Mark Nicholas
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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel 9's cricket coverage

Once flawless, England now oddly insecure

How hard will it be for them to get the wheels back on, Pietersen and all?

Mark Nicholas

August 10, 2012

Comments: 69 | Text size: A | A

Kevin Pietersen fell to the second ball of day four, England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 4th day, August 5, 2012
A player who divides opinion can be part of a team that's winning; it's different in a losing side © AFP
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Lucky to work on the Olympic Games in London, this writer missed (the first such instance at home since 1995) the recent Leeds Test match between England and South Africa. I had hoped the view from afar would be as rewarding as the one from the boundary. But no, nothing beats being there. For all the brilliance of the many modern media platforms, live sport is still the greatest thrill.

Thus, damn it, I missed KP's epic - though this disappointment was tempered by a weekend that included Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Usain Bolt. How spoilt us journalists are, and in the best seats too. The roar in the Olympic Stadium as Farah attacked the final 200 of his 10,000 metre triumph was off the chart, something only matched in my lifetime for its dramatic content by Ian Botham's five-wicket heist at Edgbaston in 1981, England's wins at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge in 2005, the semi-final penalty shoot-out against the Germans at Wembley in 1996, and Jonny Wilkinson's drop goal to win the World Cup in Sydney in 2003. Nick Faldo's 1995 Ryder Cup putt against Curtis Strange at Oak Hill Country Club comes close but Faldo was holing out for Europe not Great Britain, and there is a difference in the collective identity of the achievement. To emphasise this, think of MS Dhoni's jaw-dropping strike to win the World Cup in Mumbai last year and imagine the response, not just in the stadium, but India-wide.

The true appeal of sport lies in its unpredictability. Moments of perfection are mixed freely with the theatre of the absurd. For the overwhelming excitement provided by Farah - and equally by Ennis moments before him - there are myriad examples of tortured failure. Britain is waving its flag right now but the days of despair are not so distant.

This thought occurred to me watching bits and pieces of England's performance at Headingley. A year ago flawless, and now oddly insecure, the team struggled to impose itself. Selection reveals much of this insecurity - not just to those on the outside, who have time to reflect and then judge, but most relevantly to those on the inside, who feel the tension of decisions taken around them. There is no logic to playing a five-day game of cricket without a spin bowler, particularly one so good as Graeme Swann. The South Africans would have fed from it as further evidence of the panic caused by the heavy beating they inflicted on England at The Oval.

England's players would have reacted with equal fascination, but rather than feed from it, would have found themselves with gritted teeth, fearful of swallowing the facts and willing the upside - i.e. win the toss; make use of the four specialist seamers by bowling first; yikes, we had better hold on to our catches; if we don't knock 'em over today, the chance of winning the series will have gone, etc.

 
 
By Flower's admission, England went to the UAE last winter underprepared. Not by much but by enough for an eager opponent to bite their backsides off. If you ask him in a few months' time, he might admit that they got it wrong at Headingley too
 

England's selectors, completely out of character, had chosen to twist. The message was confused: "Hasn't anyone told you, the house will always win?" Then the players will have looked up to the clear sky and thought, "Whoops, shouldn't we be batting?" (There is this cricket saying at some grounds in the world, and Headingley is first amongst them: "Look up not down." Which means make your choices based on the weather, the cloud cover or otherwise, not on the pitch.) The rub is that you could not meet two more measured men than Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower. If together even they can come up with such a howler, be assured the team can follow suit.

Such are the minutiae of sport. A choice here, a decision there; an injury here, a misfire there, and suddenly the wheels are off. By Flower's admission, England went to the UAE last winter underprepared. Not by much but by enough for an eager opponent to bite their backsides off. If you ask him in a few months' time, he might admit that they got it wrong at Headingley too. Of course, the real point here is how hard it becomes to get those wheels back on. Which brings us to Kevin Pietersen.

A divisive player - if that is what he is, and it is a hard call - can be part of a winning team without much ado. But for such a player to be a part of a team that has its back to the wall is another issue altogether. This needs both parties to come together, to see the shared flaws in their approach to one another and to establish whether they want/need each other enough to make sacrifices. Good teams are built on sacrifices, which take various forms but are mainly about acceptance, integration, discipline and respect. Not quite all for one, one for all - that is a paragon born of unlikely idealism - but something that ebbs and flows out of consideration for each detail that then leads to the desired effect.

The audience takes these things for granted, often forgetting that the characters we watch, and from whom we expect so much, are brittle. For all his bravado, Pietersen is brittle. Observe his press conference on these pages and for the quote "It's not easy being me in this team" read "Help, I'm brittle, I can break, I'm lost, sometimes lonely, but I can bat like no other and that's enough, isn't it… isn't it?" Well, is it? That is the question put before those who manage the England team. Is this one player's high maintenance worth it?

From afar, from the Olympic Park, where on a small television screen Pietersen's strokeplay captured the imagination every bit as much as Bolt's sprint and Farah's chase, the answer would be an unequivocal yes. Up close, where the detail is in your face, the answer may be less certain. What a terrible waste if the answer were to become no, a waste both parties would ultimately regret.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

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

@Mark Nicholas... Wow - going from "Fortess England" to "England now oddly insecure" within a few Test matches... Really know how to write (cough, choke, splutter)... The reality is that Eng haven't come up against a decent bowling attack for years, up until the Pak UAE Tests - now they have come up against a team with good allround skills in all departments.... Work it out for yourself...

Posted by foursandsixes on (August 12, 2012, 13:50 GMT)

"Flawless" is laughable indeed! Their only advantage is that visiting teams (esp. subcontinent) are not used to playing in cold, damp, and overcast conditions. Take that away and they are average.

Posted by   on (August 12, 2012, 11:06 GMT)

"How spoilt us journalists are..." That should read, "How spoilt WE journalists are...", Mark. Tut-tut-tut.

Posted by RodStark on (August 11, 2012, 16:35 GMT)

"Flawless" is a ridiculous exaggeration, but England were for a while the best of a rather mediocre bunch. Beating Australia in Australia over 5 tests is not bad, even if Australia were having their own problems at the time. And no matter how awful India were last year, England could not have beaten them much more convincingly than they did. Teams like the old WI and Australia were the exception rather than the rule. I don't know why everyone seems unwilling to accept a team as "number one" unless they achieve that level of dominance; more likely, the rankngs will see a number of teams move in and out of that position over the next few years--and to me that's a lot more interesting. Also, from what I recall, most of the nonsense about the team being "flawless" or "invincible" has come from journalists and others outside the team rather than the team itself.

Posted by applethief on (August 11, 2012, 16:32 GMT)

@ davidpk Many thanks, I was just after some examples where England were under pressure and managed to find a win, instead of either crumbling or being in situations where it was simply dominating another side. I think it's useful to know how a side performs under match pressure instead of just see-sawing

Posted by jackiethepen on (August 11, 2012, 12:42 GMT)

I'm amazed at the criticism of the England team as 6 Tavares when South Africa have barely been batting at more than 2 an over to set up their innings. That slow run rate is just the ticket if you are trying to save a game. Fair enough. But South Africa have been batting that cautiously in their first innings. Not exactly speed merchants then! As for KP, nobody is getting rid of him. He is getting rid of himself by unacceptable behaviour if the latest saga of the texts to his IPL mates is verified. During the Headingley Test he is supposed to have sent texts critical of his captain, his coach and his team mates. Which side is he on?

Posted by Soso_killer on (August 11, 2012, 10:35 GMT)

As a South African fan i must say i'm dissapointed by the logic england were lucky to be no.1 (yes their media was over the top about it, and got carried away with the comparison of Australia and West Indies of the past), they derseved to be no.1 based on their consistency in their home conditions. What about us we couldn't manage to a test series win at home, were we 'unlucky'? Please, yes we are the best travellers currently, but we should 1st build a fotress at home and then conquer the world. On paper South Africa are the best in the world, matches are not won on paper are they? If we don't win the series (i.e. Lose at lords) then we don't derseve to be no.1 period. We have outplayed England but the series aint over england could still get a draw. South Africa need to show their mettle, until they do.... well....

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

England this England that, Kevin Pietersen this Kevin Pietersen that, Graeme Swann this Graeme Swann that. When do you put your hand up an say wow the opposition have been brilliant. Without sounding arrogant 'coz we not renowned for that but i hope south africa wins at lords and take 2-0 series win (forget about the rankings they'll take of itself). Maybe then South Africa will get the recognition and accolades they deserve.

Posted by Soso_killer on (August 11, 2012, 9:56 GMT)

This article is dissapointing just like all the articles i've read post the 2nd test match. Not 1 article is dedicated to South Africa on how they have comprehensively outplayed england. And if it was not for KP we would be 2-0 up. Same thing happened in 2003 Makhaya Ntini took 10 wickets at Lords in a winning cause, Andrew Flintoff got a 100 in a losing cause. Guess who got the headlines? Thats right flintoff, Ntini's name only got mentioned in 6th paragraph. I rest my case. (CRICINFO PLZ PUBLISH!!)

Posted by Beertjie on (August 11, 2012, 9:53 GMT)

Great comments, @CduPlessis. If SA become and remain top for the next couple of years, none of their fans (of which I am not none) will speak of a dynasty or of being "flawless" because everyone else will remind them of their past. Anyway, good to see some recognition of the facts by @o-bomb - SA also unbeaten since 2009. It seems it's the media that "make" the teams. I'm just hoping Aus will be competitive against SA while they re-build, but media pressure next year may undermine the re-building, as indeed it will bring a decent England team further down the test ladder.

Posted by RandyOZ on (August 11, 2012, 9:38 GMT)

When was England ever flawless? Mark is clearly struggling after the embarrassment of his now infamous 'fortress England' article.

Posted by Ubaidaleem on (August 11, 2012, 8:39 GMT)

No Matter who is the number one test team 2 weeks down the road, but let us admit, we are living in the most exciting era of test cricket where six teams on their day can beat each other with share talent and brilliance. Most of the encounters are producing results and the one which are not are even more exciting (2nd test of Eng SA current series). With all the respect to Aussies there dominance in the first decade of the current century was not good for cricket overall........

Posted by JG2704 on (August 11, 2012, 7:35 GMT)

@maximum6 on (August 10 2012, 23:00 PM GMT) I admit it's not ideal. I think the only way England could deal with the situation without putting other players noses out of joint is to simply organise the schedule so no series clash with IPL. That would also mean that Broad and whoever else could play full IPLs. The thing from ECBs stance is that you could have situations where players come back from IPL injured or suffering burn out. If the schedule is too demanding and KP is moaning about it then surely the extra IPL just adds to it. To be honest , I feel that KP has said too much and ECB are more likely to dig their heals in and less likely to compromise. Team England may suffer from the loss of KP and he certainly does add an extra dimension to our batting. Sad as it is I think this next test (if he plays) could be his last game for England

Posted by kumarcoolbuddy on (August 11, 2012, 2:40 GMT)

I think flawless is a very big word and ENG definitely doesn't deserve that. I don't see any big achievements from ENG other than the one against AUS. ENG had luck and at the same time badluck by playing against downfalling AUS and indifferent Indian team. It was just ENG's destiny to reach #1 that's it. Reaching #1 doesn't mean they were top. ENG reached #1 in ODIs? I guess even ENG was surprised by seeing themselves at #1 in ODIS because they know how many time they were white-washed recently.

Posted by Puffin on (August 10, 2012, 23:22 GMT)

Flawless? I doubt that. They never were the Aussies recent "invincibles mark II". A lot of the appearances of "flawlessness" were due to the opposition and where they were played. That does not mean they are terrible, no they are way better than the 90's England team.

As for Pietersen, like Botham, we'll happily take the runs and wickets and try to ignore or work around the rest. It's not as if they are or were unnecessary in either case. And also remind ourselves that we'll have to work out what to do once they are gone and normal boring service is resumed.

Posted by 2.14istherunrate on (August 10, 2012, 23:00 GMT)

If England end up with a team of 6 Chris Tavare's occupying the top six, it will be nothing less than they deserve with all these people crying out for drab worthiness. Once they have got rid of KP who wili it be next? Broad, Prior, Swann? I feel sick.It's the grey men all the way, and it's the biggest fun they've had in years!!!! Whoopeee!!

Posted by GHemrajani on (August 10, 2012, 22:13 GMT)

Discussions should be around firing the 2 Andys and not Pietersen - Flower for signficant losses in UAE, SL, against SA and no one day WC despite solid preparations. And Strauss for his batting. Average of 42 cannot be justified when top players are closer to 50.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (August 10, 2012, 21:44 GMT)

@davidpk: FYI, I'm as English as they come! and a keen, life-long Surrey supporter too! I do, however, try to remain dispassionate as I believe the game to be far more important than narrow national interest (& have said so many times here). My desire is to see great cricket, genuine contests and very high levels of sportsmanship. Who is playing whom is of lesser interest, but - all other things being equal, I want England to win. Thus, when I say that England's rise to the top was not too difficult to achieve, it's because I use my judgement & understanding of the game - & anyone is free to disagree, of course. BTW, I do not accept your point about Shane Warne making all the difference to Oz in the '90s, as a certain SCG MacGill (203 wks @28.1) would have done almost as well. And SRT has not been a Test match winner very often at all, considering the mountains of runs he's accumulated. Dravid's always got the tough runs for India & I'd have him in my side, before SRT every time.

Posted by hhillbumper on (August 10, 2012, 19:57 GMT)

Get rid of Pietersen would be a start.Lose the ego and start fighting again.Het some younger ,English talent in and move forwards. KP is a great Batsman but every team he has played in it has ended horribly so why should England be any different? Still like the bitter Indian fans though.

Posted by bumsonseats on (August 10, 2012, 19:25 GMT)

jimmy2s im not sure of your point, against pakistan home india home aus away were we won well, not counting a test lose in a winning series well won against 2 of those teams. i can remember well hard fought out draws 2 games in saffa land and similar against aus in cardiff. i for one would rather we won well which is what we did in those above mentioned tests which were 9 test wins and 2 losses. why do we need to have a hard fought win. other than pakistan away, we have won most series and SL away been drawn in the last 3 years. perhaps my memory is clouded and you can clear that up.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (August 10, 2012, 19:05 GMT)

While I sincerely applaud England's appearance at the summit of test cricket, I hardly feel they were flawless in doing so. There were many hiccups along the way. Barring an indifferent Indian team last year and the WI this year to a certain extent, England have had good stints as well as passages of weaknesses. Their reaching no.1 has had a lot to do with other teams slipping below average in test cricket. India doesn't like test cricket much and is FORCED to embrace the format due to the history and tradition. Australia are rebuilding, PAK and SL are just as bad as India while playing away from home. WI, NZ, BAN etc all are still trying to work their way towards consistency. Only SA pose a real threat to England and who knows, they may be crowned no.1 following this series. So England's time in the sun may be coming to an end along with their hosting of the Olympics. It's sad but that's how test cricket is. Challengers come and go but dynasties don't get built overnight.

Posted by Indus11 on (August 10, 2012, 16:48 GMT)

Nice article, as usual from Mark, BUT - Where is the justification of "Once flawless England" ? When ? Where ? Oh - no - not that 1981 again!

Come on Mark - come out of your hibernation !

Open your eyes and note - England have been white-wahsed a good many more times than there have been 1981s.

Posted by Bilal_Choudry on (August 10, 2012, 16:46 GMT)

englands problem is the team balance .. they should drop bresnan and pick swann.. u need a swing bowler , seamer and an out n out quick with a quality spinner ... bresnan has no place in this team

Posted by   on (August 10, 2012, 15:53 GMT)

England's eligibility laws, promote players from across the world, and deprives emerging local talents. Writers like Mark, eulogising, the firework displays of such imports, further depresses me as a long standing follower and admirer of English cricket. England does not seem to learn from the KP type experiences, which are disruptive and not developmental for the future of "true English teams". Look at the English Lions playing Australia A. 4 of the 11 Lions are imports: Morgan. Compton, Keiswetter, & Meaker! Australia A is 100% Aussies! Two questions: 1) Dont you think that you have many excellent allrounders like Woakes? Dont you have many young pacers like Reece Topley? Dont you have excellent raw materials for openers like the very young Root? Many such players may not even get noticed with the influx of imports. Is it fair? 2) Do you feel proud in knocking out other national teams using borrowed muscle?. In club cricket , such imports are passe. But in INTERNATIONAL matches???

Posted by gmoturu1 on (August 10, 2012, 15:52 GMT)

flawless? when? don't they remember 3-0 sweep by Pakistan. their only considerable success was against Australia in the ashes (that too a mediocre Aussie side). as long as they don't have 11 players like Cook, they will remain ordinary.

Posted by o-bomb on (August 10, 2012, 15:37 GMT)

@cricky_lover - dude I just wanted to emphasise JG2704's point about how England got to the top by playing good cricket. The fact that we're now playing not so good cricket is undeniable, but is a different point. Just wanted you to give us our dues as it were. Personally I think we are the 2nd best side in the world at the moment behind South Africa and I will be pleasantly surprised if we beat them next week.

Posted by dabhand on (August 10, 2012, 15:33 GMT)

I agree the team was never flawless, but, it was a team working hard and generally when there were failures in one area someone else stepped up and somehow or another covered for them.

But a team effort can help overcome a number of problems when there is a cohesive team spirit, but as sure as eggs are eggs, without that cohesion, more than just the spirit is lost.

Of course the End team were not all conquering (all that is just jingoistic media) - some of the performances were well below par - some due to lack of preparation, some down to poor decisions on whether to bat or perhaps even the 11 to be selected etc.

But you can only beat the teams you are up against, harping back decades is pointless, styles, skill levels, helmets and so many law changes have happened since then - could it be that the Aus and WI teams of those days were only that because England/Pakistan/New Zealand were the equivalent of the Indians of today ?

Posted by naz139 on (August 10, 2012, 15:28 GMT)

KP is a distraction from that fact that England have been overrated! Any team worth their salt will do well in its own conditions. Great/Good teams beat others in their own backyard. England produced green tops for their bowlers to bowl on and take cheap wickets. A green top will help your run of the mill county player. Now, what happens when the ball doesn't seam/swing/help England? You saw that Amla took them apart and they looked like a second string attack. The fact is, KP is world class without him Eng will go back to their old ways...dont forget this No1 were slaughtered by one of the weakest teams Pak have ever field in tests! Great teams adapt, Eng cant because they are an average team reliant on Green tops!

Posted by StatisticsRocks on (August 10, 2012, 15:23 GMT)

I don't think flawless is the right word. Yes, Eng have been playing great cricket, mostly at home, over the last two or three years but, to call them flawless is a bit of a stretch. Flawless were WI of the 80's and Australia of the 90's who just crushed their opponents in all forms of the game. This ENG team has the potential but they are no where near close to being flawless.

Posted by bumsonseats on (August 10, 2012, 15:12 GMT)

the british press if oversea readers on here may not know, do go overboard when we win and when we lose can reach the depths of despair. there is never any middle ground. just enjoy the time that we have been on top. i have mentioned this before there are guys on here whos teams have been # one longer and have had better teams and been less than charitable with comments. if we have had our day in the sun so be it.

Posted by applethief on (August 10, 2012, 15:00 GMT)

When was the last time England registered a close win? One where they came up against a side playing good cricket yet got one over on them? Or has it been a case of feast and famine for the last 2 years? I suppose Cardiff v Sri Lanka was a good example, but apart from that, can someone here remind me when the last closely-fought test match there was that England came out on top of?

Posted by bigwonder on (August 10, 2012, 14:50 GMT)

@Mark, the England team was never flawless. They never had a full year without major loses. A team is flawless if they can perform in all conditions, against all teams consistently - which England have never achieved. Just look at the latest ICC ODI rankings, tell me how England is qualified for #1 status? Weren't they white-washed in last 12 months? The glory days are over - as expected and predicted.

Posted by HatsforBats on (August 10, 2012, 14:20 GMT)

The premise of the article is flawed; this England team have never been flawless. Their high point came against an Australian team decimated internally by a flawed governing system and utterly devoid of form. Their thrashing of a hapless and hopeless India and their thrashing at the hands of Pakistan bookend the spectrum of Englands fortunes. Without doubt England have raised the bar for professionalism and fitness in world cricket and they fully deserve no.1 position, but of course they are by no means the finished article. The strength of their bowling is undermined by the lack of pace and penetration in unhelpful conditions, their batting remains timid and fragile against spin. The captaincy (and performance) of Strauss remains a burden on what could become an exciting and dominating team.

Posted by   on (August 10, 2012, 12:52 GMT)

I tend to agree with @ Baundele, The article should be on cricket, and to the point, not Mark Nicholas trying to show us how eloquently he can write, like its a descriptive backdrop to a film, and the author is being judged by his flowery ability to write! Alas, this is how English Journos write, obfuscated between all the metaphors and flowery sidetracking description, is something on the cricket. Let Geoff Boycott write please, as he calls it straight to the point :-)

Posted by bumsonseats on (August 10, 2012, 12:50 GMT)

nutcutlet im sorry you feel that way as it sounds more like sour grapes. take warne out of the aussie side and i believe they would not have been that great or lasted the length of time at the top. but you can only play the present teams. i can look back in time and if posible remove a player from any mentioned team and that would lessen that teams strength. take your team if ST had been removed from the indian team, its all ifs and buts. but the icc said we were the best, similar to how india got into that position similar things were said.

Posted by bumsonseats on (August 10, 2012, 12:40 GMT)

never flawless mark and never up to the giddy heights you made them. but if they dont win the last saffa test they lose the #1 position. but we held it for 12 month deservedly and that cannot be taken from us. all in all we have increased our prowess in odis and we are a much more rounded team. if beaten we will come again in test cricket. if we win the last test we would be the top team in tests odis and i believe # 1 in T20 as i think we are better than the saffers in that format. who would have thought an england team could have been in that position say from 10 years ago. the ECB should take much credit for that. and with the KP issue i believe they have shown other boards the way to go.

Posted by DeathKnell on (August 10, 2012, 12:20 GMT)

@CduPlessis - good comments.. I say the same.. to o-bomb & other dudes..every team has some peaks in history for about a period of 1 or 2 yrs..(whatever the case, venue, opponents etc)..that shud nt be drawn equal to Aus or WI.. if any, then it shud be after (say at least) 5 yrs of pole holding (not the ambiguous ranking). Eng started well but lost steam immediately..to prove that wrong they need at least 3-4 spotless yrs from now on..probably then you can continue with the legacy of "2013 onwards" (but definitely not 2009 onwards)..I wud like to see one good leader which all other teams want to beat..I doubt if anyone can emerge as a clear topper in the coming 3-5 yrs (tested & proven - Home/away/neutral, good/bad/strong opps, batting track/ bowling track & what not)..

Posted by Selassie-I on (August 10, 2012, 12:19 GMT)

Well written article Mark, as usual. Good points and I think generally, we are just not playing anywhere near our best at the moment.. we saw something stirring at Headingly. The only thing I can think of that is causing this is off field politics, all of the managers etc. we employ need to start earning their corn and sort this before next week. A big thank you to all the usual suspects for their 'as soon as I see an England article, regardless of what it's about, i'll make a derogatory comment about England. Shall I mention SA born players this time or the UAE?' most of these people clearly don't read the article and just repeat the same thing again. @cricky_lover - Is there any possible victory England could have that wouldn't be tainted some way in your eyes? Beat Aus 3-1 in Aus with 2 innings victories, who else has had this kind of result in Aus in the last 25 years?

Posted by Vkarthik on (August 10, 2012, 12:09 GMT)

The day they reached no.1 and started comparing themselves to the great aussies of 2000 and WI of 80s was the mark of their decline. They have to accept their reaching of number 1 ranking was mainly due to home games much like India. They are not that good a side.

Posted by DeathKnell on (August 10, 2012, 12:00 GMT)

@o-bomb -dudey I dont deny that Eng played well.but terms such as flawless, dominant etc ve to be used for teams that send jitters down the spine of opps & most importantly for a bigger sample space, not a period of 1-2 yrs or handful of matches. thats the very reason why I want to focus on stats instead of saying from 2009 onwards & so on.these are stories worked by media for their adv. but really there is nothing like that if u know what I mean.(just use Statsguru & search results of Aus for 10yrs or so.going by nutcutlet's grading wud you still say that Eng matches the all time greats(somewhat), if (& BIG IF) they manage to retain the ranking in the next test?NO- may be if they do the same for next 3-4 yrs.having said that, (again) I dont deny Eng is a good side, if at all they had a decent time then it was 2010 only. if they played PAK SL in 2011, the results wud ve marred the glory much earlier. then it wud ve been a yearly performance affair rather than building from 2009 story

Posted by Haleos on (August 10, 2012, 11:57 GMT)

@cricky_lover - great analysis. Hope the english media wake up now.

Posted by o-bomb on (August 10, 2012, 10:50 GMT)

An amendment to my earlier post - I think South Africa have been unbeaten in test series since 2009 too. Sorry about that.

Posted by   on (August 10, 2012, 10:46 GMT)

My own feelings are that this England test team peaked when it beat Australia away and then India at home; it has been downhill pretty much since then. I still think we are capable of beating SA at Lord's, but everything will have to go our way and it hasn't since the The Oval last year... Is it time to consider Strauss's captaincy which has become yet more defensive and inflexible? Is it time to say that KP either puts up or leaves? (having said that the ECB haven't exactly covered themselves in glory in the way it has acted - if KP goes so should those who leaked and/or authorised the leak of their 'private' negotiations). I am impressed with James Taylor and I hope he is given a run in the side - he looks more secure than any of the others who have batted at 6 recently.

Posted by Baundele on (August 10, 2012, 10:46 GMT)

I lost interest in the article while reading the second paragraph. You do not need to publish the comment; but take it as a feedback. The use of too many similar metaphors in a long paragraph is quite tiring.

Posted by o-bomb on (August 10, 2012, 10:39 GMT)

@cricky_lover - I think you've gone over the top on the point JG2704 was trying to make there. Between losing to the West Indies in '09 and losing to Pakistan 3 years later we were unbeaten in test series. He didn't say we were dominant, he simply explained how we got to the top of the ladder. As nutcutlet points out the opposition during this period wasn't as good as it might have been, however I don't see many other teams not losing a series for nearly 3 years. Now we're having a bit of a 'mare this year as we're not playing as well and we've come up against sides who are playing better. Perhaps we've become complacent due to the number one status. The making of a side is how they bounce back from a setback. We'll have to wait and see how England bounce back (assuming - as expected - we lose this series).

Posted by CduPlessis on (August 10, 2012, 10:21 GMT)

That said, SA aren't as good mentally as Aus was, we lost a 1-0 lead against Aus last year, drew with Ind in SA (when in Ind came close to winning the series), lost a game to Sri Lanka in SA, drew 1-1 with England and drew 2 more tests with them being 9 down which we couldn't finish. Eng can still come back at win at Lords, but trying to be as partial as posible, I think the best team going around will end up being the new, and probably fairer no1 team in a coupl of weeks time (only the whether kept them from achieving that against NZ at the begining of this year anyway).

Posted by CduPlessis on (August 10, 2012, 10:17 GMT)

I get a similar sense with this Eng team, than I got with the SA team a decade ago. We beat the WI 5-0, thrashed Eng 2-1 (lots of bad weather and Hansie Cronje to keep it from being 3,4-0), beat Ind in Ind, Pak in Pak etc and for a brief month or 3 we were even no1 in test cricket in the rankings if I recall. We were better than everyone else, but Australia was just always better. We played them everytime thinking, yes, we are now the best, we are going to beat them, we beat everyone else, and then SA got beat down! This SA team is not close to that Aus team, but they are to Eng what Aus was to SA, the reason SA can't be the undisputed no1 in the world. It looks close on paper but Eng have 2 (5th, 7th) bowlers and 2 batsmen in the top 10 (8th, 10th) in the world. SA have 4 of the top 6 test batsman and 2 of the top 3 bowlers, with another 9th. In reality SA is a much better team and should win it and cause Eng to look insecure, like those Aussies made SA look insecure 10 years ago

Posted by PrasPunter on (August 10, 2012, 10:15 GMT)

@johnathonjosephs , i agree with your thought - test cricket is the best and for sure it excites - but only when Aus/Eng/SA happen to be one of the teams. These are the ones who prioritize test cricket and produce exciting games. Even if they play lesser ones, it becomes interesting to watch.

Posted by DeathKnell on (August 10, 2012, 9:27 GMT)

@JG2704 - Unbeaten??? whoa..u must be kidding... here we go 2009 lost badly in WI, drawn at HOME, Won Vs Aus at HOME, Drawn Vs SA Away. now considering the team quality, venue and results - I dont see any dominance here.. it is mediocre or lackluster performance (most suited) 2010 Won 2 against BD (Away & Home) - do you want to count this??!!! Won against PAK (HOME) Won 2 against Aus (Away & HOME) - lost matches, but series won performance: Above average 2011 won against SL (HOME) - a 3 match series results 1-0 won against IND (HOME) - a depleted Indian team performance: Average or may be an Above average (???!!!) and a 5 months vacation.. 2012 - we all know what happened in this year (Disaster) how many of such series were won at home.. if you discount teams like BD & WI, then there was nothing to show off. (unlike the flattery-battery media) I dont see anything interesting above to say Eng was flawless.Period..Aus & WI (long ago) were the flawless teams in the history.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (August 10, 2012, 9:25 GMT)

England's position at the top of the tree owes quite as much to the weakness of other teams as to the appaently 'flawless' performances of England: Australia in post Warne/ McGrath party hangover & Punter not the force he had been; India losing interest in tc & with aging stars that generally lacked fitness, etc. It was a comparatively easy tree to climb, esp. as the one side that would provide a stern test of England's true worth, SA, wasn't encountered in the period in which England's performances might fondly be called 'flawless'. Then the cracks appeared: first in the UAE, then at Galle. The old demons were back: failure to have a sound technique against spinners on dusty tracks; selection of the team was being questioned again; key players got injured - & then KP decides that he'd like to be treated differently. It was good (but not that brilliant) while it lasted, but England are back where they belong - in the pack. Scores: WI in '80s: 9.5; Oz in '90s: 9; Eng. recently: 8.

Posted by   on (August 10, 2012, 8:57 GMT)

I would have really liked to see Pietersen play in India. If he is not then i am afraid England are in with a top four who may be found wanting against the willy Indians. Also dont expect Anderson, Bresnan and Broad to do much on this tour and expect Swann to be exposed against the likes of Tendulkar, Laxman, Kohli, Sehwag, Pujara and Gambhir. the Indian tour is ridiculously long (close to 2 months) and during the period they will be playing Tests at venues which have traditionally been spin heavens. The onus is really on Strauss, Bell, Cook and Trott to counter the spin problem. Had Pietersen been there, it would have really been a huge plus for them as he has played well here in previous test matches as well as in the IPL. So it really depends on how ECB manage this current ego flareup, Because as Mark Nicholas mentioned, all for one and one for all in an old and outdated concept. Great teams need to be flexible, accommodating and dynamic. Stubbornness and rigidity with not help.

Posted by hersheybar on (August 10, 2012, 8:57 GMT)

@landl47 - To look at SA's 2nd innings score of 258/9 and think Eng were on the way to winning the test is a mistake. The only reason SA were 9 wickets down was because Smith decided to have a go and try and get a result.

Broad's figures are also misleading... He only got wickets because SA were throwing their wickets away to get a result. If they just decided to go for a draw and bat it out Eng's bowlers would have been in disarray.

Ps. I'm a England supporter

Posted by SurlyCynic on (August 10, 2012, 8:52 GMT)

Maybe England were never that great, just good, and all those 'Fortress England' articles we saw from English journalists were a bit over the top? Not to mention the ones I read saying England have the best pace attach since the 80s Windies and that Swann and Anderson were the new Warne McGrath.

Posted by SurlyCynic on (August 10, 2012, 8:47 GMT)

landl47: You could also say that if Amla had held on to that catch off Pietersen then SA would have won easily. Such are test matches, some stick and some are dropped. Any test match could be rewritten using the one-eyed approach you've applied.

Posted by jackiethepen on (August 10, 2012, 8:45 GMT)

Mark Nicholas is one who loves the Highlights. KP is similar. But Test cricket is about 5 days and a team - not one person. Never once does Mark consider his team mates, not a bunch of county players, but world class cricketers who have built this team into No 1 over three years. KP may have a dashing style. It doesn't always come off but when it does it is thrilling. When it doesn't it leaves a hole in the side like the Oval when sterner stuff was needed. KP is frail. KP is flawed. The problem is that KP lacks character to match the talent. He is seduced by IPL and wants the adulation of Indian fans and a rock star lifestyle for a couple of months in India. The media never spotted his frailty. But they can't miss it now. The team can go hang. He want's to make a decision that will make him happy. Then do it for goodness sake and stop destroying the England dressing room team spirit. He's self-indulgent and he will only get worse.

Posted by o-bomb on (August 10, 2012, 8:22 GMT)

@rahulcricket007 - If you read the article you'll see he says they were flawless 1 year ago. That would be when we beat a poor India side. Whether or not we were flawless then is open to debate, but as has been observed we could only beat what was in front of us. Now we're playing against the best side in the world and any frailty we have is being shown up. Even so we did well at Headingly and could have won had catches been taken. One more thing; please don't take much notice of the English newspapers - most of us in England ignore them.

Posted by   on (August 10, 2012, 8:08 GMT)

Just like Roebuck, except Roebuck was a good writer.

Posted by JG2704 on (August 10, 2012, 7:48 GMT)

@Venki_indian on (August 10 2012, 05:21 AM GMT) England got to number 1 by producing an unbeaten run since early 2009. If they hadn't gone on such a run the India result would have been irrelevant. No one was predicting such a thing beforehand either and even during the series your capslock friend was saying India would come back once they had Sehwag back etc

Posted by itsthewayuplay on (August 10, 2012, 7:44 GMT)

Cont'd I don't think England should not be using the series against India as a barometer to measure all their future performances because as an Indian supporter for many years I don't believe India provided better opposition than say Bangladesh would have done. India for a while has been a team full of star names in India at least who are grossly overpaid and underperforming. Even the once mighty WI earlier this year were a better opposition and entertainment than last year's and injuries to their main strike bowlers at cucial times meant that they were not able to push England harder.

Posted by JG2704 on (August 10, 2012, 7:43 GMT)

@screamingeagle on (August 10 2012, 05:45 AM GMT)/ johnathonjosephs on (August 10 2012, 06:44 AM GMT) Good points there guys although it seems that others are just (as usual) using the article to relay the same old snipes

Posted by itsthewayuplay on (August 10, 2012, 7:37 GMT)

Whilst England may have been flawless against India last year in that they did everything right, they were made to look even better by the inept performances, attitude and complete lack of a professional approach shown by India. Even Sri Lanka with far less resources provided a stronger challenge and while England won that series they did not appear as dominant as against India. Fast forward and compare and contrast with this SA team who are more skillful, fitter, better prepared and mentally stronger than India, at least, will help to England's performances into perspective. So yes England may not be reaching the same heights of last summer but equally the opposition are not hitting the same lows.

Posted by johnathonjosephs on (August 10, 2012, 6:44 GMT)

England were flawless but it is hard to keep form constant for a long period of time. Australia in the late 90's/early 2000s have done this and so did the great West Indian Team of the 80s. Test Cricket has gotten very exciting now with tight contests between SL/Pak and Eng/SA. SA/Aus or even Aus/Eng would be a good contest as would Pak/India or England in India. I don't know why people are saying Test Cricket is dying when it is the most exciting thing going on right now

Posted by screamingeagle on (August 10, 2012, 5:45 GMT)

All Pietersen needs to do is pick up the phone and call Dravid to get a lesson on how to manage himself. He is pretty close to Dravid by his own admission. No one better to guide him, if you ask me. But that will never happen and this row will simmer on.

Posted by Venki_indian on (August 10, 2012, 5:21 GMT)

when was Englnad flawleess? it because india's poor performance they got no.1; England were never threatninig..they lost almost half of their test matches in last 11...

Posted by pulkit10 on (August 10, 2012, 5:11 GMT)

That's probably why I'm not big into England related journalism. When they're doing good, suddenly they're elevated to the "invincible" status and when they have a bad series or two, they're being "miserable". Thing is, England weren't that great to begin with. They were a decent team and learned to capitalize on their strengths and dare I say it, got lucky too. They crushed a hapless and broken Indian team and suddenly, they were the talk of the town. That was the main thing wrong about this team...they got carried away with this hype (much like the media did). You don't become great by crushing half-depleted teams in your backyard (which is pretty much everytime since SA toured last) - if that is the measure for greatness then I'd argue that teams like India and Sri Lanka (who have been churning up disastrous performances over the last 2 years) are already great. In summary, they aren't doing badly, it's just that they've always been above average/good, not incredible at this game.

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (August 10, 2012, 5:05 GMT)

LOLZ . WHEN WERE ENGLAND TEAM FLAWLESS ? THEY LOSE TO PAK IN UAE . I REMEMBER HOW THERE SO CALLED GREAT BATSMEN WERE BAMBOOZLED BY ASIF & AMIR DURING 2010 TOUR . LOSE TO SA AT HOME I 2008 , LOSE 10 CONSECUTIVE ODIS IN INDIA.

Posted by landl47 on (August 10, 2012, 5:02 GMT)

Actually, I thought England came back extremely well at Headingly from the beating they received at the Oval. To take a first-innings lead, then knock over 9 SA wickets for 258 in the second innings was a good achievement. Nothing in life is certain, but if it wasn't for two knees England could very well have won the test; Finn's knee knocking off the bail as he had Smith caught for 6, and Alastair Cook's knee with which he tried to catch Alviro Petersen when Petersen was 29. Those two knees cost 199 runs between them, and England only needed (I almost said kneeded) another 123 to win the game. Yes, dropping Swann was a mistake and he must come back at Lord's. As for Pietersen, who knows? He might play another brilliant innings or he might be a total dud. Personally, I'd show him the door and see how long it is before playing hit-and-giggle in India becomes tedious and he decides he'd like to play real cricket again.

Posted by smudgemax on (August 10, 2012, 4:51 GMT)

Great article. Both sides of the Pietersen debate need to meet in the middle, that is clear. If England say they don't need him, it's a lie, but if they just give into every demand he makes it could very well damage the team.

England are a good team but not a great team and it seems to me they have two weaknesses one exposed by Pakistan in the winter and that's the batsman's ability to play spin, and the second is a lack of variety and something special in the players (except Pietersen). The team is super-disciplined, which has been enough to beat most sides, but this SA team is just as disciplined but have great variety in their attack and some special players like Steyn, Kallis, and an in-form Amla. As an Englishman I hate to say it but this SA team is the best in the world right now.

Posted by thalalara on (August 10, 2012, 3:16 GMT)

Why this write-up? what he is trying to convey? Is he blaming the selectors?

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Mark NicholasClose
Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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