Tuesday, 21 August 2012

South Africa Numero Uno

Jonny Bairstow 95 and 54
England almost inevitably relinquished their relatively short hold of the top spot in world cricket, losing the Test series to South Africa in the decider at Lords. They did so with style and grace in both the manner in which they played and the courage their captain and selectors showed in suspending Kevin Peitersen. His loss was crucial to the outcome but that was known before the toss and in taking the high and most importantly, appropriate moral ground, they have done what other countries have refused to do in the past.

Had Pakistan taken such options, perhaps the corruption we have in the game wouldn't have reached such threatening levels. Had India exercised controls over the IPL and craved less filthy rupes, it wouldn't be keeping Test players from representing their countries as has been seen in the West Indies camp in recent times. Had Australia shown spine over the multitude of Shane Warne's off field socially unacceptable behaviours, perhaps cricket authorities, from nation to neighbourhood level, wouldn't be tolerating the spoilt brats who demand such pampering.

I say, well played England. Forget number one status on the field. Your courage and strength leads the world in how the game should be played and makes a stand for the values that elevated cricket beyond a game. Moral leadership is what the game has been craving. New Zealand have showed the way in the last twelve months with their own adherence to disciplinary measures. Perhaps this might mark a new, better trend.

Philander 5-30 in the second
As to the game itself, the English media have been playing it up as a cliff hanger but the 51 run margin was comfortable and in the end, the better side won the series. 2-0 in a three Test series is a thrashing. England's demise has been coming all year, with their much vaunted batting line up proving erratic. The consistency with which they had gathered partnerships and built big team scores has fallen apart and too much reliance has fallen on individual brilliance rather than men joining together. This has left the bowlers to play catch up and Jimmy Anderson has been the main soldier. Stuart Broad was more sporadic than England needed and the third seamer position rarely delivered, despite Steve Finn's good work at the Oval. Johnny Bairstow rewarded the faith of the selectors with two good innings and Matt Prior was his usual robust self in the second innings forlorn fight.

England have been failing since Pakistan ran the cleaners through them in the UAE during their winter and apart from a meaningless one day series against Australia, have looked a shadow.

South Africe peaked perfectly. They were better in all departments and although it took Vernon Philander until the final Test to show his metal, it was decisive when he did. Hashim Amla was by far the best batsman of the series, with 482 runs at 120 but Duminy, Kallis, Petersen and Smith all averaged more than fifty. By contrast, Bairstow in one Test and Prior topped fifty for England and Pietersen punched some of the right buttons in his two matches. Steyn was the leading wicket taker and Philander the most economical but for England, none of the real bowlers averaged less than thirty. Brave face or not,this series was a disaster for England.

The burning question which remains unanswered is why the battle between 1 & 2 was played over three Tests? The two sides now play five ODI's and three T20's - that's eight additional days of cricket. Bear in mind that England hosted Australia before this series began for another five ODI's. That's 13 days of limited over cricket in a program that could support only 15 days for the d'Olveria Series! The ICC needs to step in if they are serious about the primacy of Test cricket and ensure that series between sides in the top four on their table must play five Test series. The game demands it.

Andrew Strauss ... when?
An interesting aside: the English television media all call Trott by his given name, Ian.

The question mark now is a matter of timing for Andrew Strauss. He has had a mixed summer with the bat, being strong early but managed only 107 runs in six digs against the Proteas. The stand made against Pietersen was a show of strength by the ECB but its questionable whether his continuance is in England's best interests. Alastair Cook will take the reigns for the ODI series which is to follow and England won't play Tests again until November, when they will tour India.

Now might be the time.