England tour of South Africa, 2009-10 January 18, 2010

Swann emerges as talisman for unified England

Graeme Swann was England's standout player in this series, troubling South Africa's batsmen with dip, turn and determination even on unhelpful surfaces, while Alastair Cook, Paul Collingwood, Ian Bell and Stuart Broad all played valuable roles in England'

England acquitted themselves admirably on a tough tour to South Africa, gritting their way to a drawn Test series despite South Africa's dominance at the Wanderers. Andrew Miller gives his take on the men who took part in the tour.

Andrew Strauss - 5

Made the wrong choice in each of the three tosses he won, and was visibly ruffled by Morne Morne's round-the-wicket line, which accounted for three of his seven dismissals in the series. But Strauss's influence on this squad cannot be under-estimated, and though his form was below his recent standards, he still managed key contributions in the first three Tests, including an invaluable tempo-setter in the victory at Durban, as he tore onto the offensive in a boundary-laden 54. Where he led, his team followed.

Alastair Cook - 7

Began the series with the vultures circling, and was conceivably in last-chance saloon going into the second Test, where he responded with a brilliant display of temperament over technique, as he left religiously outside off stump, and willed himself back to form in an indomitable six-and-a-half hour century. Carried that same mindset into the Cape Town rearguard before tailing off in the face of furious pace bowling at the Wanderers. But overall he has taken massive strides.

Jonathan Trott - 5

Began the series amid massive pressure, ramped up by endless column inches about his background, but responded with a bloodyminded 69 at Centurion to help put the first Test beyond South Africa's reach. And yet, it all began to unravel thereafter. South Africa's gripes about his dallying between deliveries appeared at first to have little effect, but the anxious batsman who flapped his way to a total of 13 runs in 17 balls at Johannesburg was not the same man who epitomised sang froid on debut at The Oval last August.

Kevin Pietersen - 4

One promising performance at Centurion (in which his own appalling running robbed him of a century in his first Test in South Africa), and a succession of mortal follow-ups. After a difficult year on and off the field, compounded by a four-month injury lay-off, Pietersen played like a batsman without foundations. In particular, he no longer had a solid base for his off-side repertoire, and got out far too cheaply to far too many rash swipes and rushed drives. Even great players lose their form, but it'll take a renewed focus to get back to the player he was between 2005 and 2008.

Paul Collingwood - 8

Brigadier Block, as he will henceforth be known, revealed himself to be the reincarnation of Trevor Bailey in the course of an outstanding pair of rearguards at Centurion and Cape Town, in which he guarded his off stump with a GPS-like certainty of its whereabouts, and resisted all width like a dieter worried about his waistline. But then, at Johannesburg, while all about him crumbled, he changed his approach, climbed onto the offensive, and singlehandedly produced the style of resistance that could have saved the series. Rarely has he finished a campaign with his value to England more prominently displayed.

Ian Bell - 7

Has he, finally, surely, cracked it this time? The omens didn't look great when he left that straight one from Paul Harris at Centurion, but with ridicule looming, he responded with the best hundred of his Test career to date to build an insuperable position in their crushing display at Durban. Then, one Test later, he confirmed his transformed mindset with a five-hour rearguard at Cape Town, where his late dismissal could not undermine the value of the effort that preceded it. Yes, his success has come at No. 6, where he cannot set agendas, but merely responds to them. But if that's the formula that allows him to thrive, then England should nurture it, and banish forever the prospect of his return to No. 3.

Matt Prior - 6

Mixed performance. No qualms about his glovework, which was almost faultless to pace and spin alike. But his hyperactive batting wasn't always suited to the situations into which England strayed. A total of four runs in three second-innings performances tells its own story, and he should have been out twice in two balls in an ugly sign-off at Johannesburg. But counterattackers aren't designed for rearguard actions - instead, he seized the initiative as best he could in England's first innings, helping Bell build the lead with his 60 at Durban, before clawing back the deficit with a stroke-laden 76 at Cape Town.

Stuart Broad - 6

Does one spell make a series? It did in the Ashes, and the same trick worked in South Africa, where Broad aped his efforts at The Oval in August with another scarcely playable matchwinning spell. Using his height to extract lift and seam movement from a taxing full length, he signed and sealed England's most memorable overseas victory in years with three wickets in 15 balls on the pivotal fourth day in Durban. But either side of that performance, he cut a frustrated figure, prone to arguing with umpires and opponents alike, and it was interesting to note that he attracted more pantomime boos from the ground than any other Englishman. As an allrounder, he was off the pace - with a top-score of 25, and a solitary second-innings run.

Graeme Swann - 9

Outstanding in every respect. Midway through the 2000s, fingerspin was assumed to be dead, but Swann hauled the art out of the grave with 21 wickets in four Tests, and left South Africa's left-handers looking like zombies as he allied an immaculate control of flight and line with an appreciable degree of turn on all surfaces. Ashwell Prince fell three times to the five deliveries he faced from Swann all series, while the number of times he struck in his first over of a spell had to be seen to be believed - at Johannesburg, each of his two wickets came from his very first ball. And then there was his unquenchably confident batting, which included a career-best 85 at Centurion, and a supporting role in the Cape Town rearguard. Right now, he's the first name on the team-sheet.

James Anderson - 6

One outstanding performance on the first day at Cape Town, but by and large Anderson was marginally off the pace for much of this tour. He came into the series with concerns about a knee injury, and in a wicketless display at Johannesburg he was regularly overlooked at key moments of South Africa's only innings. In between whiles he seemed to lose his ability to bend the ball back into the right-handers, a vital skill that turns his best spells from good to unplayable. His omission from the squad for the Bangladesh tour will give Anderson time for valuable rest and recuperation.

Graham Onions - 7

Only eight wickets at 45.75 for the series, but the wave of sympathy that greeted his omission at the Wanderers spoke volumes for his contribution to a superbly entertaining series. Onions' wicket-to-wicket approach and appetite for hard yakka made him Strauss's most reliable source of control on a series of shirt-fronts, and he was rightly promoted to take the new-ball ahead of Broad. But, of course, nothing compared to his exceptional efforts with the bat. At Centurion he faced down Makhaya Ntini, at Cape Town he withstood Morne Morkel. And in fact he was not dismissed in any of his five innings of the tour. Dropping him always looked like a bad omen.

Ryan Sidebottom - 5

Sidebottom hadn't played a Test for England since Bridgetown in March, and his only previous outing of the tour came in a single day's work at East London in a warm-up match. As gut instincts go, it was an odd punt from England's think tank, and while he let no-one down in a wholehearted performance, he hardly set the Wanderers ablaze either.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jurie on January 25, 2010, 14:56 GMT

    I find it very hard to qualify Prior's rating - you may say he scored a stroke-filled 76 at CT but he played and missed at least a dozen times, and in all second innings displays showed absolutely no courage or aptitude to stick it out, especially at JHB where he was petrified.

    Broad is an obnoxious cricketer second to none, he may be an occassionally fine bowler but rates himself too highly as a batsman and seems to have a free licence to use the team's referrals as he likes, which is daft when he is definitely out (there's a difference between Broad being given out and asking for a referral after consulting his batting partner!!! and Smith being given not out and the English asking for a referral, similar case to Broad in JHB 2nd innings).

    Overall SA flippin murdered them!

  • Mark on January 20, 2010, 15:24 GMT

    Schnoggs I agree with you, I cannot stand Stuart Broads attitude, he claims to be passionate but in reality hes just a spoiled brat and would go as far to agree I cant think of a cricketer I dislike more either (and I'm English). I would also go so far as saying he is the most overrated player in the team by a way. It's time the England 'boys club' got shaken up if they want to start winning. As for Graeme Swann, he is one of the only reasons I still watch England, exciting batsmen, fantastic spinner (arguably the best in the world on current form) and has a good, charasmatic attitude... Hard to not like really.

  • james on January 20, 2010, 4:05 GMT

    oh dear we have a conspiracy theorist here... I bet he thinks the moon landings were faked and everything! capetownsean, the fact is that if you can't bowl teams out you can't win test series. That said, I wouldn't have given Trott any higher than a 4, and Pietersen played a 3 for me.

  • sean on January 19, 2010, 10:12 GMT

    i wouldn't be surprised if the scores were jigged (read: england players' scores awarded generously) to make it look like the teams were that evenly matched, and the series was deservedly shared. ie - take the RSA scores & multiply by matches played, sum the results and compare with england....

  • Jordan on January 19, 2010, 9:03 GMT

    A bit too generous in some parts I think. Also - regarding the article title - I don't understand the media obsession with the 'talisman' figure in the English side. For a while you couldn't read about Flintoff without the word 'talismanic' appearing and now it seems Swann is next in line. Isn't a talisman is something you consider 'lucky' but ultimately is has no real power (or in this case 'no special ability').

  • Benjamin on January 18, 2010, 23:52 GMT

    With the exception of Swann and maybe Collingwood I'd take 1 mark of every England player in the side.

    Strauss a 5 averageing 25? Anderson a 6? Sidebottom 5 for 1 test and 2 wickets? Broad a 6 averaging 35 with the ball? Onions a 7 for 7 wickets at 45 forget his batting that doesn't count. They are very generous scores when this team was thumped in the last test and twice held on for a draw by the tightest margin. They were on the back foot in 3 of the 4 tests. Prior was horrid with the bat but glove work is outstanding - I don't recall him missing a chance.

    Schnoggs I'm not a SAFFA but I agree with you re: Broad. Good on him for being passionate but his fastly becoming an A grade jerk. He's got a lack of respect for authority ie doesn't turn around to face the umps on appealing, he mouths off at them when he doens't get a decision or is dismissed himself. The sad thing is average at best and his record states that. He needs to shut his mouth and perform then worry about the talk.

  • Luke on January 18, 2010, 23:46 GMT

    Schnoggs: so Broad not walking for a glove is not OK but Smith getting the most obvious snick possible and not walking is OK?

  • Farhan on January 18, 2010, 17:53 GMT

    I think Bangladesh's got a fair chance to prove themselves. They've got a relatively weaker side of which many are not in their near best. If they want to fulfill their desire, this is the time I guess.

  • Jackie on January 18, 2010, 17:19 GMT

    Jonathan Trott 4. He was promoted to 3 to do a job which he failed to do. His panic attack when Strauss got out first ball was abysmal and set the tone for the first innings at the Wanderers. Only Collingwood and Bell prevented the total collapse. Collingwood 9. He had a marvellous Series. Bell 8. He did better than Cook. Wonderful century. Getting 140 against Steyn, Morkel and Co isn't easy runs and faced a new ball. Set up the platform with Cook and Colly to put pressure on SA. Then he batted for five hours for his 78 to save the game at Cape Town. Credit to Onions facing the 6 last balls but without Bell and Colly no chance. Broad bowled better than Onions. Broad 6, Onions 5. I think the Onions thing is media malarky against Sidebottom. They love a new victim. Just looked at the SA ratings. 7 for de Villiers? He was outplayed by both Cook and Bell. They were centurions. He got a lone 50. They were above him in runs and averages. If 7 for Cook, then 6 for de Villiers.

  • Craig on January 18, 2010, 16:11 GMT

    Craig G

    I dont understand why people criticise Priors glovework - it is exceptional especially to the two paced Swann. Having kept myself, I can appreciatte how good he is although he could be more consistent in the second innings and play the situation better. As a Saffa, I think this England team has potential (although a lack of depth), but the biggest negative for me was Broad's childish behaviour throughout the series. I used to like Broad but all this talk of the "next Flintoff" is getting to his head - nto too mention the dishonesty in his gloved dismissals in Cape Town and the Wanderers. I cant think of a cricketer I dislike more at the moment.

  • No featured comments at the moment.