England v South Africa – Game Over

It’s been a fun four days. I don’t usually have test matches scheduled around my birthday (it was on Friday but I don’t want to talk about it) as the second series usually starts in mid to late July. So it was nice to watch a lot of cricket as I took time off, didn’t have a celebratory drink and chilled out after another traumatic and hectic week. What I saw was a very good England performance, with flaws of course, but still a resounding start to the Root regime. It was, also, good to see the return of some perennial blog commenters who seemed to have gone into hibernation as the hit rate increases massively in the longer form of the game.

It is often said by the editorial board that we are a “Bad News Blog”. It is true to a degree but that’s because the writers are a dreadful bunch of cynics. One thing we always say is that we should not over-react to a victory, because the team has major flaws. It is a test team that lost 6 out of the last 8 matches, which can be partially explained away, but not totally by alien conditions etc. Any turn in form, and home wins are a good way to start, has to be welcomed.

We started the day with England 119/1 and well on top. There had been a number of comments made about the pace of the response – I think we sometimes become  a little passive when we are on top – but many will also point out that the loss of 19 wickets in a day is justification for the decision to be ultra careful. Whenever the name Alastair Cook is raised, we see the temperature go the same way. Note the return of an old favourite today because I had the sheer gall to mention HIM. Cook’s 69 was, in the end, with the judgement of the scorebook, the match and the day’s play, was vital to steady the ship. Some, not me, think he puts pressure on the team-mates when he does that – the same thing was frequently levelled a Geoff Boycott – but the main evidence is how the game plays out, and without it, we might have been in trouble. Jonny Bairstow, a totally different player to Cook showed you could prosper if you took an aggressive attitude, so it wasn’t one size fits all. I just point out, repeatedly because facts are so damn awkward that:

  • Cook has made 5 hundreds in his last 92 test innings.
  • Cook has converted just 5 of his last 30 half-centuries into hundreds, but yet again Nasser mentioned Root’s conversion rate after the end of the game.

So when Cook was the first to fall, after a nothing sort of shot was well caught by Bavuma, the house of cards fell around him. Ballance nicked off, with Morkel bowling really well, Root was loose with Maharaj and was bowled. Stokes fell LBW to a Rabada delivery, which kept a little low but wasn’t the shooter that the pundits were wibbling on about. Suddenly 131/1 was 149/5 and some nerves were detected. A little stabilisation, with 20 odd runs added on by Bairstow and Moeen stemmed the bleeding, and it was at 180 that Moeen fell. A little tail wagging between Wood and JB took the score past 200 (after Dawson had completed a pair) and England wangled their way up to 233. Imperceptibly, Maharaj had taken four wickets, including the stumping of Bairstow to complete the innings. It was a portent of things to come.

England had set the visitors 331 to win, and it was evident from early on in the piece that they were never going to get anywhere near it. A great legside catch by Johnny Bairstow got rid of Kuhn, and a caught and bowled by Ali did for Elgar. Dawson saw off Amla, and then Moeen pretty much did the rest. South Africa looked like they might not get to three figures, but they did. Moeen took six wickets, for 10 in the match, and Dawson nabbed two.

England ended up winning by 211 runs. But for many of us on the blog, the highlight of the day was JP Duminy holing out at mid-wicket the last ball before tea. Duminy is one of those frustrating characters who appear to have most of the shots, but not most of the gumption. He’s not in the frame to be dropped as I listen to the Verdict (and what the hell has happened to that?) yet one of our number is adamant that he should be. We awaited his response, and it came…..

South Africa have a huge reputation for digging in and fighting. This was an awful surrender. The team looks quite weak in batting on paper. Elgar was dealt an inexperienced hand with no Faf, and with a player who could definitely help giving his committed support to the team, on Twitter! They missed chances, but they also appeared to lack resilience. With no Rabada in the second test, with Faf able to replace about four batsmen in the line-up, and with Philander nursing a damaged bowling hand, the prospects look dodgy indeed.

England must be very happy. A captain making 190 puts to bed early fears about the role affecting his form. Our pundits have memories like goldfish for some things, and like elephants don’t forget others. Root has banished one of the memes instantly. Moeen taking ten is great, adds to his confidence, but this was also the same man who was cannon fodder in India. He’s not as great as today’s figures, and not as bad as the confidence-shot man from last winter. His batting, at 7, is becoming like a mini-Gilchrist, albeit with a velvet smooth swing, for England, with him hitting fast runs to bail us out, or to make us strong. He’s a key weapon. For the rest, this was a pretty nothing test match. Good in parts, proved not very much, but also not done a lot of harm. The media are itching for Ballance to fail (don’t ever give me the agenda crap when this is as clear as day to me).

We’ll have some more considered thoughts in the week, perhaps, but for now England are 1 up, test matches have started, and I feel the season is now in full flow. Isn’t that something to be thankful for.

Finally, congrats to the England women’s team for their World Cup victory over Australia. Well done! Always good to beat the old enemy,