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Chris Silverwood defends Joe Root's decision to bowl first despite heavy defeat

Head coach suggests England camp read conditions incorrectly ahead of toss

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
England coach Chris Silverwood talks to Joe Root, South Africa A v England, three-day practice match, Benoni, December 22, 2019

England coach Chris Silverwood talks to Joe Root  •  Getty Images

England head coach Chris Silverwood has defended captain Joe Root's decision to bowl first after winning the toss against South Africa, despite the decision backfiring as South Africa sealed a 107-run win at Centurion.
On the first morning of the game, Root admitted that he faced a "tricky decision" at the toss but said England had a "great opportunity" to dismiss South Africa for a low first-innings total. In the event, the hosts rallied from 111 for 5 to reach 284 all out, and made use of excellent bowling conditions on the second day to bowl England out for 181.
"It was pretty simple really," Silverwood told Sky Sports. "When we got here, the wicket was a little bit damp, and we suspected it would do a little bit with the new ball, which it did. It did something for most of the day, and we suspected that days two and three would be the best days to bat, and [the pitch] would deteriorate. As it turned out, day three was the best day to bat."
Root said he maintained the decision was "a 50-50 call" and blamed the defeat on a collapse of 7 wickets for 39 runs in the first innings, rather than his choice to bowl first.
"It's very easy to stand here now and say that, but [when] you get a side 111 for 5, you really think you've got ahead of the game if you like. Maybe [that was] a slight opportunity missed, but ultimately you have to give credit to South Africa.
"That [collapse] was the real crux of it - that's where the game was won and lost. It's really disappointing, but in the same sense it's really pleasing to see us very quickly put a better performance [in the] second innings."
While there may have been some logic to Root's decision to bowl, the record of visiting teams who choose to bowl first in recent Test history is extremely poor.
In the past two-and-a-half years, there have been 13 occasions on which an away captain has won the toss and inserted the home team, and only once has that resulted in a victory - Sri Lanka's Kusal Perera-inspired win in Durban in February. Similarly, only once has a visiting team won after winning the toss and choosing to bowl at Centurion, in the infamous 2000 Test between these teams which saw both sides forfeit an innings.
Silverwood also defended the decision to field an all-seam attack for the second consecutive Test match, despite the fact that Keshav Maharaj, South Africa's left-arm spinner, made two crucial breakthroughs in dismissing Dom Sibley on the third evening and Ben Stokes on the fourth afternoon.
"It was a gameplan that we had," he said. "We looked at the wicket, and it was a direction that we decided to take. There's plenty of parts of the game you could pick to pieces and say 'if we'd done better there' or 'if we'd made a different decision there', but we decided to go that way.
"We went for it, and when you stick a team in you expect to bowl them out in a day and we did [South Africa were 277 for 9 at the close]. Obviously then to concede a 100-run deficit in that first innings was hard."
Asked if he would feel confident throwing Matt Parkinson, the young legspinner, into the side for the Cape Town Test assuming Jack Leach remains unwell, Silverwood said: "Obviously we've got Parky here, we've got [Dom] Bess here, and we've got to see how Leach recovers first.
"We'll be working closely with the medical staff, but we have got some good spinners here, so if we've got to play one then yes, I'm confident."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98