South Africa in England 2012

It's been a tough year - Bell

As they did earlier in the year against Sri Lanka, England now face a must-win Test if they want to retain their No. 1 ranking having been outplayed at their own game by South Africa

George Dobell

August 12, 2012

Comments: 40 | Text size: A | A

Ian Bell looks back after leaving a delivery from Jacques Kallis, England v South Africa, 1st Investec Test, The Oval,  2nd day, July 20, 2012
Ian Bell has found it tough going against South Africa's disciplined bowling attack © Getty Images
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Just as Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay spent many weeks climbing Mount Everest only to remain at the peak for a few minutes, so England's period on top of the world may be fleeting.

You would not have thought so for all the fuss about Kevin Pietersen, but English cricket reached new heights this week. By rising to the top of the ODI rankings, England are just a point away from becoming the first side to be rated No. 1 in Test, T20 and ODI cricket at the same time, with South Africa the only side that stands between them and the top spot in T20 cricket. Whatever the future, whatever the flaws in the rankings system, that is a fine achievement.

But it may well be a short-lived success. As Ian Bell reflected ahead of the final Test in the Investec series against South Africa, England have become a victim of their own tactics of late. Just as England utilised their ambition to attain the No. 1 status as an incentive on the way to defeating India last summer, so they have been victim of South Africa's hunger this year. As a clich├ęd movie advert might put it: hunter has become hunted.

"We worked hard to get to No.1 and it all comes down to this match at Lord's," Bell said. "At The Oval, South Africa didn't let us back into the game and they showed what a quality team they were. They were a bit like we were last summer against India. We were so hungry to get to No. 1 and that feeling of chasing a No. 1 is something that drove us really hard.

"It's been a bit different being the team being chased. It's like it was for India last year. It's a change and it's also changed how people see us.

"We all sat down and Andy Flower was keen to remind us that the hard work was only just starting. It's like getting your first Test cap: you may think you've made it, but there is such a huge journey after that.

"Getting to No.1 was just part of it. We wanted as a group to stay there as long as possible. But we haven't performed. Over the last 12 months we haven't really been in the form of the last three years so it's put us under pressure to stay there.

"That's what Andy Flower and all the other people in management having been pushing the whole team to do. It's a great place to be. To stay at No. 1 in all formats is going to be hard work. We're going to need a squad of players who are fully fit and focussed to stay there.

"You aim to be good all the time. But in cricket we know you can't score runs or take wickets all the time. We've set a really high bar in terms of what we want to achieve but also South Africa have come and played really well. They haven't taken us by surprise, but we just didn't get things right at The Oval.

"We have got to learn lessons if we want to stay at No.1. Or if we want to get that title back if we lose it."

Bell's acceptance that England may lose their No. 1 status may be interpreted as weakness by some, but he insists the England team still believe they can level this series. He feels that, after the mauling England took at the Oval, the momentum changed in Leeds and England can take advantage at Lord's.

"They have had the first bit at the Oval and maybe the first bit at Headingley," Bell said. "But things just started to turn at the end of Headingley and we can hopefully take that momentum into Lord's.

I think they fully know and respect the fact that we can beat them. The three series I have played against South Africa have been really tough and really close and I don't expect this Test to be any different

"We have always believed we can beat any team certainly in England. We know we can beat South Africa. Even speaking to a few of the South Africans, I know that they are fully aware that you don't just take the Oval to Headingley. You have to start again.

"I think they fully know and respect the fact that we can beat them. The three series I have played against South Africa have been really tough and really close and I don't expect this Test to be any different.

"Hopefully the momentum began to shift at Headingley with Stuart Broad's spell. They have a few niggles, too."

South Africa have utilised a similar method to England. They have played the same brand of attritional, disciplined cricket that England used against Australia and India. The difference is, though, that for the first time in several years at home, South Africa look better at that form of cricket than England.

"As an eleven, right the way down, they are a real mature team," Bell said. "There are no real youngsters. They are all established Test cricketers like Australia were in 2006 and 2007. They know their games inside out.

"That's why this series has been good. We have been very much like them. In the past few series we have had only one or two changes.

"South Africa have been very organised. What they have done really well is that at the start of every session they have come in hard with the ball for ten overs, with Steyn, Morkel or whoever they have the luxury of four good seamers, and they have managed to get a wicket early in most sessions which has put us on the back foot.

"They grind you down with the bat," Bell added. "They leave well and they try and bat a long, long time. They try to get bowlers into their third or fourth spell. It doesn't matter how good the bowler is. If they are coming back for a fourth spell they are going to be tired and there are going to be more bad balls.

"We have probably been a little bit outdone in that department. But they do play a patience game with the bat and with the ball they come very aggressively

"At Headingley I was guilty of a really bad shot. We know that when the ball swings there it's a hard place to drive and it was the same at the Oval. There were probably some poor shots in there."

While such errors are a disappointment to Bell, he is also disappointed by the abbreviated nature of this Test series. Repeating a theme echoed by many around the world, Bell expressed his dissatisfaction that such a high-quality series should be such a brief affair.

"It's great for Test cricket," he said, "but it's just a shame it is only a three match series. The standard of this cricket means it should be a five match series. It's a shame that the series will have come and gone so quickly. I don't really like three match series. You lose a bit to the weather or have a draw and it's gone. This should have been a five match series."

Investec, the specialist bank and asset manager, is the title sponsor of Test Match cricket in England. Visit the Investec Cricket Zone at for player analysis, stats, test match info and games.'

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by torsha on (August 14, 2012, 20:53 GMT)

I can't wait to see SA to be no. 1 team because they are the only team as for now who is winning outside home conditions.

Posted by JG2704 on (August 14, 2012, 18:19 GMT)

@VillageBlacksmith on (August 14 2012, 12:14 PM GMT) I still have my reservations re Bell and his SR in certain situation - don't get me wrong - but I just felt the SR should not have been a concern in a game we did not need to win

Posted by VillageBlacksmith on (August 14, 2012, 13:14 GMT)

@JG2704... You may notice Jelly Belly has the lowest SR of the ODI top bats as well!! A theme is developing!! But let's see how he gets on @ HQ! Bell is now a senior member and needs to show it esp to the 2 new boys, not scoring 1 run off 10 overs with the novices at the other end... I think KP's swashbuckling innings def helped Taylor last time, so let's hope Bell can do something similar for Bairstow... Bell needs a score imo, he has done little to live up to his billing apart from wave a straight ball thru to his off stump in that confused timid way of his... without KP he might come out of his shell, let's hope so.. but i will not be buying his runs.

Posted by JG2704 on (August 14, 2012, 9:42 GMT)

@VillageBlacksmith on (August 13 2012, 23:45 PM GMT) Got to be honest , I think you're being a bit harsh on Bell here re the SR in the 1st test. Eng lost momentum and that also had something to do with Bell playing when batting conditions worsened and also I don't see how the SR would put pressure on the other Eng batsmen in a test they did not need to win. In the 2nd inns I was very disappointed with the shot he got out with but not bothered about the SR at all in the 1st match. In the 2nd test I think Bresnan should rec more criticism for his 1st inns SR as we now needed to level the series and push the game forward (even if we conceeded a 1st inns deficit) and TB wasted valuable time. In the 1st test this was the right aproach but not in this one

Posted by VillageBlacksmith on (August 14, 2012, 0:45 GMT)

@clarke501.. I agree that in some circs strike rate may be irrelevant, but bells' strike rate of 24% on the 2nd day of the 1st test is where momentum was lost and passed to RSA, as well as putting extra pressure on the other batsmen... (and then he gets out to a bad shot!) Amla scored 311 at 64%... 90% of the time, esp in the modern game, Strike Rate is not irrelevant, and esp when you have to give your bowlers time to get the opposition out.... but more than that, it shows bell's insecurity & inadequacy vs good bowling (he ave 158 v b'desh) that for over after over he cannot hit it off the square (and then gets out to a bad shot again!).. Its just the way bell is, esp this year.

Posted by PPD123 on (August 13, 2012, 20:47 GMT)

>>>""England are just a point away from becoming the first side to be rated No. 1 in Test, T20 and ODI cricket at the same time, with South Africa the only side that stands between them and the top spot in T20 cricket. Whatever the future, whatever the flaws in the rankings system, that is a fine achievement.""<<< While this statement is true, I find double standards here. When India was leading the test rankings and won the world cup in April 2011 (they were no 2 in ODI behind Aus) It was indeed a very very fine achievement, but rather than acknowledging the feats, all what was being said (especially by Ian Botham and Nasser Hussein) is how flattering and faulty the ranking systems were and how undeserving India was of everything. Now we see how difficult Eng is finding to stay on top - being thrashed by Pak in UAE, barely able to draw the series in SL (am sure if Malinga & Murali wud have been there they wud have been thrashed there as well) an now this SA series...

Posted by shillingsworth on (August 13, 2012, 14:49 GMT)

@VillageBlacksmith - Bell's strike rate is irrelevant. He was the only top order batsman to bat time in the 2nd innings at the Oval. If more had followed his lead, England might have drawn the match. Similarly at Headingley his job in the final innings was to bat out the final overs once the chance of a win had gone, a task which he accomplished successfully.

Posted by VillageBlacksmith on (August 13, 2012, 13:10 GMT)

bells own paltry contributions, weak presence and plummeting strike rate (8% SR in his last innings, 23% ave SR at the oval) also leave a lot to be desired... he is as much to blame as anyone for the current malaise and looks clueless as to how to respond... i hope taylor and jb can score bells runs as well

Posted by saijayanth89 on (August 13, 2012, 12:48 GMT)

Disappointed at the abbreviated Test Series? :O Will someone remind Bell that they were actually thrashed in their first outing and managed a draw due to the single handed effort of a guy who's now ousted from the team. Better lose briefly than suffering by an embarassing margin. KP is criticised for his egoism and what's this "we are No.1" stress in every comment by all Englishmen ? Ever saw a ship getting wrecked? Follow England Cricket team for the next couple of months - Test status next week, ODI status two weeks later n T20 status next month.

Posted by   on (August 13, 2012, 12:44 GMT)

Absolutely agreed with the part about England being beaten with their own tactics, but it had nothing to do with 'hunger.' I've been really impressed with South Africa in this series. They've played proper test cricket, building slowly, then attacking. England's success comes partly because teams like India and Australia have basically forgotten how to play tests. England this series haven't look bad, but they just haven't played the 'long game' anywhere near as well as South Africa.

That said - a lot can change in 1 test. The contest was much more even in the second test. Perhaps England will thrash South Africa by an innings in this final test. Who knows? Cricket has a lot to do with luck and form. Doesn't instantly make a player or a team bad.

You don't get to nearly number 1 in all formats by being a bad team. The people claiming this are either delusional fools or, quite frankly, jealous of England's success. I'm tempted to say it's a little of both.

Posted by PrasPunter on (August 13, 2012, 12:16 GMT)

Where was the standard in the first-place ? They managed to win at home and flopped elsewhere . Matter of time before we Aus get back to where we belong to - being No 1.

Posted by wimpie on (August 13, 2012, 10:30 GMT)

England can be proud of itself. It has three great captains, all fitting the format perfectly, and a great width in their bowling attack, be it that in the spin department they need a second and third Swann. Apart from that, brilliant, well deserved, well managed. Now, with Pietersen out of the way, things will only get better, be it that, by delaying the Pietersen issue, SA may lead the Test ranks for a few months.

Posted by Adoh on (August 13, 2012, 10:11 GMT)

I thought multiculturalism was a single word?

Posted by JG2704 on (August 13, 2012, 10:09 GMT)

@Kavindeven on (August 13 2012, 03:22 AM GMT) India have nothing to do with "getting them out of their dream.." . SA and Pakistan are the teams that have done it. If you are trying to claim that India have something to do with it because of the ODI thrashing , then look at our results in that format since that series

Posted by mvkk on (August 13, 2012, 8:07 GMT)

England didn't face a team playing at the standard the south african team is playing right now...they faced a good bowling attack in pakistan and pakistan's weak brittle batting saved them, if they consider they are the top team in the world by beating Australia and India, when both the teams are struggling they are fooling none other than themselves.

Posted by Fast_Track_Bully on (August 13, 2012, 5:09 GMT)

England was never ever dominated the cricket world in any format. They were lucky to be no:1 in test by defeating a injured Indian team in home condition. That will not show their efficiency. They face the heat when someone who mastered in the same condition crashed them in tests. A country which started cricket can't win a WC shows their ability in ODIs too! T20 is a game where no skill required and anyone can win in it. Even Afgan have a chance to win the WC. So nothing to hype!

Posted by Romenevans on (August 13, 2012, 4:22 GMT)

Good, at least Bell is back to ground zero and big reality that they were gifted the No.1 ranking by lousy "Test Team" Indians and now SA thunderstorm got them out of their dream to the reality.

Posted by Notout10 on (August 13, 2012, 2:45 GMT)

Unfortunately, England have been poor since correctly attaining No1 status, yet the defeat in the UAE was galling as the bowlers were excellent. But the batting was awful, as it was again in SL for the first test.We knew that SA were a serious threat, but whilst it was a real possibility England could lose, we didn't expect the thrashing they received at the Oval. The thing is, we've had nearly 20 years of West Indian dominance, followed by a decade or so of Australia winning with apparent ease. Since then, any other team that has looked to dominate, has not been in the same class, because they haven't had the required amount of world class players for all seasons.Therefore there should no reason for anyone supporting their team get cocky. Importantly, Australia have lost the last two Ashes series, long may that continue. They can lose the sense of hubris that is so grating.

Posted by Meety on (August 13, 2012, 0:56 GMT)

@Phil Katon - Anderson has been operating primarily around 80mph for 2 yrs. He occasionally bowls a quicker ball in the mid 80s. He is not someone that could be classified as an 89mph bowler. Pace is not everything, during the last Ashes, ALL of Ozzys pace bowlers were faster than England's quickest.

Posted by rayfanatics on (August 12, 2012, 19:48 GMT)

Bell, It has been more like having your standard shown rather than falling standards. Well said Crindo. Waiting for the other team to slow down because of injury speaks volumes about Bell's and his overrated team's mentality. Go saffa, bury this dead horse.

Posted by AKS286 on (August 12, 2012, 18:58 GMT)

Mr. Bell standards are not let eng down the only factor is the quality pace bowling. ENG still avoid that pitches which has bee used against Oz, IND, etc. ENG accepted that African Deadly Barrage will destroy the eng fortress into pieces.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 18:52 GMT)

This Mr Ian Bell is such a farce really. Remember the 'run out' against India in the 2011 summer? And, he was graceful enough to come back and bat again,and now, he likens the English team's disposition to India's in 2011. But, since 2011, England have played JUST 12 tests. That though, is because they have been in No 1 in tests for not even a year now. But, in this year as 'No 1' they have won 5 and LOST 5, and won all but one in England,. This is the period of English rule on Test cricket. India were No 1 for One and a half years, played 23 tests, won 10 and lost 7, and 4 of them were away wins. Mr. Ian Bell, your stand please...!

Posted by anuradha_d on (August 12, 2012, 18:13 GMT)

Hello Mr. Bell.....ain't a tough year.....but reality of situational No.1 catching up with them

Posted by hhillbumper on (August 12, 2012, 18:05 GMT)

Randy OZ mate.I love your well informed comment.Seemingly those egotistical show ponies of ours have handled you each time recently.As for the whole import thing it is getting a bit tiring now.Some of it is called multi culturalism.As for some of the South African imports I agree that some should not play for us but if raised in our system thern you should.

Posted by Beertjie on (August 12, 2012, 17:40 GMT)

"The difference is, though, that for the first time in several years at home, South Africa look better at that form of cricket than England." Please enlighten? SA beat England in 2008 playing the same form of cricket. I guess it's hard to acknowledge their superiority now and then. Close series, perhaps, but England could never claim to better than them. But he's right: "As an eleven, right the way down, they are a real mature team. There are no real youngsters. They are all established Test cricketers like Australia were in 2006 and 2007. They know their games inside out." @crindo77, excellent identification of what's really problematic about England's team - their lack of mental toughness and always looking over their shoulders. That's why they needed to shelve KP; so that they could bolster that crumbling dressing room!

Posted by vrn59 on (August 12, 2012, 17:07 GMT)

Anderson and Broad should recover the pace they had just a few months ago, and Finn should be included for his extra pace. Then, England will really be able to threaten SA. The safer route is to keep Bresnan, who is a workhorse and can bowl lengthy spells, and this is a route I would normally recommend, but England will have to take some risks here as they are facing a team that is, in my opinion, better.

Posted by R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (August 12, 2012, 15:40 GMT)

So this is what they all sat around and talked about with their cups of camomile tea after their walloping. I don't understand why England have been so 'surprised' and 'unprepared' for SA... I'd even go as far to say they were rather complacent. Did they not think a team that consists of the likes of Steyn, Philander, Morkel, Kallis etc. etc. would be extremely tough, and demand some planning and form? Far too much time being spent on twitter/ICC Rankings pages I think, instead of nets/warm-up matches/tactical meetings.

Posted by Highflyer_GP on (August 12, 2012, 15:40 GMT)

Ah, another instance of an English player harping on about the #1 ranking. Says it all really, the English team has been so consumed by this ranking that they don't care about winning matches. It's all about the rankings.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 14:32 GMT)

Does this explain why Anderson and Broad have dropped almost 10mph to the low eighties? IMHO this is hugely significant reason for the decline and lack of wickets-especially in the 1st test. Anderson @80mph is a completely different proposition to Anderson @ 89mph, but no reasonable explanation has yet been offered as to why both of England's premier strike bowlers have dropped to basically medium pace...:(

Posted by Arthaurian on (August 12, 2012, 14:29 GMT)

England is delusional. Did they really think they were the best?

Posted by prashnottz on (August 12, 2012, 14:07 GMT)

Why this shameless plug for investech?

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 14:01 GMT)

agree with belly here .... your time to play a great ininngs now bud, do it in the third test :)

Posted by crindo77 on (August 12, 2012, 13:47 GMT)

" They have a few niggles, too."- One line that tells all; why bother with other team's niggles, Mr Bell. An all too familiar refrain from this English team and its supporters, beginning from Ian Botham's embarrassingly undisguised joy last year on Sky when Zaheer pulled his hamstring, to David Gower's frenetic attempts to stress on SA's injuries on the last day in Headingley. That's not how a champion side sees things; even when cracking skulls I never heard Marshall and co gloat at other teams misfortunes; or Waugh/ Warne/ Macgrath and co talk about Tendulkar's dodgy ankle/elbow or Lara's injuries. Well that's the difference; BIG difference between RANKED NO 1 and being a Champion side. Come Monday week, England might not be the former anymore; they sure as ain't the latter.

Posted by allblue on (August 12, 2012, 13:39 GMT)

Even as an England fan there's no getting away from the fact that SA have been the far better side in the first two games. I felt that there were two things holding SA back - the lack of an attacking wicket-taking spinner, and the lack of a winning mentality at the crunch. Tahir has addressed the first, and the Kirsten/Donald combo was always a good bet to address the latter. At the top level the margins are very small, little things can make the difference. The SA dressing room seems to be a very united and focussed one, whereas England have lost that cohesion over the last year. We can speculate on why that has happened, but England are a team that attained pre-eminence by their total being greater than the sum of their parts, a strong unit that always found a way. Whether they can re-capture that mood by Thursday is doubtful, but it would be great if they could because we would have a cracking game on our hands. If not, congrats to SA for their deserved rise to the top of the pile.

Posted by RandyOZ on (August 12, 2012, 13:38 GMT)

Probably the worst #1 ranked team we've seen, with 6 shocking losses out of 10 games since being 1, including one of the worst defeats in the history of test cricket, taking a whopping two wickets the entire match. One has to feel extremely sorry for quiet achieving workhorses like Cook and Anderson, who have to put up with incredibly arrogant, overrated and non-perofrming players like Bell, Swann and Broad, coupled with the whole KP import disaster.

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (August 12, 2012, 13:33 GMT)

When one has ascended to the summit Everest it's probably not the place to hang out for long. Being no.1 in cricket though can be maintained for a few years. Here it is probably just a case of two steps forward( up to UAE series) and one step back( till now or...whenever.) The problem is that the style of play has gone drab with one or two exceptions. The bowlers speeds have dropped, the run makers are a bit short of runs and the shot players are making silly mistakes.(eg trott,bell at Leeds.) Both of those need big runs.But above all the style needs to be more attacking.Adelaide is not that far back. At least with KP continuing the run rate is not going to fall though the floor. Anway the next two steps forward should more fun.

Posted by jmcilhinney on (August 12, 2012, 13:06 GMT)

I'm under no illusions about this England team. I've never claimed that they are, or even will be, a great team. They are a good team though and, for the most part, as good or better than anyone else for the last few years. Some people say that they have only risen to #1 by luck but those people obviously have no understanding of statistics. To be within touching distance of the #1 ranking in all three formats with results taken over a three-year period simply does not happen by luck. It would be ironic for them to lose the Test #1 just as they attain the ODI #1. I'm confident that they can win this third Test but that doesn't mean that I'm confident that they will. I'd rate the three results as all about the same likelihood. Even if England do manage the win and cling onto the #1 ranking, I'm guessing that even a drawn series in India would be enough to knock them off and I am not confident of them winning that series.

Posted by SamRoy on (August 12, 2012, 13:04 GMT)

Well Bell, even though is a very elegant batsman, has never been successful against quality bowling. I mean he failed against Australia in 2005 and 2007 and SA in 2008, 2010 and this time. He has also struggled against quality spin as well. So, Mr. Ian Bell, sorry to burst your bubble, except for KP, there isn't another batsman of real class in the batting lineup (Cook and Trott never dominate bowling so even 200-1 can become 210-5 any time, that's what quality opposition teams feel). However, with the current state of the Australian team, I think Ashes is safe with England for at least another 4-5 years.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 13:03 GMT)

Instead of organizing a 5 test series in case you a game is a draw due to the weather, why not allocate a reserve sixth day to make up the overs lost to rain. If we'd had those 72 lost overs back at Headingley, the spectators and fans would've gotten more value for their money and time.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 12:28 GMT)

Can this be possible be true. England can win and be number 1 in the world in all formats, even beating India on their home turf, without KP.

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