England lost the first test match at the oval and they are now 1-0 down with 2 to play. All eyes move to Headingley in Yorkshire. They were comprehensively beaten at the Oval, having pathetically managed one Hundred and only 2 Wickets in the entire game compared to South Africa who took 20 wickets and patiently compiled over 600 runs.
The prospects for the next test match are mixed for England but relatively straightforward for the Proteas. England go into the game knowing they must not lose it or else in a 3 match series they cannot come back. Ultimately this means they will be no longer the best side in the world. So; ‘Where do England go from here?’ and ‘Do South Africa need to do anything different.?’
Clearly South Africa’s immovable batsmen gave them an assailable lead and their bowlers were the spearhead. It is arguably more the fault of English batsmen for not getting first innings runs than English bowlers for not taking wickets on a deck flatter than a nuns chest. The stats don’t lie. South Africa hit over 600 and lost only two wickets, but England couldn’t get to 400 and lost 20. The disparity of first innings runs was the difference between the sides.
Speaking from past experience when a similar situation has arisen; when England have lost a game in a series the answer is that England need a more aggression and conviction. This is especially the case in the opening partnership in my opinion. If we turn out heads back to the Ashes ’05 second test at Edgbaston with Strauss, Trescothick and Vaughan and 09 at Lords with Cook and Strauss, both times coming out and silencing with the bat. Both times they went at over 4 runs per over they ran the bowlers ragged and put a cap on the pressure with boundaries. Though the South African attack are the best in the world arguably and therefore it is unlikely England are going to be able to hit 4 runs an over in the 1st innings of a test match. However we know Morkel may lose his lines and lengths if he is hit around as shown by Trego in the tour game, and Tahir is also still unproven. It is not impossible to hit the South Africans.
England need some spark. Whether its a captains innings or a Pietersen innings, they need something to really take the game away with the bat. They are not getting enough runs and not getting enough momentum. England have gone past 400 twice in 9 tests in 2012 and in that time England lost to Pakistan in 3-0 whitewash, lost a game in Sri Lanka and have lost to South Africa. It couldn’t be clearer. They are not getting enough runs and the bowlers have not got enough leeway.
There is one change to the batting partially forced as Bopara is not going to be playing due to ‘personal reasons’. Bopara has always been plagued by hype and expectation that inevitably turns to disappointment and honestly I am not sure whether he would have played anyway. But the long and the short of the situation is that young James Taylor of Nottinghamshire and skipper of the England Lions looks like he will get a debut test cap. He is a fine player and brilliant prospect. I get the feeling he is being picked more because they see him as the future rather than the present. Then again he is the hier to the poisoned challis i.e. the number 6 position for many fans and selectors alike.
The other day, Taylor scored his first century of the season with a timely and magical 163*. Coincidence that on this same day he received his call up for England, not a bad day.
It’s clear that Taylor’s recent form is poor as he has only scored 1 ton and 1 fifty in 2012 for Notts in FC cricket. He has a good record though. In 2011 he scored 1602 runs averaging 55.24 hitting 3 tons and 10 fifties .This was on the back of 2010 in which he scored 1134 runs averaging 42.00 with 3 tons and 4 fifties. He was impressive for the Lions and has been successful in CB40 and T20 Cricket smashing 115 of 77 balls this year. Small in stature with a genuine raw ability and good record he is an exciting prospect at 22 years old much like Bopara was a few years ago. Taylor needs to fill a gap that has never really been solved since the likes of Flintoff and Collingwood stopped working well at 6. Being thrust into the England side it may be interesting to see if he can he perform against the touring South Africans though, and if he can fit into the side well.
South Africa should only have one selection dilemna really as there is no reason at all to change a winning side. The few errors made by AB De Villiers behind the stumps could mean a test return for Tsolekile. However, i genuinely think that the balance and depth of this South African side is much better with this set up even if just until a permanent keeper is found.
The bowling was benign and toothless. The fact is that South Africa didn’t even need De Villiers who is ranked 3 in the world, nor did they need Rudolph or Duminy. Their bowlers rested for 3 days and they were utterly clinical once refreshed even on a flat deck. England can’t even get to the supposedly weaker or less cemented in the side batsmen so South Afirca will fancy their chances of getting big scores. England clearly need a change with the ball to make sure they have the capacity to take 20 wickets.
Here are a few key areas they need to look at.
Firstly a lack of pace – Anderson, Bresnan and especially Broad were slow. Bowling high seventies and low eighties consistently. It was completely un threatening for class batsmen like Kallis and Amla. My first solution is simply try to bowl quicker (which England definitely can).. Solution 2 (my preferred one) is pick Steven Finn. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t all about pace. Plenty of bowlers do well regardless of pace, but they do so because they do something with the ball, which bring me on to my 3rd Solution; bowl better and with more discipline so you don’t need to bowl as fast (and preferably also pick Finn for some pace too..)
The severe indiscipline in both length and line was evident. Too much short and wide bowling outside off stump to Amla and Kallis. Amla is a wristy back foot cutter and driver. Kallis a nervous starter. Once in nick both able to also supremely drive of both feet and whip away the ball more straight and leg side. They needed to bowl straighter and fuller early on. Also wrong lines to Smith; worried about bowling too straight so they overcompensated by bowling too wide. It felt a little bit like England had no plan at all. Severely down on pace, wrong lines and lengths, they looked a little bit like my Sunday side with bat and ball. (And that’s no complement )
A bloke called Graeme was also a minor issue. Nope, not Graeme Smith… Well i suppose yes actually Smith was too, bearing in mind he scored a century.. but Swann is who i am really referring to. Where was he? I don’t think he has bowled that badly in the last year taking 35 wickets but he has not been as dangerous as his initial burst of international cricket. Smith played him expertly coming down the wicket to him and working his good length balls to the leg side but advancing and turning them into fuller balls. If Swann is not taking wickets that is possibly ok providing he is economical, but if he is going for runs and not holding up an end then it only reinforces the fact that he is not the bowler he was a year and a bit ago. With the exception of Sri Lanka, he has not been in the best form of his life recently and needs to rediscover his Mojo or England are short.
England need some spite and zip with the bowlers. This year Broad Anderson and Swann have all had fantastic years, but nothing compared to Steyn Morkel and Phillander. They need to step up a gear and take them on. Set some new standards and really put England into a stronger position. Steyn Morkel and Phillander are bowling quicker, more accurately and have better bouncers but England’s attack got them to the top so they need to show they can keep them there.
In my view It is a straight swap between Bresnan i can only assume, and that of either Steven Finn or Graham Onions. Finn offers pace and bounce, Onions offers experience, line and length. The change in the bowling is likely to be Bresnan but this in my view is purely because you cannot really drop Broad after his phenomenal year. Broad was not test match standard in the Oval test match, bowling medium pace and Un-threatening lines and lengths, but he shouldn’t be dropped on that as the T20 skipper and top 15 ranked bowler, he is quality and has proven that so lets not have a knee jerk reaction. Bresnan unfortunately has been down on pace for a period of time now. After his elbow injury he has been changed into an 82-5 MPH bowler instead of a 84-7 or 88 MPH bowler. He occasionally reverses it but Finn or Onions offer a lot more. The fact Bresnan and Broad can bat a little bit are irrelevant in this choice as far as i’m concerned. Lets make sure we can take 20 wickets and not give away 3 or 4 cheap ones..
England need some record breakers. Big partnerships. They have done it before. Big wickets which they have also done before. England Did not lose to SA the last time they toured here or we toured there so it is not un doable. They need to take a lead out of South Africa’s book. Need More patience and conviction with the bat, Better solid partnerships and slightly faster and more accurate bowling. They are still 1 in the world until they lose and they can still salvage this series but if they lose the second test it is all but over.