England one step away from historic series victory

If England can emerge from the Wanderers without defeat it would be an outstanding effort. Up until a few months ago South Africa were the No 1 rated Test team in the world and if we can come away with a series victory, it will do wonders for the confidence of the team, the captain and the coaching staff and will take England a step nearer becoming the No 1 Test team themselves.

Neil Fairbrother

What another epic Test match in Cape Town to continue the drama of this fantastic series! Graham Onions has now been England’s savior twice in the most dramatic of circumstances and the tension of the finish to the Durban and Cape Town Tests has only served to bolster the reputation of Test cricket at an important time. Both Test matches were staged at a time when there were plenty of things going on back in Britain with snow and ice gripping the country and a full Premier League football programme, but people were still talking about the cricket and the coverage was on both the front and back pages. It was great for cricket.

When the Test began at Newlands there was obviously something in the wicket early on and Jimmy Anderson continued his impressive form throughout the series by claiming an early breakthrough but crucially, Graeme Smith was dropped at slip by Graeme Swann off Onions. It didn’t cost England much in terms of runs, but it kept Jacques Kallis away from the new ball when it was at its most potent and allowed him an easier start to his innings. It enabled him to settle and score another beautiful hundred. He will have enjoyed that innings because he had a big partnership with his great mate Mark Boucher – the two of them are inseparable off the field – which guided South Africa to a decent total on a wicket that had done a bit.

I was particularly impressed with Anderson, who again bowled superbly to claim a deserved five-wicket haul and is the unrivalled leader of our attack now. He has been supported superbly by Onions and Stuart Broad and the three of them have bowled so well the selectors have had an easy job in naming the side. The only downside to having a line-up with three specialist seamers and Swann as the spinner is that during our second innings they wilted a little bit in fiercely-hot temperatures and South Africa were able to power on to a commanding lead.

That would have been a concern to the selectors as they look to plan ahead to next winter’s Ashes series, but it’s the only time this winter that England have looked lightweight in their attack and they can be encouraged by the results they have earned during this series. South Africa have clearly done their homework with Swann and played him much better in Cape Town, but I am not sure we will see as much of Swann bowling in the final Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg because by all accounts, the pitch there will be lively and suit the quicker bowlers.

Of course South Africa’s progress into such a big lead was overshadowed by the ball-tampering allegations when Broad was firstly accused of trying to rough up the ball by stopping it with his boot and then Anderson was seen apparently picking at the ball. I have read since that Broad has said he was just being lazy and I’ve seen the footage of Jimmy and I really don’t think it looks that serious. As a former player I’ve seen that sort of stuff going on countless times when bowlers try to clean the ball after a bit of dirt has attached itself without trying to alter the state of the ball.

That controversy has certainly added a bit of spice to the build-up for the final Test and I’m sure it’s going to be great viewing. I’m sure England will enter the match full of confidence after the way their batsmen performed, particularly Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood, in the second innings. They both performed magnificently and went a long way towards saving the match. I’m hoping that Bell’s century in Durban and his defensive innings on that final day in Cape Town will prove a significant innings towards establishing himself as a major player at this level. He has long been accused of not performing when the chips are down and he’s responded unbelievably well.

All the batsmen look like they have runs in them apart from our best player, Kevin Pietersen. I don’t know whether the crowd’s hostility towards him is getting to him a little bit, but he is one person who loves the big occasion and I’m sure he’ll come out for the final Test with all guns blazing and it wouldn’t surprise me if he still has a big impact on the series.

If England can emerge from the Wanderers without defeat it would be an outstanding effort. Up until a few months ago South Africa were the No 1 rated Test team in the world and if we can come away with a series victory, it will do wonders for the confidence of the team, the captain and the coaching staff and will take England a step nearer becoming the No 1 Test team themselves.

 

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