England v South Africa, 3rd Investec Test, Lord's, 3rd day August 18, 2012

Jury still out on England

The Lord's Test against South Africa may come to be seen as marking the end of a golden era for England - but the future remains bright
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Like a defendant awaiting the judgement of a jury, England nervously enter the final two days of this series with their fate in the balance

Whatever happens over the last pages of this increasingly absorbing Test series, it neither negates the progress England cricket has made in recent years or masks the deficiencies that have been highlighted in recent months. While some will seize on defeat to denounce England as the one-hit wonders of the cricket world - a team that were flattered by home conditions and weak opposition - others will seize on victory to suggest that recent reverses - such as the whitewash against Pakistan in the UAE and the thumping defeat at The Oval - were simply aberrations.

Neither conclusion would do. England are a decent side who, over the last few years, have played some impressive cricket. And there is clearly not such a margin between these teams as the result at The Oval suggested. But the evidence now proves England are far from the finished article. Indeed, the suspicion remains that, in neutral territory and over a longer series, South Africa would probably hold the edge.

It would be no disgrace should England lose to a side as good as South Africa. Their pace attack currently has no rivals in the international game, while the depth and quality of their batting line-up is daunting. Perhaps their search for a top-quality spinner goes on, but Jacques Kallis' enduring excellence as an allrounder mitigates for that and, despite their diverse backgrounds and beliefs, they have been moulded into a side with a unity of purpose. They would be, in any era and by any measurement, a very good side.

The nagging suspicion remains, however, that England have not quite done themselves justice in this series. While that, in large part, is due to the pressure applied by South Africa with the ball and with the bat, England must also accept that they have made too many self-inflicted errors. The dropped catches, particularly Alastair Cook's drop of Alviro Petersen in Leeds and Matt Prior's of Hashim Amla on the third day here, are the most obvious examples, but the England batsmen must also accept that they have surrendered their wickets too cheaply. To be dismissed by excellent bowling must be accepted, but to guide wide balls to the slips as regularly as England have done in these three Tests is infuriatingly self defeating.

Equally, if England win this game and therefore retain the No. 1 Test ranking, their failings in recent months should not be overlooked. England's problems against spin, their bowlers' lack of pace and incision and the issues with Kevin Pietersen will remain even if England are victorious. Indeed, the temptation to ignore such problems must be resisted in any circumstance. A resource as precious as Pietersen must be utilised if they are to bounce back. To scrap him aged 32, whatever his faults, would show a chronic failure of management skills.

It is true that England's period at the top of the rankings may well prove to have been brief, certainly too brief for any talk of legacy. Nor is it possible to be wildly optimistic about their immediate future bearing in mind that their next Test series is to be played in India. Things may get worse before they get better.

But it is worth reflecting for a moment on where England were not so long ago. It is worth recalling the 1999 season when England were eliminated from the World Cup they hosted even before the tournament's theme song was released. It is worth recalling the boos from England supporters that greeted the team when they collected their medals after the Test series defeat against New Zealand which saw them drift to the foot of the Test rankings. It is worth recalling the muddled selection policies that saw 29 players selected for the Ashes series of 1989, it is worth recalling the wounded men who were thrashed 5-0 in the Ashes whitewash of 2006-07, the lack of intensity that persisted in the county game before the introduction of two divisions, four-day cricket and effective academies. It is, most of all, worth recalling the days when success in English cricket was a brief interlude in a general drama of failure. The truth is, English cricket was shambolic for years.

Win, lose or draw this Test, the period between the middle of 2009 and late 2011 might still be considered a golden age for English cricket. Not just for the Test ranking, but for the World T20 success and their much-delayed improvements in ODI cricket. And, whatever the trouble ahead, English cricket can take comfort in that fact that structures now exist to identify, develop and retain talent. That the county game is producing cricketers such as Jonny Bairstow, Steven Finn, James Taylor, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes who have the talent and temperament to rebuild. That this Lord's Test may come to mark the end of an era but, whatever the hype and hyperbole of the coming days, there is some reason to suggest a new one may be around the corner.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • JG2704 on August 20, 2012, 7:53 GMT

    @Meety on (August 20 2012, 01:09 AM GMT) Agree with your post by and large - as I often do. I'm just not sure Flower/Strauss do changing tact. I mean Flower has never once changed formation despite all our woeful cricket since being number 1 and even Strauss doesn't change onfield. I mean it's like Flower's 6/1/4 policy is "It's what we do and what got us to number 1" and Strauss opening the bowling with Broad rather than the express , more unsettling pace of Finn for the same reason. Where do England have to be for them to change tact and realise they're on a downward spiral?

  • JG2704 on August 20, 2012, 7:47 GMT

    @MrMankad on (August 19 2012, 11:31 AM GMT) It depends who is rating them as to whether they are overrated or not. If you are reading some of the Mark Nicholas threads then yes I agree. If you are reading alot of the comments from many of your fellow countrymen then I'd say we were underrated. Re the Pakistan series - no I have not conveniently ignored it. If you read my post I include "just like they deserve the criticisms for their form since becoming 1" being that the Pakistan series falls into that timescale as does the SL (Drawn) WI (won) - both of which I still think we underperformed in , I've not ignored it at all. Please publish

  • Meety on August 20, 2012, 1:12 GMT

    @crindo77 - I like sledging the Poms from time to time, but "...then had 3 years of success after say, 100 years..." is not quite an accurate picture. The Poms were very good in the 50/60s & were technically the #1 side in 1980, & had a very good side through the 70s.

  • Meety on August 20, 2012, 1:09 GMT

    @JG2704 - there is certainly some muddled thinking going on with the Brains Trust at Team England. The discipline & focus of the Ashes seems gone & there is no real direction. In the 10/11 Ashes, England replaced Finn (strategic) & Broad (injury) with Tremlett & Bresnan & they slotted in so well, it was like there was planned obsolescense built into the squad. Now, they seem a bit rudderless, whilst Bairstow at this point in time seems a good choice, & Taylor has undoubted skill, throwing them all in against the Saffas due to the KP saga, seems odd (from afar). The Swann in/out/in thing was poor, why did he play in the ODIs at all if he was affected by his elbow? If he wasn't affected by his elbow - why was he dropped at all? When you are behind come the last Test in a series, you must throw the Kitchen sink, & 6/1/4 is not an example of this. Despite all this, its a nucleus of a good side, that should challenge (& win matches) against the top sides.

  • Meety on August 20, 2012, 0:52 GMT

    @andrew-schulz - LOL! Should I grieve that the rankings say we're #9 in T20s???? Well said!

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 20:23 GMT

    @StJohn on (August 19 2012, 13:51 PM GMT) Great post there and feel I agree with most of what you say. I wonder if Vaughan captaining today's side or that 2005 Ashes side playing in today's era might do better. Re your last sentence - may I also add "And Tamely"?

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 20:22 GMT

    @Meety on (August 19 2012, 12:50 PM GMT) You could be right there. Aus also have the knowledge that they got the better of SA overall during the last tour. I also wonder if a difference in the last Ashes might have been reduced had Clarke been captain. I also wonder how Eng may have done having Clarke as their captain. Eng's mentality seems to be "It's what we do , it's how we got to number 1 etc" and I still feel it would still be the same if we slip out of the top 4.Phrases like "Attack Is The Best Form Of Defence" and "Different Horses For Different Courses" seem totally alien to Flower/Strauss.

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 20:22 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (August 19 2012, 11:49 AM GMT) I don't think I am being harsh. Everyone comes to the end of the line at some point. I think him and Flower are stuck in a rut and Strauss's form and more worrying his judgement and reflexes look shot. His form has been patchy for a while , only with the tons vs WI giving him a little respite. Dravid's reflexes, judgment etc went in the Australian series after looking amazing in the Eng tour

  • Springbok111 on August 19, 2012, 17:28 GMT

    I'm sorry 158notout, I cannot agree that England has been the best team in the last three years, merely ranked number one. I also cannot agree with George Dobell when he claims that this is not due to home advantage and weak opposition. And don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming that SA are the best team in the world but we are more than "marginally better" than England!

  • SuperSaj on August 19, 2012, 16:10 GMT

    welcome to reality England. A good side but never great. Gone are the silly comparisons with the great Windies team of the 70s and 80s and the Aussies of the late 90s to the late 00s. Similalry the clowns both amongst supporters and even the pundits clamining Anderson was joustling with Steyn for the best bowler tag have gone very silent now

  • JG2704 on August 20, 2012, 7:53 GMT

    @Meety on (August 20 2012, 01:09 AM GMT) Agree with your post by and large - as I often do. I'm just not sure Flower/Strauss do changing tact. I mean Flower has never once changed formation despite all our woeful cricket since being number 1 and even Strauss doesn't change onfield. I mean it's like Flower's 6/1/4 policy is "It's what we do and what got us to number 1" and Strauss opening the bowling with Broad rather than the express , more unsettling pace of Finn for the same reason. Where do England have to be for them to change tact and realise they're on a downward spiral?

  • JG2704 on August 20, 2012, 7:47 GMT

    @MrMankad on (August 19 2012, 11:31 AM GMT) It depends who is rating them as to whether they are overrated or not. If you are reading some of the Mark Nicholas threads then yes I agree. If you are reading alot of the comments from many of your fellow countrymen then I'd say we were underrated. Re the Pakistan series - no I have not conveniently ignored it. If you read my post I include "just like they deserve the criticisms for their form since becoming 1" being that the Pakistan series falls into that timescale as does the SL (Drawn) WI (won) - both of which I still think we underperformed in , I've not ignored it at all. Please publish

  • Meety on August 20, 2012, 1:12 GMT

    @crindo77 - I like sledging the Poms from time to time, but "...then had 3 years of success after say, 100 years..." is not quite an accurate picture. The Poms were very good in the 50/60s & were technically the #1 side in 1980, & had a very good side through the 70s.

  • Meety on August 20, 2012, 1:09 GMT

    @JG2704 - there is certainly some muddled thinking going on with the Brains Trust at Team England. The discipline & focus of the Ashes seems gone & there is no real direction. In the 10/11 Ashes, England replaced Finn (strategic) & Broad (injury) with Tremlett & Bresnan & they slotted in so well, it was like there was planned obsolescense built into the squad. Now, they seem a bit rudderless, whilst Bairstow at this point in time seems a good choice, & Taylor has undoubted skill, throwing them all in against the Saffas due to the KP saga, seems odd (from afar). The Swann in/out/in thing was poor, why did he play in the ODIs at all if he was affected by his elbow? If he wasn't affected by his elbow - why was he dropped at all? When you are behind come the last Test in a series, you must throw the Kitchen sink, & 6/1/4 is not an example of this. Despite all this, its a nucleus of a good side, that should challenge (& win matches) against the top sides.

  • Meety on August 20, 2012, 0:52 GMT

    @andrew-schulz - LOL! Should I grieve that the rankings say we're #9 in T20s???? Well said!

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 20:23 GMT

    @StJohn on (August 19 2012, 13:51 PM GMT) Great post there and feel I agree with most of what you say. I wonder if Vaughan captaining today's side or that 2005 Ashes side playing in today's era might do better. Re your last sentence - may I also add "And Tamely"?

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 20:22 GMT

    @Meety on (August 19 2012, 12:50 PM GMT) You could be right there. Aus also have the knowledge that they got the better of SA overall during the last tour. I also wonder if a difference in the last Ashes might have been reduced had Clarke been captain. I also wonder how Eng may have done having Clarke as their captain. Eng's mentality seems to be "It's what we do , it's how we got to number 1 etc" and I still feel it would still be the same if we slip out of the top 4.Phrases like "Attack Is The Best Form Of Defence" and "Different Horses For Different Courses" seem totally alien to Flower/Strauss.

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 20:22 GMT

    @R_U_4_REAL_NICK on (August 19 2012, 11:49 AM GMT) I don't think I am being harsh. Everyone comes to the end of the line at some point. I think him and Flower are stuck in a rut and Strauss's form and more worrying his judgement and reflexes look shot. His form has been patchy for a while , only with the tons vs WI giving him a little respite. Dravid's reflexes, judgment etc went in the Australian series after looking amazing in the Eng tour

  • Springbok111 on August 19, 2012, 17:28 GMT

    I'm sorry 158notout, I cannot agree that England has been the best team in the last three years, merely ranked number one. I also cannot agree with George Dobell when he claims that this is not due to home advantage and weak opposition. And don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming that SA are the best team in the world but we are more than "marginally better" than England!

  • SuperSaj on August 19, 2012, 16:10 GMT

    welcome to reality England. A good side but never great. Gone are the silly comparisons with the great Windies team of the 70s and 80s and the Aussies of the late 90s to the late 00s. Similalry the clowns both amongst supporters and even the pundits clamining Anderson was joustling with Steyn for the best bowler tag have gone very silent now

  • Long-Leg on August 19, 2012, 14:59 GMT

    An excellent blog George and I completely agree with your assessment of English Cricket. We are not the world beaters that partisan England supporters have made us out to be, but neither are we one hit wonders. Instead we have a very good side which will remain strong for years to come. Having observed this current series, it pains me to say that SA look marginally the better side and if they go on to win this series they will deserve no 1 status. This has been quality test cricket and it is a disaster of planning that we are not due to play SA again until Dec-Feb 2015-16 when we tour for a 4 test series. This is a terribly long gap, during which the two best test sides in the world will not play each other. A great shame!

  • StJohn on August 19, 2012, 13:51 GMT

    I've followed English Test cricket closely since the 1984 "Blackwash" by WI. There was a false-dawn in 2004-05, which was the first time since 1984 that England looked to be one of the best, if not the best, Test team. Pakistan shattered that dream as they did again late last year. It's too early to say if 2009-11 was another false dawn, but England have been fairly mediocre in Tests this year (but actually very good in ODIs). I'm not sure if it's something inherent in English mentality that we may be better at fighting to get to the top than at staying there but, the esoteric way that Test rankings are calculated aside, you can't really say that England deserves the no.1 Test ranking based on this year's performances (to date). Maybe success breeds a touch of complacency, but slipping from the top spot might actually make England better, hungrier and stronger. But it is sad to have followed Tests for nearly 30 years but for us to surrender the top spot so quickly!

  • StJohn on August 19, 2012, 13:38 GMT

    Typically defensive and loaded Indian-fan comments from @Suhas Suresh, but inaccurate to say that England's bowlers look really bad in the subsontinent. In the recent series in UAE and SL, England bowled well but batted badly. The coming series in India may prove your hypothesis, but this SA series has been the first for a while where England's bowlers have looked flat and really struggled to take 20 wickets.

  • 158notout on August 19, 2012, 13:29 GMT

    Brilliant article well written. Shame that a lot of the Indian fans commentating on it are too blinkered to just accept it. Being gracious in defeat is a trait well worth learning. Look at yourselves before you start slinging mud around and give credit where credit is due without making weak excuses. India were annihilated last summer by England, as were Australia during the winter. if I am mature enough to say that that we were diabolical in the UAE and only started getting it together halfway through the SL series and that we have been outplayed by a superior SA side then surely you can say that England were the best team over the past 3 years up until this winter and that SA are taking over the mantle. Having said that, it is also worth pointing out the quote above "there is clearly not such a margin between these teams as the result at The Oval suggested". That is also true and from that England can take heart going into what will be a tough tour of India.

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 13:29 GMT

    2005 Ashes side vs today's side ctd. It's difficult to compare. Re bowlers ctd as out and out bowlers I'd say a peak Harmisson (which may not have been for long) , Simon Jones in that series and Hoggard were definitely better than the 3 pacemen - Jimmy,Broad and eg Bres or Finn are right now. However I feel that because they had that extra firepower of Flintoff , they could bowl shorter spells and the intensity levels were greater. England could easily do such a formation now and have Broad,Bres or Woakes doing the Flintoff role (but batting at 7 rather than 6) and Prior batting up at 6 rather than 7. I'd say Prior is a better batsman than Flintoff and whoever the all rounder is could do at least as good a job as Jones. So to me it's not just a case of who was the better side (players wise) but who had the better balance and to me that would be the 2005 side , but our side now could be so much better if the selections were better

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 13:28 GMT

    Comparing the 2005 side to now , re the batting - I'd say there's not much in it in terms of quality (if we're still saying KP is an Eng player). The 2 changes would be Cook/Trott for Tres/Vaughan. The one thing which instantly comes across is that the Tres/Vaughan are naturally a much more attacking duo than Cook /Trott although whether this is significant or not I'm not sure. Now the next 2 places IMO are undisputable. Flintoff at 6 is a far bigger asset than any of our recent number 6s. Prior is undisputably better than Jones. Now to me if we had Prior at 6 and Woakes or Bres or Broad at 7 that would equal the 6/7 of 2005. Spin - I'd say Swann takes it although is maybe slightly overrated and Giles slightly underrated. Then you'd have the other 3 pacemen of Jones,Hoggard,Harmisson vs Jimmy,Finn,Broad or Onions. Again a close run thing with maybe the 2005 attack just shading it

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 13:28 GMT

    @CustomKid on (August 19 2012, 10:18 AM GMT) You could be right. I always said that was the best series win Eng have had in the last 30 years because that was a top Australian side. Also we came back from a test down. I would say Vaughan was a better captain than Strauss and the formation he chose was far more ambitious than Strauss's. I also feel that sometimes your best form of defence is attack esp when the defensive strategy isn't working. In 2005 we had 4 pacemen (inc Freddie as an all rounder) , a spinner in Giles and 5 batsmen which is the way I feel we should have been going in recent years , even before our slump in form. As for which is the better side , man for man I'd say it's pretty even but as I said I think Vaughan had something more about him as a captain.

  • cheguramana on August 19, 2012, 12:59 GMT

    A very good balanced write up on England. No doubt at all that England have come a long way. But their perch at the top spot wll prove to be brief. Wl they muster the energy to come back to top spot for a longer period ? I think its more likely that the top spot will keep moving among the top few Test nations : Eng, SA, India and Aus.

  • Meety on August 19, 2012, 12:50 GMT

    @JG2704 - agreed re: "...very little to chose between Eng,SA and Australia.." The funny thing is, even if the Saffas win 2nil (no guarantee there), I am more confident of Oz beating the Saffas atm, than England. I also have said for ages, the difference between Oz & England is minimal, despite the 2 ashes losses. In 09, Oz were statistically better, but lost key moments (full credit to Eng). In 10/11, It was 1all with 2 to play with momentum technically with Oz, & whilst Eng won fair & square, I don't think the Oz players had the back of house support that Eng had. So IMO, the 2 series losses were not about England being so much more talented, more that they executed better & were hungrier. Neither the Saffas, Oz or England are great teams, just the best of the current era, although I would even go so far as to say, that the difference between the top 3 & the next 3 are closer than anytime in the last 30 yrs.

  • RohanMarkJay on August 19, 2012, 12:49 GMT

    Excellent article, George Dobell. One of your best. It is refreshingly honest, your right this test may indeed mark the end of a 3 year golden era for English cricket and the team. Yes in the summer of 1999 they were at the foot of the test table ironically the same England side beat a strong south african side including Allan Donald the previous summer in 1998 probably their best performance in the struggling 1990s. After 1999, newly appointed Capt Nasser Hussain and newly appointed coach Duncan fletcher along with Chairman of English cricket at the time Ian Maclaurin made structural changes which benefited English cricket after reviewing Englands performances in the 1990s. and the result was ten years later managed to turn it around against the odds to overcome strong sides to be top of the table. A great achievement.Players like Andrew Strauss came through in this new system post 1999. Dobell is right, England will be a good side for many years to come. But wont be no1 anymore.

  • dudedud on August 19, 2012, 12:14 GMT

    Apt description of the photo accompanying this article....two of the "deficiencies" of the England team...

  • andrew-schulz on August 19, 2012, 11:49 GMT

    Weep not, O England. Grieve not at your loss of top ranking on this dysfunctional, erratic, inaccurate system. Console yourself with the fact that you lose nothing-indisputa ly, you were never number one, not even close. Comfort yourself with the knowledge that after you lose this Test, your position at number 2, around quarter of a point above Australia, is lofty compared to what you are soon to face. But all cricket lovers grieve at the way this system brings our game into disrepute. Grieve at Indians squeaking 'we're number one' whole on their way to losing eight away Tests in a row by massive margins. Grieve at Poms squeaking 'we're number one' after being whitewashed in a 3-match series. And after losing by an innings while claiming only 2 opposition wickets. Grieve that anyone could take this rankings system seriously.

  • R_U_4_REAL_NICK on August 19, 2012, 11:49 GMT

    @JG2704: bit harsh re. Strauss. I know his form has been poor of late, but I don't think it's time for him to go just yet. By the sounds if things, KP is out of the team for a long time? For India, definately need two spinners... They'll probably go with Swann and Patel! 5-1-5... yeah nice to dream about, but seems it's never going to happen.

  • MrMankad on August 19, 2012, 11:31 GMT

    @JG2704 No one is denying England any credit they deserve. There is a difference between being credit-worthy and over-rated however. The defeat of India was comprehensive, but please bear in mind that India was without their spear-head bowler Zaheer Khan, Gambhir was injured, Sehwag flown in after an injury etc. etc. Not an excuse, but can't be disregarded either And I see that you have conveniently ignored the mention of Pakistan.

  • CustomKid on August 19, 2012, 10:18 GMT

    @phoenixsteve - at 34 my earliest memory of cricket is 86-87. From 89 onwards I remember almost every test Australia have played.

    Given you've been a supporter of ENG for 40+ years I'd be interested to know where you rate this english side in comparison to all those who've gone before that you've seen?

    Personally I don't rate this team that highly. Their results in the UAE and SRL drag them down several rungs on the ladder. I certainly think Vaughn's side of 2005 was the best side I've seen since 89. They beat the Aussies in their prime in a cracking series probably the most enjoyable ashes I've seen. I rate 89 pretty highly though as that was the rise of Waugh, Taylor, Healy and co who became the backbone of the number 1 team for the next 10+ years.

  • on August 19, 2012, 9:22 GMT

    @ Rednwhitearmy : I hate to be the one to break it to you but youre very wrong , everyone does not want to see england play. I for one could so do without pointless back to back ash's serious that no one except maybe the English and the Aussies care about. And you really think non Eng cricket fans want to watch them beat lesser teams at home ? Its boring to be honest.

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 9:18 GMT

    PS - I wonder (as I pointed out before) if this could be Strauss's last test. In which case we'd have to look for an opener for the Indian tour. For me I'd either put Trott up to open or bring in Compton. I'm not sure if we have that much around in that position. My team for India could look something like this Cook,Trott,KP,Bell,Taylor or Bairstow ,Prior , Woakes,Swann,Jimmy,Onions, Monty - I realise that it is a very long tail on paper but I think (as pointed out before) that Swann is much better than a number 10 batsman - I actually rate him higher than Broad - and his average is lower because he has to play with the end of the tail. Obviously KP's inclusion is also a bit optimistic. I know there is no Bres,Broad and Finn in my side and it hurts choosing against my favourite player (Broad) but we definitely need 2 spinners out there. Obviously Kerrigan has a case too

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 9:06 GMT

    Always have said that there is very little to chose between Eng,SA and Australia. While I agree that maybe our media/fans have got a little carried away , it was based on playing some very decent cricket. While we have not lost our 1 ranking to SA yet the likelihood is we will , but this series (if you are not part of the blinkered brigade) has (from after the Oval test) been very well contested. I have given my views on how our team can improve and this is not just reacting to our poor form as I have always had these views. In defence to the writers , Eng were playing the sort of cricket that suggested we could (not would) become a dominant force. Ufortunately as an Eng fan they've not continued that form since being number 1.

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 9:05 GMT

    @MrMankad on (August 19 2012, 01:50 AM GMT) SL series was a draw (still poor I admit) . Maybe in your excitement to get your criticisms out you forgot about that particular fact and the fact that we drew in SA and won in Australia on route to becoming number 1. And OK Aus might have been poor but when since or the last time before they lost a series by more than 1 test on their home turf and when (before England) did India last lose a series that emphatically? I know we'll get all the usual excuses but Eng must take some credit for what they've done to get to number 1 just like they deserve the criticisms for their form since becoming 1.

  • JG2704 on August 19, 2012, 9:05 GMT

    I know this will sound really kneejerk but I think Strauss and Flower should go after this series.Don't get me wrong , they have done amazingly and I particularly like Flowers work/disciplinary ethics. However I do feel we are too regimented and at times too defensive and seem incapable of trying things to stop the rot.I have long campaigned for the 5/1/5 formation and I don't remember them trying it once in recent times. Although in Jonny we finally had a worthwhile contribution from a number 6, I still felt we should have gone 5/1/5 as I feel with an extra bowler we'd have had more chance of strangling SA for less than 250 - if not less than 200 and SA have a quality batting line up and I feel we could do with an extra bowler in a game we MUST win.I feel we could have tried this against the weaker WI side. It still riles me that we're likely to have lost 2 of 4 series (since becoming nr 1) and not even tried our best formation once.

  • on August 19, 2012, 8:50 GMT

    hypocrisy at it's finest.when India were ranked #1 all we heard was how they didn't deserve it and how their batsman were flat pitch bullies. what exactly is the england team? Their bowlers are bullies at home and they look really bad in the subcontinent. SA on the other hand are much better with a very balanced side and their bowlers have proved their worth throughout the world go SA!!

  • on August 19, 2012, 8:47 GMT

    A top Test side bats the opposition out of the game. India did this many times at home especially. Australia did this with the top six and then the Gilchrist blast. England rarely did this under Vaughan and not nearly enough in the Strauss era. When we do, as we did against India last year and Australia in the last Ashes, it demoralises the opposition. This year we haven't done it. Our bowlers have consistently delivered and at times dug us out of huge holes (I think of the last Kiwi trip as a prime example). Now we have a major middle order shift going on with Pietersen, if the reports in the tabloids are true, seemingly gone, young players like Taylor and Bairstow feeling their way, and the continued puzzle that is Ian Bell as our engine room. South Africa currently would be my pick for the best Test side because they do have that ability to bat sides out of the game with the like of Smith, Amla, and Kallis especially grinding people down.

  • jmcilhinney on August 19, 2012, 5:51 GMT

    @Peterincanada on (August 19 2012, 03:00 AM GMT), agreed. It's really only those who tried to read too much into England's successes that are now wailing over their failures. They're a good team and will probably remain around the top of the rankings for some time but will not likely be able to hold the top spot for long at any particular time, as I don't expect anyone else too either. Some are trying to overstate SA's credentials too though. They have only dominated this series for 4 days in the first Test so far, with the rest having been fairly even. That 4 days may well be enough though, and good on them if it is, but some people are talking like it's been that way all series. Still, this is England's home turf so they should have done better. Not exactly confident of better than a drawn series in India.

  • abhitupe on August 19, 2012, 5:28 GMT

    what about the claims of invincibles as soon as they notched the no. 1 ranking. There slide started as soon as they got it. Whatever Mr. Dobell wants to say fact remains that they are pathetic side in sub-continent which will be proven again when they travel to India. Though, they might be lucky again that Rahul and VVS have retired, still they will loose. This will show them their real place, like India was not the greatest side, even england was not. One Ashes in aus and every one went mad, because it came after a long time. Fact is, SA will take firm control, england are good side than what they were in early 2000s. The way they have sidelined KP with their hypocrissy is just crazy, if they remain adamant, soon you will see the shine going from this side as well. Everybody is ga-ga with Bairstow, but it is just one innings. remember his ODI debut against Ind, then failed miserably in the away series against Indians. The point is KP should be back. Mr. Dobell nice try.

  • IndianInnerEdge on August 19, 2012, 5:23 GMT

    What an engrossing test match to have, for this decider.Whatever the result, Eng will bea fab side withsome serious skills, as farasthe No1 drama&all the hooplah about 'building legacy,fortness england, etc' was typicalenglish media codswoddle. Eng are good but not gr8, Definately not inthe class of WI of the 90's or some Aus teams of the 2000's. Seconclytheirupsurge has co-incided with the down surge of some other teams.Whatis amazing is the way Eng&its media/fans are writing off Engbefore even theindia series has begun.Also the number of fellow posters predictingtheresult as an 'Ind-wash'. India simply does not have the attack to take 20 wickets.All in all, I forsee theNo 1 ranking to change hands every6months forthenext few years, withnot one single team dominating, this will make for interesting viewing&following. I also wish that we bloggers enjoy this ride by posting in good spirits, discussing the game we love, being openminded & not aggressively attacking each other's opinion!

  • on August 19, 2012, 3:47 GMT

    england always was nd always be an over-rated side...a team having players more from other countries than the own country itself tells a story about english cricket...at the present moment south africa look the best side in any condition though they are not invincibles...morever the no.1 rank for england is a farce...loosing 3-0 to pakistan n then following a loss to a nothing sri lankan team which has no good bowlers xcept herath tells u the story...its high time a worthy team is made the world no.1...go SA

  • aditya.k on August 19, 2012, 3:36 GMT

    That "England are a decent side who, over the last few years, have played some impressive cricket", my only question to you all is -- why were India criticized for the same doings when they were at #1? It is true that last year they played crappy cricket but why were the same columnists hard at them before that? Or was that again something to do with IPL?

  • phoenixsteve on August 19, 2012, 3:07 GMT

    My God George we agree so much! A very well written and balanced article. IF England manage to win tis one I hope that all the anti-England brigade will shut up! As much as I like to though...... I don't see England winning this test? Maybe they will dimiss SA for 250 ish and knock off he runs by Tuesday teatime? Could..... happen. Realistically - as a 40+ year supporter of England- I don't see it though? Tomorrrow may set up the match and consequently the series. Finn will need an inspired session and SA will have to do what they are famous for! I expect SA to win but I'm hopeful for an England rally? We'll soon see and may the best team win..... COME ON ENGLAND!!!

  • RednWhiteArmy on August 19, 2012, 3:01 GMT

    Whatever anyone says, the fact remains...everyone, & i mean everyone wants to watch England play.

  • Peterincanada on August 19, 2012, 3:00 GMT

    The jury is no longer out. The verdict has been reached. England are good but not great. Whether England win or lose this match will make no real difference. Similarly, S.A. are also good but not great. Greatness was the Invicibles, the LLoyd/Richards Windies and Taylor/Waugh/Ponting Aussies. These two sides while good have not shown that something extra that makes greatness.

  • wrenx on August 19, 2012, 2:30 GMT

    How strange that all we heard one year ago was "building a legacy", being a "special" side, "daddy hundreds", "dominating the opposition", and somehow the criteria of success has been quietly redefined as doing everything and anything possible to hold onto a statistical anomaly by their fingertips, as if this proves something meaningful about an overrated side

  • MrMankad on August 19, 2012, 1:50 GMT

    This England side is the most over-rated side in recent memory. That's not their fault but the fault of the media (mainly English). They've ascended to the number one ranking on the back of thumping mediocre sides on home turf. 4 back-to-back losses in the subcontinent (against an inexperienced Pakistan side and a toothless Srilanka sans Murali) is not a minor aberration. Its a crushing failure. The writings been on the wall for a while. It will be even clearer when they tour India (especially if they are without Pietersen).

    Winning this test wouldn't redeem them, they'd have been lucky to avoid a series defeat and manage to secure 1-1, which for me still makes SA the better side (given that they don't have home advantage).

  • amitgarg78 on August 19, 2012, 1:21 GMT

    While the logic used is definitely flawed, the crux is an accurate description of the progress made by the English team in last few years. They have improved and it coincides with the decline in a few others countries. This makes their success look better than it probably is, not in terms of results, but as an indicator of their progress. still fragile against quality spin though...

  • heathrf1974 on August 19, 2012, 0:10 GMT

    I'm an Aussie, but if England lose this series they still hold the Ashes.

  • _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on August 18, 2012, 22:53 GMT

    The article makes it seem as if SA didn't drop catches, didn't bowl bad in periods and Alviro's, Kallis' Smith's, Duminy's and Morkel's first innings dismissals were off of good balls and not poor shots. Smith's n Duminy's dismissals were ugly! I think Eng played ALMOST/75% as well as they ever had.

  • the_blue_android on August 18, 2012, 22:13 GMT

    I didn't realize an 8 month period can be termed an 'ERA'. As usual, English media and the exercise in hyperbole.

  • AnthonyNo1 on August 18, 2012, 22:11 GMT

    100% right - the KP issue should never have been allowed the impact the team.

    The ECB need work out what do about the Indian Premier League because the money will always attract our top players - and this is the cause of the issues with KP, the team and the ECB.

  • crindo77 on August 18, 2012, 21:17 GMT

    Got it. England were pretty bad for a long time at the game they invented, then had 3 years of success after say, 100 years, which ended last winter. But why make such a big deal about it? Teams rise and fall; but to wax eloquent about dreams of cricketing dynasties without introspection, and then write possibly premature eulogies is childish. And denial don't help either; like Stuart Broad insisting in his recent interview, that India were a very strong team last summer, with an opener who had played 3 tests before Lord's, spates of injuries and the wicketkeeper running in to bowl before lunch. All the signs of a team fully prepared. Or that getting hit for 6 sixes didn't matter as England were already out of the contest. Getting all defensive only draws attention to shortcomings. So Mr Dobell, I beg to differ. Don't sell English cricket so short; and on the other hand, premature rejoicing is just as bad. End of the day, its a game only 10 nations play internationally. So chill.

  • on August 18, 2012, 21:00 GMT

    Brilliant balanced article.

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  • on August 18, 2012, 21:00 GMT

    Brilliant balanced article.

  • crindo77 on August 18, 2012, 21:17 GMT

    Got it. England were pretty bad for a long time at the game they invented, then had 3 years of success after say, 100 years, which ended last winter. But why make such a big deal about it? Teams rise and fall; but to wax eloquent about dreams of cricketing dynasties without introspection, and then write possibly premature eulogies is childish. And denial don't help either; like Stuart Broad insisting in his recent interview, that India were a very strong team last summer, with an opener who had played 3 tests before Lord's, spates of injuries and the wicketkeeper running in to bowl before lunch. All the signs of a team fully prepared. Or that getting hit for 6 sixes didn't matter as England were already out of the contest. Getting all defensive only draws attention to shortcomings. So Mr Dobell, I beg to differ. Don't sell English cricket so short; and on the other hand, premature rejoicing is just as bad. End of the day, its a game only 10 nations play internationally. So chill.

  • AnthonyNo1 on August 18, 2012, 22:11 GMT

    100% right - the KP issue should never have been allowed the impact the team.

    The ECB need work out what do about the Indian Premier League because the money will always attract our top players - and this is the cause of the issues with KP, the team and the ECB.

  • the_blue_android on August 18, 2012, 22:13 GMT

    I didn't realize an 8 month period can be termed an 'ERA'. As usual, English media and the exercise in hyperbole.

  • _NEUTRAL_Fan_ on August 18, 2012, 22:53 GMT

    The article makes it seem as if SA didn't drop catches, didn't bowl bad in periods and Alviro's, Kallis' Smith's, Duminy's and Morkel's first innings dismissals were off of good balls and not poor shots. Smith's n Duminy's dismissals were ugly! I think Eng played ALMOST/75% as well as they ever had.

  • heathrf1974 on August 19, 2012, 0:10 GMT

    I'm an Aussie, but if England lose this series they still hold the Ashes.

  • amitgarg78 on August 19, 2012, 1:21 GMT

    While the logic used is definitely flawed, the crux is an accurate description of the progress made by the English team in last few years. They have improved and it coincides with the decline in a few others countries. This makes their success look better than it probably is, not in terms of results, but as an indicator of their progress. still fragile against quality spin though...

  • MrMankad on August 19, 2012, 1:50 GMT

    This England side is the most over-rated side in recent memory. That's not their fault but the fault of the media (mainly English). They've ascended to the number one ranking on the back of thumping mediocre sides on home turf. 4 back-to-back losses in the subcontinent (against an inexperienced Pakistan side and a toothless Srilanka sans Murali) is not a minor aberration. Its a crushing failure. The writings been on the wall for a while. It will be even clearer when they tour India (especially if they are without Pietersen).

    Winning this test wouldn't redeem them, they'd have been lucky to avoid a series defeat and manage to secure 1-1, which for me still makes SA the better side (given that they don't have home advantage).

  • wrenx on August 19, 2012, 2:30 GMT

    How strange that all we heard one year ago was "building a legacy", being a "special" side, "daddy hundreds", "dominating the opposition", and somehow the criteria of success has been quietly redefined as doing everything and anything possible to hold onto a statistical anomaly by their fingertips, as if this proves something meaningful about an overrated side

  • Peterincanada on August 19, 2012, 3:00 GMT

    The jury is no longer out. The verdict has been reached. England are good but not great. Whether England win or lose this match will make no real difference. Similarly, S.A. are also good but not great. Greatness was the Invicibles, the LLoyd/Richards Windies and Taylor/Waugh/Ponting Aussies. These two sides while good have not shown that something extra that makes greatness.