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ESPNcricinfo takes a look at the players England used during the series and many did not live up to their billing
August 21, 2012
Features : Few weak links as seniors stand tall
Sambit Bal : South Africa relentless and ruthless
Players/Officials: James Anderson | Jonny Bairstow | Ian Bell | Ravi Bopara | Tim Bresnan | Stuart Broad | Alastair Cook | Steven Finn | Kevin Pietersen | Matt Prior | Andrew Strauss | Graeme Swann | James Taylor | Jonathan Trott
Series/Tournaments: South Africa tour of England
The deserved winner of England's Man of the Series. Prior kept well - he pulled off a couple of wonderful catches; not least the diving effort in front of first slip to dismiss Morkel at Lord's - and, despite batting at No.7, scored more runs in the series than any of his teammates. Typically selfless, he showed an ability to farm the strike or counterattack when required and generally looked as confident against South Africa's pace attack as any of his colleagues. The one blot on his record was the failure to cling on to a tough chance down the leg side offered by Hashim Amla at Lord's. Prior reckons it was his first drop standing back for two years.
A heartening return. Coming into the Lord's Test under some pressure - as a replacement for Pietersen and with his ability against short-pitched bowling in question - Bairstow answered just about every question put to him in impressive style. He scored contrasting half-centuries in each innings. The first time he came in with his side in some trouble and rebuilt the innings; the second time he provided impetus to a mis-firing run chase and might, with another hour at the crease, have pulled-off an unlikely victory. One game is too brief a window to make any long term judgements on Bairstow, but he looks to have the talent and temperament to enjoy a long career at the top level.
Whatever his faults and foibles, the one time in the series that the South Africa attack looked rattled was when Pietersen took the attack to them at Leeds. His first innings century was, by any standards, magnificent and he followed it with as many wickets in the match as Graeme Swann managed in the series. Sadly with Pietersen, his greatness as a batsman comes with some baggage and he sullied the memory of his great innings with a self-indulgent performance in the post-match press conference and some arrogant and divisive behaviour off the pitch.
A bland performance at Headingley was followed by an excellent one at Lord's where, in the second innings, he produced a spell of fast bowling that might have swung the match England's way. Noticeably quicker than the rest of the England attack, Finn found life in the pitch that others could not and, notably, dismissed Amla and Jacques Kallis in both innings. Having not been able to force his way in at The Oval, his rivals will find it hard to displace him now.
A frustrating series. Trott often looked in decent form and finished with a somewhat flattering average of 43.40. Perhaps we have come to expect too much of Trott, but but he never supplied the match-defining innings England required and often got himself out with uncharacteristically loose strokes. While Vernon Philander never dismissed him and Morkel Morkel managed it only once, he was dismissed by Dale Steyn four times in the series. His involvement in two run outs - Prior at Leeds and James Taylor at Lord's - also counts against him.
This series presented too small a sample size to make much of a judgement about Taylor's future at this level. He impressed with his courage and application on debut at Headingley, where he helped Pietersen add 147 for the fifth-wicket, and was largely innocent of blame when run-out in the second innings at Lord's. While he was unable to provide a match-defining contribution, he did not look out of his depth, either, and will not have done his future chances of selection any harm.
A series of diminishing returns. Cook started with a century at The Oval, but then suffered three scores under 10 and failed to pass 50 as he struggled to deal with the swing of Philander and Steyn and fell to them three times each. His first innings dismissal at Lord's - flashing at a wide one - was most unlike him and suggested judgement clouded by uncertainty. His dropping of Alviro Petersen at Leeds also renewed doubts about Cook's suitability to fill a catching role.
The figures are not good - his wickets cost more than 40 apiece - but Anderson was not helped by some awful slip catching and some excellent South African batting. He was the one England bowler who threatened and demanded respect throughout the series, though his reduced pace seems to have reduced his effectiveness and, when the ball does not swing, he loses much of his threat. His own catching, usually so reliable, was poor.
The bowling figures are ugly - a series bowling average of 77 is hideous, even - but Swann's main misfortune in this series was to come up against a batsman as good as Amla. The pitch at the Oval, in particular, offered Swann little and a couple of dropped chances did him few favours. He batted well - and selflessly - particularly at Lord's and showed through his absence at Leeds that he remains a valuable part of the England team.
Bell escaped beneath the radar for much of the series simply because others fared worse, but there is no escaping the fact that a return of 144 runs with a top score of 58 is disappointing for one of whom so much was expected. There were times when Bell played South Africa's excellent bowling attack as well as anyone, but at no stage in the series did he play an innings that shaped a game. Great batsmen are judged by their performances in the biggest games and against the best players. Bell, by that yardstick, now aged 30 and a veteran of 80 Tests, seems destined to be remembered as good, but not great.
One good spell at Headingley could not mask the fact that this was a bitterly disappointing series from Broad. Lacking in pace, hostility and movement, Broad was reduced to the role of stock medium-pacer for much of the time which, after a year of stead improvement, marked a sharp retrograde step. He did show a glimpse of what was possible with one inspired spell in the second Test - anyone who can bounce out Kallis must still have the ability to bowl a quick ball - but with bat, ball and in the field, Broad failed to live up to his ability.
Bopara's one Test of the series featured two far from pretty dismissals and would have done nothing to dissuade those who think he lacks the technique or temperament for this level. In the first innings he was caught in two minds by a bouncer and in the second, as England fought to save the Test, he played-on attempting a forcing stroke. He pulled out of the remaining Tests due to personal reasons and may well have slipped back behind several others in the pecking order.
A chastening series that raises fresh questions about his future. Quite apart from dropping Amla before he had reached 50 at the Oval, Strauss never looked comfortable with the bat - he averaged just 17.83 and never made more than 37 - and, with little foot movement and even less confidence, appeared some way short of the required standard of Test opener. It meant he had enjoyed only one really good series with the bat in his last six. He made some odd captaincy decisions, too: the leg side bowling approach to Graeme Smith brought limited returns, while the decision to drop Swann for Leeds was a major blunder. Most of all, though, Strauss seemed jaded and unsettled by the Pietersen affair and admitted at the end of the series that he had some thinking to do before making any long term decisions about his future.
After just two wickets in two Tests, Brenan was dropped for Lord's. He has never quite recaptured the nip he had against India and Australia and there were growing concerns that the elbow operation he underwent in December had robbed him of a crucial few mph. He struggled to make any impact with the bat, too, and may struggle to break back into the side ahead of Finn, Onions and co.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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