Defeat in final Test should not dampen England spirits

England should return home from South Africa very pleased with what they have achieved on their tour. To go out there, one of the most difficult places in the world to play cricket, and not lose in any of the three series (Twenty20, one-day international and Test) is a credit to them.

Neil Fairbrother

England should return home from South Africa very pleased with what they have achieved on their tour. To go out there, one of the most difficult places in the world to play cricket, and not lose in any of the three series (Twenty20, one-day international and Test) is a credit to them. They will no doubt go home disappointed, however, after South Africa came back to draw the Test series with victory at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.

The surprising thing about England’s convincing defeat was the manner in which they folded after holding on in thrilling fashion twice previously in the series to prevent South Africa claiming victory. Of course Graham Onions was the key to both those rearguard actions and, in my view, it was a travesty he was not selected for the final Test. I may be a little biased because Graham is one of our clients here at ISM, but I thought he bowled extremely well during the series and batted with great composure despite the tense situation when called upon.

The selectors had clearly decided they wanted Ryan Sidebottom in the side at the Wanderers because they thought it was the sort of pitch which would suit him. I’m sure Graham would have loved to have bowled at the Wanderers after bowling on much flatter surfaces earlier in the series, but it was England’s belief he was looking tired.

It was the batting, however, which contributed most to England’s downfall. They had dug in so well previously in the series, so it was very disappointing to see them bowled out for under 200 in both innings. The pitch was a bit livelier than some of the others we have seen in the series, but it was not unplayable by any means. When you’re trying to save a game with plenty of time left, batsmen usually try and be positive because playing defensively for a long period of time can be very draining. There is, though, a big difference between playing positively and being reckless and there were some England players on that final day who will be very disappointed with their shots.

That is a worrying sign for England as they plan forward and they will be concerned by the form of Kevin Pietersen during the Test series. By his own very high standards, he had a quiet tour and England will need him to improve in the next year as they build towards the Ashes tour. For any batsman on any surface, it is important you get yourself in before playing too aggressively and too many of them failed to do that on that final day.

The big surprise for me, though, has been the decision by captain Andrew Strauss to miss February’s tour of UAE and Bangladesh because he is jaded. England’s players will have four or five weeks off now before they fly out again and they have all said this team is a work in progress so you would have thought they would have wanted the captain at the helm for each step of the way. Strauss will also be missing the ICC World Twenty20 tournament in May, which will be another five weeks away from international cricket, so in my view there is more than enough time for him to recover.

Jimmy Anderson is also missing Bangladesh, but I can understand it from his point of view because he has been clearly struggling with a knee problem and it will give them a chance to sort that out. His omission has given Ajmal Shahzad an opportunity on his first senior tour after impressing for Yorkshire last season and with the England Performance Programme out in South Africa before Christmas and the experience of going on his first senior tour I am sure will be invaluable to his development.

I was also surprised about the decision to only take two spinners with James Tredwell accompanying Graeme Swann on the trip. I would have thought Adil Rashid would have had a chance to play on wickets which would have suited him for a change and in my view they have take one spinner two few and one too many seamers.

They will encounter a Lions squad including Craig Kieswetter when they get out to UAE, who will form part of England's warm-up to their two Twenty20 Internationals against Pakistan. Craig is now qualified for England and fully committed to playing international cricket for them and hopefully this trip will be the next step on his journey towards achieving that. Another member of ISM’s stable, Hampshire batsman James Vince, has enjoyed an impressive start to the under-19 World Cup in New Zealand, claiming the man-of-the-match award during England’s opening victory against Hong Kong with 76 not out before hitting an unbeaten 49 in their second win over Afghanistan.

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