South Africa v England, 2nd Test, Cape Town, 5th day January 6, 2016

Cook rues misses which led to nervous final day


Alastair Cook admitted that missed chances cost England dear in the second Test against South Africa in Cape Town.

England missed, depending on what you think constitutes a chance, between five and 10 opportunities during South Africa's first innings total of 627 for 7 declared. On a flat wicket and against a strong batting line-up, it ruined any hope England had of pushing for victory and instead left them grateful for fading light and rain that intervened during the final session with them still slightly uncomfortably placed.

The original explanation for England's fielding errors - that visibility at the ground was more difficult because of the grass banks, trees and, in places, red umbrellas that line this pretty ground - looked pretty empty as South Africa's fielders - Chris Morris, in particular - clung on to a couple of exceptional catches.

But, while accepting that England's batting on the final day had been "disappointing," Cook described himself as "pretty happy" with the performance of his side.

"The chances we missed cost us this Test," Cook said. "It was the difference between the sides.

"You saw Chris Morris take two fantastic chances for South Africa and the game would have looked very different if we had been able to take the chances we were offered.

"Some were very difficult - maybe 10% - others, we'd expect to take. You can't put down seven or eight chances, so we'll work hard in training after a couple of days off. No-one plays a perfect game and no-one expects to drop a catch.

"Credit to South Africa: we threw everything at them and they batted very well under pressure. But when you score 630 by the time you are halfway through day two, you are pushing to win. We were the team pushing for most of the match, so it would have been really disappointing not to bat out the final day."

Cook brushed off England's last day blip - they succumbed to 116 for 6 at one stage - as an attempt to "make it exciting" for the large crowd that came even though the day promised little at the start, he did also concede that it was "not a particularly enjoyable day as captain."

"The conditions did change and they bowled well," Cook said. "It would have been nice if we had just lost two or three wickets, so it was a bit of a disappointing day. But when only one side can win, the pressure is all on the other side."

Indeed, in a match where they conceded 627 with the ball and scored 629 in the first innings, it was England's bowling - consistent, controlled and intelligent - that impressed more than their batting in Cape Town.

England's batting struggles were masked, in the first innings, by the excellence of Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow. But nobody in the top five made more than 60 in either innings and a South African attack which could be boosted by the return of Dale Steyn in the next Test will have been encouraged by some fragility outside the off stump from the England top order.

From an England perspective, though, the match will surely be remembered most for Stokes' explosive double-century, the fastest 250 in Test history. Exceptional though the innings may have been, though, Cook does not think it was necessarily a one-off.

"It was unbelievable batting," Cook said. "It was controlled batting of the highest quality. It was frighteningly good. Not many in the world have the ability to do that, so it's great that he's in our side.

"It won't happen every time he goes out to bat, but I firmly believe it was not a once in a lifetime innings. He is a gem. Over the last 12 months we've seen how he has developed and now the world knows how good he is."

Most of the England will now have a few days off. While a couple are taking the opportunity to go on safari and a couple are involved in commercial opportunities, most will have the opportunity to relax and recover on the beaches around Cape Town. They fly to Johannesburg on January 10 and will not train again until January 11.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Paul on January 7, 2016, 18:00 GMT

    Once players find their skill level in cricket (say Test or County cricket) and regularly play against players of comparable standard to themselves how well they play depends largely on what goes on in the head. One explanation for England's poor catching and last day batting could be that the astonishing first innings performance - 629-6 by mid-second day took the edge away from their remaining performance. Stokes' innings would have put them on such a high that a fraction of their focus remained on that, Just enough to delay for a split second their reactions to a catch. By the time they batted again SA's innings had kept them in the field for two and a half days in hot sun. That may have blunted their concentration in their second innings. (Last innings of this type in these circumstances are not uncommon). Coaches spend a lot of time working on players' cricket skills and physical fitness. Psychological strength and fitness should receive as much work as skill and physical fitness.

  • Tim on January 7, 2016, 10:19 GMT

    "But nobody in the top five made more than 60 in either innings" - if you'd said more than 20 or 30, or even "double figures", this would be a valid criticism but to say not more than 60 is similar to the complaint that Graham Thorpe didn't make enough 100's by converting all those 50's he got. Brilliant test however.

  • syed on January 7, 2016, 10:03 GMT

    England had lost many matches due to bad fielding. They do drop catches at crucial moments. the catch of ABD would have made a big difference to the match.

  • Keith on January 7, 2016, 8:26 GMT

    3Lions... In regards to outstanding English fieldsmen in the last few decades, I could name David Gower, Chris Lewis, Neil Fairbrother, Ian Bell (when he fielded in bat/pad positions, before they foolishly moved him to slips), James Anderson (although his hands have become a bit more dodgy lately) and, recently, Chris Jordan.

  • j on January 7, 2016, 5:45 GMT

    Both sides dropped catches in the first innings. difficult conditions for bowling. Batsmen dominating and unfortunately, in such situations fielders often have lapses. waiting 5 hours for something to happen and suddenly a chance comes is very different to T20 when you expect a catch every ball. still, at this level they should do better and it ultimately killed the game. could have been both sides all out for about 400 and an extra day to get a result.

  • Dennis on January 7, 2016, 4:40 GMT

    And what about Cook's contribution from the bat. It has been missing since 260 odd against Pakistan. He too is becoming very unreliable like Stokes at a much slower pace. What's more? He plays at the top and let's the opposition in with a quick dismissal. He should never be comparing England's fielding with SA's. SA have been good at producing brilliant fielders in every era. Rhodes, Gibbs, Crookes, Smith (at slip), ABD, etc... to name a few. The only brilliant fielder England came up with in the last 3 decades is Collingwood and he too on occasions have dropped a few and hence was not in the same class as the ones mentioned for SA. Stokes should be wondering what he's walked into. He could have savored a lot more victories had he chosen to represent NZ instead of being among weak hearted team mates. Just imagine what Baz, Kane, Taylor and Stokes, with their positive mindset could have done to any opposition.

  • Keith on January 7, 2016, 4:40 GMT

    Another way of looking at it is England gave fewer chances than South Africa, so there probably wasn't much difference between the two sides in regards to the percentage of catches taken and dropped. But England would still be disappointed that they missed so many, and their batting remains a concern - which is an ironical thing to say when the team has just scored 600.

  • Chris on January 7, 2016, 0:34 GMT

    Yeah, but SA dropped a few too in the English first innings which I'm sure Amla is also rueing and could have made things very different.

  • Merv on January 6, 2016, 22:41 GMT

    One innings on a flat track does not make the great player. With a batting average that was in the 20's and bowling average in the 40's, Stokes has a lot more work to do. SA showed that they still have mental toughness, even if 3 front of their line bowlers were missing. Maybe Smith had something to do with their positive attitude in this Test?

  • Thomas on January 6, 2016, 22:18 GMT

    well done Stokes, and still what a fascinating final day. Nothing like test cricket!

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