty are falling! But were they mighty at all? From Andrew Miller's gloating articles last summer to George Dobell's sombre confessions 12 months later, English cricket has gone from a largely indulgent home media hyped dizzying heights of Test cricket's saviours aka the 'next great dynasty' to the chastening reality checks of the 0-3 thrashings of the hapless in the sands of Arabia in winter and now what was always coming; a superior team knocking at the gates. The 'flat track bully' killers are heading for a end. But not with a whimper,oh no. That sort of end is reserved for the lesser teams ( you know who you are). There will be big words. Why, some sympathetic cricket commentators might even compare it to a ' Charge of the Light Brigade'. 'Light' being the operative word. Ironically the toughest test, as described by Messrs Botham, Hussain and Atherton, is yet to come for this English team. India this winter. And the fireworks of Diwali, Sehwag and Tendulkar and Kohli.

Posted by Alexk400 on (August 3, 2012, 19:45 GMT)

All subcontinent team comes to england do not apply themself. They always homesick and want to go back home. SA and AUS feel home at england and they play well in england. England under strauss play with discipline. But talent level of SA is twice or thrice. It is just that SA chokes for no reason. I think with Imran Tahir they have spinner who can attack and take few wickets. That reduces pressure on steyn & Co. Once cook and straus gone tomorrow morning , it will be procession against steyn. goodluck to england...we want to see good fight. You make name here by playing tough...lets who put their hands up and be the man for england,

Posted by   on (August 3, 2012, 19:42 GMT)

Very good observation. Without sounding too much like an English sports fan, this South African team might just go on to dominate cricket like the Australians of the late 90s. Just maybe.

For South Africa to get over their choking, they'll need to become so much better than everyone else that there simply is no pressure. Hopefully this team can be that team.

Posted by   on (August 3, 2012, 19:17 GMT)

fantastic piece George, Being South African it warms my heart that you feel we're the better side. We should play all our test matches away from home, we would never lose a series.

Posted by Harlequin. on (August 3, 2012, 19:10 GMT)

Agreed, it always appeared that we had some good players who clicked at the right times, good enough to beat the Aussies (not much of an achievement atm), but not shown up against quality players like Ajmal, or quality teams like the Saffers.

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