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England's hopes in this Test melted away under the scorching Cape Town sun
January 5, 2010
England's hopes in this Test melted away under the scorching Cape Town sun. They say that temperatures of this severity - it was 35 degrees in the shade - happen maybe once a year, so the visitors will rue their luck that it happened on a day that they had to field, but the upshot was a position largely of their own making. Slightly more judicious shot-selection yesterday would have meant they could have spent most of Tuesday making South Africa suffer.
There haven't been many completely one-sided days during the first three matches, but South Africa's domination here makes it 1-1 on that count after England's performance on the fourth day in Durban. However, England shouldn't be castigated for this effort, which it would be easy to do when looking at the scorecard.
Before the tour started many were predicting that this would have been the status quo throughout, so it's a mark of England's resilience that this was the first time the wheels were severely loosened. South Africa, too, were always likely to respond to their demise in Durban. They are a proud side with a strong captain on a ground that, except when playing Australia, has only happy memories.
However, what this match has proved yet again is that you can't allow a strong Test side - and South Africa are still that despite some current problems - a chance to fight back. England were so impressive at Kingsmead that they set a very high bar, but they have slipped way below that in this match.
That was especially true in the batting effort. The first innings of a Test match is the time to make runs and, as well as South Africa bowled, England's top order aided their dismissals. It's a tough assessment, but Test cricket is a tough arena. "Of course there were soft dismissals in our first innings, there's no getting away from that, and the guys know that," England coach Andy Flower said. "When we bat second-time round we'll have to restrict those."
It was left to the bowlers to try and keep England in the Test, but they were always up against it with temperatures soaring in the middle. Although Ashwell Prince fell to his nemesis, Graeme Swann, for the third time in the five balls he has faced from him this series, South Africa largely weathered the crucial new-ball period.
This was a day when the problems of a four-man attack were exposed. England were spot-on in their selection for this game - when you're ahead in a series in South Africa you don't weaken the batting, especially after a performance like Durban - but it doesn't leave much room for manoeuvre. With Swann being expertly countered by Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla, England couldn't find a bowler to make something happen.
That is one of the obstacles that will make the next step towards being a major world force hard work. England don't currently have anyone to race in for that spell of express pace, and neither is there anyone on the horizon. South Africa showed the value of such a weapon, albeit in less oppressive conditions, with Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn both outstanding.
England would have hoped for reverse-swing, but the quicks struggled to move the ball off the straight which was ironic given the fuss made over Stuart Broad standing on the ball in his followthrough. "This amazing amount of reverse-swing obtained by Stuart Broad standing on the ball obviously hasn't worked," Flower said. "The guys worked very honestly, they toiled hard, the South Africans played very well. Conditions for batting seemed to improve and know we are behind the black ball."
In many ways this was a good dress rehearsal for the Ashes in Australia at the end of this year. England are likely to encounter a few hot days and unresponsive surfaces in places such as Adelaide, and they'll need to find ways of taking wickets. Swann has added an attacking element, but the fast bowlers still need conditions in their favour to be a constant threat.
This is now a match-saving scenario for England if they want to keep their series lead intact heading into the final Test at the Wanderers. "We can attack with the new ball and look for early wickets, which is the trend of the game so far," Flower said. "If we don't get those early wickets we will have to bat superbly well.
"There's still hope for us. You've seen over the last 12 months our guys fight hard and they'll fight hard over the next two days. The pitches over all three Tests have surprised people, both locals and us, so we'll see how this one pans out."
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