Suntanned and satisfied after a beautiful summers day at the Oval on day five, as a cricket fan i am delighted with what i have seen. Unfortunately along with the other one hundred thousand that went to the Oval over the course of the five days, i am bitterly disappointed with England’s loss. From a Day one end with Cook rollicking along past his 20th century, it looked as if the Proteas had not turned up. It is clear however that the only players that didn’t turn up were England’s.
The fact is that as Michael Vaughan correctly asserts ‘England have been hammered and it is not often they get hammered at gome.’ England were a frail and disjointed mess. The first day was marred by rain delays and lackluster bowling from all the South African quicks which meant it was also sprinkled with class of Cook and endurance of Trott. Unfortunately once Cook had compiled his fantastic ton, over the course of day two, England capitulated. They made 118 runs and lost 7 wickets. After Cook had come and gone, the score shockingly was transformed from a respectable and steady base position of 251-3 to 313-7 which is essentially England throwing away their entire middle order. They had a severe batting collapse and the torment began.
I’ve heard a lot of ‘reasons’ .. or some would say excuses why this collapse has happened. The pitch, The conditions, the quality of the bowlers all factors. But i cannot but think that perhaps these wickets were due to indiscipline as well as the good bowling. Cook chopped on to his stumps instead of just defending or driving straight. Trott played a drive ball on the up and got caught behind. Pietersen kept pulling and was brilliantly set up by Kallis caught down the leg side. Bopara completely gave it away trying to turn into a helicopter i can only presume and Bell of course was bowled by Kallis. There was a lot of laziness and indecision and not enough patience to get in, especially with Pietersen.
The fact is that first innings runs are absolutely crucial. England got 385 of 125.5 overs. This is a poor run rate. Even though South Africa on the first day didn’t take many wickets, they had control. it was not a run fest. Come day two, there was not a huge base and the collapse occurred meaning a far below par score. Looking at England’s score relative to South Africa it is clear just how out of depth England are, not just in terms of not scoring enough but in relation to getting bowled out twice.
I think despite Cook’s ton, the most successful innings was Prior as he was able to score some much needed runs, which is of course the best way of making the bowler change their plans and put them off. Regardless, England’s failure with the bat meant they were all out by the start middle of day two, with South Africa batting solidly for 3 days more or less.
The careful, deliberate and highly skillful compiling of an agonizing 637 for two off 189 horribly exposed the fact that England were missing a cutting edge, a Partnership breaker and a bowler to hold pressure. Baring in mind Petersen fell for zero, there were two main partnerships Smith and Amla from 1-1 to 260-2 and Amla and Kallis from 260-2 to 637-2 dec. It couldn’t possibly be clearer that the difference between the two sides 1st innings is that the South African batsmen were determined to get in and compile a huge score through partnerships whereas England were a bit of a freeforall.
Smith scoring a 100 in his hundredth test was a typically gritty and dogged innings from the Saffers captain. He is not elegant or fluent but perhaps that is irrelevant when you average 50 and can claim to have never lost a game in which you have scored a ton.
Amla, Smith and Kallis all valued their wicket in a Steve Waugh type ‘over my dead body’ fashion. ‘ It was relentless for England’s shoddy and ineffective bowlers, especially the danger men, Anderson and Swann. There was not only no respite from the batsmen, but there was no desperation or urgency to stop the runs from the bowlers. The bowling was perpetually too wide outside off stump to make Smith play and too short to Amla at an un threatening pace. Both pounced on anything too straight, but the fact is that England should have been bowling a 4th stump line instead of a wide outside off stump line or shorter length.
Amla’s 311* was possibly one of the most elegant innings i have ever watched. I have seen plenty of Vaughan, Sangakarra, Tendulkar and Bell tons on the Telly etc.. but this was right up there. Extremely pleasing on the eye, and exactly what his team wanted and needed. Valuing his wicket like gold.
In 12 games in England Kallis had an average of 29 with 1 ton and 3 fifties. He now has 2 tons and an average of 38 in England. A far cry from his career average of a wapping 57 but it is closer for sure. He is truly a sensational batsmen, and a hugely valuable one with bat, ball and in the field, not to mention helping Smith now Boucher is not in his ear. Lets not forget that few 36 year old batsmen are able to bounce out Kevin Pietersen.
I am a Stuart Broad fan as in last 12 months he has been phenomenal due to being able to adapt through slightly lowering his pace and extracting from conditions. He was totally impotent and not sticking to his lines well enough. I don’t think he was test quality in the Oval test. Was very poor and i think should be in contention for replacement should England so wish to bring in Finn or Onions. Anderson was unlucky in the sense he bowled good lines and lengths for a lot of the time, but arguably did not have as much discipline when bowling with the new red cherry.
I wasn’t really sure what to think of Bresnan. In the one sense he took a wicket, but in the other sense, he was under bowled i think. Not trusted with the ball at crucial times. Maybe i’m in a minority, but i am still unconvinced of his supposed golden touch with the team. He is a steady bowler but not an outstanding bowler in the way Anderson or Steyn is. As far as i’m concerned, Steven Finn would offer more pace, bounce and height. Bresnan can of course bat and field well, so there is a little dilemna still pending.
I went to day 5 to see England’s second innings. I tried a rain dance to encourage some clouds over Kennington. It clearly didn’t work as my arms got browner and browner in the mid July 28c heat
England’s second innings was utterly dreadful. Cook and Trott got a complete Jaffas, but apart from that i would say wickets were handed away. Pietersen the obvious culprit being bowled by Morkel. Bell played well on the 5th day but it was arguably in a hopeless task with a South African win very likely.
Strauss at the post match interview said something on the lines of ‘ It was a flat deck and not good for the bowlers.’ Thats undoubtedly true. BUT one has to ask does this say something about the England batsmen? Surely if it was a bad pitch for bowling the South Africans would have not been able to take twenty English wickets? It seems a bit of a lame excuse by Strauss.
Dale Steyn in the fourth innings bowled some of the best fast bowling i have seen in England for a very long time. His lines and lengths were exemplary. He got just enough movement to trouble the batsmen. The obvious difference between the quality of Steyn in this test and the Mediocracy of England in my opinion was pace and zip.
Maybe statistically most bowlers were around 81 or 82 consistently, Steyn always had that energy and bounce and the threat of a short ball or a swinging ball. he is the compete modern Fast Bowler and his number one ranking is fully deserved.