England v South Africa, 2nd NatWest ODI, West End August 28, 2012

England continue to self-harm

Dropped catches, missed run-outs and cheap dismissals - England are currently only No. 1 at hurting themselves

Like a sprinter running with an anvil in their pocket, England made life unnecessarily hard for themselves in the second ODI against South Africa.

As if winning was not hard enough against a team that are now rated No. 1 in all three formats of the game - the first time any side as achieved such dominance - England made it considerably harder with a display so full of self-inflicted injuries that all scissors and sharp objects should be removed from the dressing room immediately.

If England learn one thing from the summer of 2012, it will surely be that they cannot be so generous towards Hashim Amla. For all his elegance, class and range of strokes, Amla has been helped by some remarkably profligate cricket from England throughout this tour. He was, after all, dropped during the Oval Test before he had reached 50 on his way to a match-winning triple-century, and at Lord's before he had made 10 on his way to a match-winning century. He is too good to be allowed to bat twice every innings.

Here Amla might have been run out for 1 had Samit Patel picked up and thrown cleanly. He might have been given out lbw for 37 had England utilised the DRS. He might have been caught on 42 - a simple chance - and on 92 - a far more difficult one - had Craig Kieswetter performed better with the gloves. Give Amla four or five lives and he will thrash any side.

With Matt Prior and Jonny Bairstow pressing hard for his position, Kieswetter could ill-afford such a poor performance. It extended beyond his catching, too, as England also squandered an opportunity to utilise the DRS. Reviews showed that Amla would have given out had England called for a review from a delivery from Samit Patel that pitched in-line and would have hit the stumps. When they did utilise their one review, against JP Duminy, the ball had pitched well outside leg stump. It has to be Kieswetter's judgement, as much as the bowler's or the captain's, at fault in such situations. He is the one man in the perfect position to make an informed decision and, in this game at least, he failed to do so.

Perhaps England's biggest self-inflicted injury came in their selection of the squad. England's best player, in the form of his life, was absent. Not just absent, but absent making 163 runs on a pitch on which none of his Surrey team-mates could pass 34. Kevin Pietersen may be belligerent, egocentric and infuriating, but he is England's best player in all formats and they could have done with him in Southampton.

Pietersen has apologised for his transgressions, he has made himself available and he would, on merit, walk into the England side. The ECB, through their intransigence and unforgiving attitude, are in danger of damaging the English game just as much as the player. England may console themselves with the thought that current team is united and will stick together. But so do lemmings and sheep. Unity is not, in all circumstances, such an overwhelmingly positive characteristic.

There were other opportunities. Had Alastair Cook's throw been better, Dean Elgar might have been run out on 12. Had James Anderson's throw been better, Amla might have been run out on 62 and had Kieswetter not behaved like a man with an allergy to cricket balls, AB de Villiers might have been caught off Tim Bresnan for 1. But England's fielding, so impressive won they won the Ashes and the World Twenty20, has become consistently fallible of late. Worryingly, they appear to have few answers as to why that might be.

"It's so frustrating," Cook, England's ODI captain, said afterwards. "You watch us practise - we practise incredibly hard - and no chances go down. Nothing has changed in the last two years in terms of what we do in our fielding practises but, in the last month-and-a-half we've started to drop very good players. And very good players punish us. If you want to compete with the best, you can't do that and Amla has made us pay again."

"It's more frustrating when you set high standards and you don't come anywhere near that. We didn't play very well"
England captain Alastair Cook

Cook was admirably frank in his assessment of his side's performance. He accepted that they had underperformed in all areas and, though he admitted the batsmen had been forced to chase a total some way above par on a slow, low pitch offering substantial assistance to spin bowlers, he picked out the batsmen for fault after some "soft dismissals". Ravi Bopara and Eoin Morgan, who both slapped long-hops to fielders, and Kieswetter, who played horribly across the turning ball in a manner that bodes ill for his chances on the subcontinent, were particularly culpable.

"You can blame the soft dismissals with the bat, and we were sloppy in the field," Cook said. "We bowled well for some of it and for some of it we didn't. So you can say all of those things. It's almost more frustrating when you set high standards and you don't come anywhere near that. It was not one of our best days. We didn't play very well. If you're going to chase 280, someone in the top four or five needs to get a hundred. Twenties and forties aren't going to win you the game."

Losing against a side as good as South Africa is no disgrace. Until this match, England had won their last ten completed ODIs and were top of the ICC rankings. That run of success was bound to came to halt at some stage and most dispassionate observers always accepted that their No. 1 ODI status flattered them a little. England are also only 1-0 down in the series with three games to play.

"This result doesn't change anything," Cook said. "It's frustrating. It's annoying as a captain and all the players will be hurting. But you don't throw everything out of the window because of one bad performance. It was a surprise when we got the No. 1 status and today just shows how much work we still have to do."

Cook knows, however, that this game featured a catalogue of errors - with the bat, with the ball but most of all in the field - that will undermine any opportunity to gain a foothold in this series. England's biggest challenge is to cut out the self-inflicted injuries that have become worryingly ubiquitous of late.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • V.L on August 30, 2012, 2:53 GMT

    @RandyOZ If that is the case then what should Aus be demoted to(For losing 4 oout of their last 6 games in India including a clean sweep). They are also knocked out of the worldcup by an associate side!

  • Steve on August 29, 2012, 21:51 GMT

    Whilst i agree a lot with George Dobells assessment. I do feel that he's being a little hard on Kieswetter. He probably shouldn't be in the side but he had an OK game - the dropped catches being unfortunate! More of an issue for me is the batting 'Engine room; and it was very sad to see Cook bowled by a straight ball? Will this run of poor form be the hallamrk of his captaincy - in both tests and ODIs? I hope not because unless the openers can get good starts England are always going to struggle. Swan is out of the picture now and I'd like to see Cook, Trott, Broad 'rested' and Bresnan given a big 'thank you' and told never to darken these doors again! I guess you could wheel him out against the really weak times like Bangladesh and Australia. We have to play guys in form, guys with specialist skills if we expect to compete with the best! Bring back KP too please... you know it makes sense! COME ON ENGLAND!!!

  • Akshita on August 29, 2012, 20:10 GMT

    I am an Indian and a die hard fan of Kp not because of his IPL performance but some of his outstanding test innings like one in Ashesh 2005 , One in colombo this winter and one in last the Series . Plz ECB bring him for the sake of interest of many fans like me who just want to enjoy Kp batting at full flow . How can anyone forget the way he played some unbelievable strokes against the spin of warne the same bowler who took 40(from memory) wickets in the series. Just give the man one more chance . Don't push him away to Ipl and Big bash etc .

  • Prashant on August 29, 2012, 17:22 GMT

    This is juicy. I must thank the Saffers. Also, request them to please try and win 4-0. And then we will have a demoralized English side, with a new Test captain and the one stellar player missing, visiting India. Not that any of these +bonuses make a difference to the final result: they are going to get thrashed anyway, but they will help achieve bigger victory margins! 4 innings victories is any day better than 4 victories :)

  • Dummy4 on August 29, 2012, 16:51 GMT

    Hi yoohoo: it's funny when English fans are attacked for already 'wanting KP back' ... especially when the basis of so many SA fans criticising England for having KP in the team is that THEY want him back! Anyone who likes entertaining cricket wants him back ...

  • uthaman on August 29, 2012, 15:30 GMT

    Excuses, excuses more excuses. Why don't you admit your team is not on the same planet as SA is. They are in a completely different league in all 3 departments.

  • moginraj on August 29, 2012, 15:20 GMT

    im not surprised by this article... instead of looking at the real prob, he's talking about ifs and buts... if u look at it from the SA side, there are many dropped catches, attrocious DRS decisions, missed chances etc.... it seems more like he's trying to say ENG would have beaten SA comprehensively if only for those missed chances.. c'mon, give SA credit, they are def the better side regardless!!! the truth is bitter...

  • uthaman on August 29, 2012, 14:45 GMT

    Weren't you the one who wrote this team is as good as the 80s WI and 2000s OZ lol. Couldn't even hold no.1 ranking for an year.

  • anil on August 29, 2012, 14:43 GMT

    Dobell, ECB could have let KP in but Strauss and that moron Andy Flower have ruined it. You cannot have a cricket board run on the whims and fancies of an average coach. Andy is not Gary and Strauss is not MSD to take England to Lofty heights. England cannot survive without KP and to survive they have to kill the ego of their foolish coach and ex-captain. So simply put, without KP even if Amla scores a zero, England would capitulate fpr 50 runs.

  • ABHIJIT on August 29, 2012, 12:00 GMT

    Seriously without KP in the team, the team looks totally clueless. KP should be in the team. England became a strong force in Cricket in recent years largely because of KP and Flintoff. Otherwise when Botham retired after 1992 WC, England ODI performance has gone down. From the commencement of WC ODI since 1975 till 1992 they reached semi-final of each WC. But after that they could not able to equate there performance with the talent they had.

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