England v South Africa, 2nd npower Test, Headingley, 4th day July 21, 2008

No miracles from fragmented England

Today marked the 27th anniversary of England completing the most famous turnaround in Test history on this ground, as Bob Willis followed Ian Botham's heroics against Australia in 1981. Suffice to say, the 2008 England vintage never threatened to pull off


Michael Vaughan laid the blame for England's defeat at the feet of their batsman © Getty Images
 
Today marked the 27th anniversary of England completing the most famous turnaround in Test history on this ground, as Bob Willis followed Ian Botham's heroics against Australia in 1981. Suffice to say, the 2008 England vintage never threatened to pull off anything so remarkable.

They were outplayed from start to finish and, despite the return of England's biggest draw-card since Botham, Andrew Flintoff, this was never a performance to suggest a side capable of such miracles. Right from the build-up to this game, a side that had been the model of consistency for six matches was in disarray. There was the muddled thinking of promoting Tim Ambrose to No. 6, followed by the shock selection of Darren Pattinson when Ryan Sidebottom pulled out.

"Friday morning unsettled the team," said Michael Vaughan. "You change the team by two players and move others out of position, plus leave a player like Paul Collingwood out, who is a huge player, of course it has an effect. We should still have been better. We were in a decent position then played a bit like millionaires. It does look a confused selection, but the selection of one person doesn't lose you a Test. We lost because we didn't play well enough, complete fact.

"We didn't feel as much of a unit this week as we did before. I always have a huge belief in being a unit. For some reason we didn't have that. Two changes doesn't help, but over the next week it's important the guys go away and work, come back to the squad on Sunday and react like we did at Lord's. Get that feeling and buzz back, which wasn't there this week."

Vaughan admitted before the toss that he knew very little about Pattinson. He was part of a large club with that, but was quick to jump to the defence of his new mate who ended with two wickets and, perhaps quite fittingly, bowled the final ball of the match. He may never get another chance, but the issues that people had were never with the man himself, rather the selection policy.

"Darren has been given a lot of criticism. It's not his fault," said Vaughan. "He got selected and tried his guts out. At times he bowled some good spells and I felt a bit sorry for him because he'd not been in the set-up and didn't know anyone, and we didn't know him. Whether it affected the other players, I haven't heard that it did, but the way we played we didn't play as that unit."

The uncertainty off the field manifested itself on the field. The batting in the first innings was irresponsible, the bowling lacked bite and their attempt to save the game showed very little of the fight South Africa produced at Lord's. Admittedly, the pitch last week was an absolute featherbed, but you could count on one hand the number of wafts the South Africa batsmen played in the second innings, let alone ones that actually resulted in dismissals.

But here, needing to produced their own two-day batting marathon, five of England's top order fell to loose dismissals. Kevin Pietersen pushed at a decent ball, but he could have left it; Ian Bell failed to keep his cut-shot down (although AB de Villiers did a fine Superman impression); Alastair Cook flicked a lazy leading edge; Tim Ambrose slashed at a wide; and Andrew Flintoff prodded to second slip. However, the match was really lost on the first day when England appeared to be spooked by the belief that conditions were tougher than they were.

"It was a decent toss to win, but still it didn't do as much as I thought it would on the first morning," said Vaughan. "We are a better batting unit than 203, I think 300-350 would have kept us in the game. Full credit to South Africa, they batted like you can on at Headingley and we really struggled to get them out. We beat the bat on occasions, but never really put them under pressure."

Vaughan has been in this position before, facing tough questions with his team 1-0 down. Most recently it happened in New Zealand, following the embarrassing defeat in Hamilton which result in the exclusion of Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison. The challenge facing him now, though, is far greater. South Africa are formidable opponents, and it's almost as if the first three days at Lord's were part of a great master plan to lull England into a false sense of security.

"My goal for next week at Edgbaston is that on the first morning we are very focussed and prepared. We know we can play positive cricket and if we do that we can still win the series, but we have to improve." Despite being on home soil this has been a week Vaughan would probably rather forget.

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer at Cricinfo