Castle on the Hill: 4th Test, Day Two

The first Test of this series seems an awfully long time ago, and as we approach the conclusion of the red ball part of this tour, England are tightening the screw and exerting ever greater dominance by the day. Having waited a couple of years to score 400 in a Test match, England did it again for the second game running, and on a pitch offering a little more to the bowlers than at Port Elizabeth. It was also something of a bonus – England had batted passably well – although no one scored more than the 66 that Zak Crawley managed – but following a mini-collapse leaving England 318-9, a rollocking last wicket stand between Wood and Broad raised England from a reasonable total to a good one.

Tail end partnerships invariably invoke diametrically opposed emotions from those watching, for the English it was a hoot, both in terms of Wood’s clean striking and also in providing an echo of the days when Stuart Broad was so nearly a genuine all rounder. His batting decline has been precipitous, and given England’s determination to pick bowlers who can score runs, there will come a time when his relegation to number eleven is the determining factor behind him being dropped. More than anything else, that feeling of slight melancholy (allied with giggles) when he hits the ball as superbly as he did today can’t be avoided. It remains mystifying that over several years his decline was accepted as one of those things by the various coaching teams. Ironically enough, in the last year he has looked just a little better, albeit from a low base.

For South Africa, that partnership was a shambles – up to eight fielders on the boundary bowling to numbers 10 and 11 was surely the wrong way to go, even if captaincy and bowler meltdowns when faced with tail end slogging are far from unusual. South African minds are showing all the signs of being thoroughly scrambled now.

If South Africa have been guilty all too often of gifting their wickets this series, England deserve plenty of credit for the way they left their hosts in tatters today. Sure, Dean Elgar will have nightmares about the way he slapped the ball to point, but in general it was English excellence that worked its way through the top order. It’s not to pretend that South Africa’s batting is at a level where it ought to resist, because it has been brittle to the point of disintegration, but today they were trying everything to survive, they just got stuck, strokeless and the pressure ramped up as the run rate plummeted. On this occasion, England did bowl superbly, extracting far more life from the surface than their counterparts and generally just being too good for the South African batting. Wood’s dismissal of Malan was clocked at 94.4mph – the second fastest wicket taking ball by an Englishman recorded (Steve Harmison holds that particular record, a desperately unfortunate Glenn McGrath failing to deal with one at 97mph). One thing England have lacked in some years is bowling variety; with a left armer in Curran, a tall and brilliant seamer in Broad, a genuine pace merchant in Wood (or Archer) and an all rounder at the height of his powers in the shape of Ben Stokes, they have a balanced enough attack. Woakes as the traditional English seamer fits in to this bowling line up in a way that he doesn’t with the four right arm medium quicks they have had all too often.

Stokes offers mongrel to the England side in more than one way, and today was fined 15% of his match fee and handed a demerit point for his curiously old school volley of abuse to a spectator last evening. It was a relatively minor transgression by the Ed Sheeran lookalike, and the punishment is appropriate enough, but it is another reminder that while he remains the MVP in the England team, things like this will be accepted. When he goes through a rough patch, or his powers begin to wane, keep an eye out for the stories starting to appear about him being hard to manage – the modus operandi of the ECB is too frequent to ignore.

England didn’t pick a spinner, to consternation in some quarters, but the evidence so far suggests they haven’t made a mistake. That may yet prove an oversight by day four, should we get there, but as things stand the seamers are being rotated, and rotated to effect. Perhaps the bigger miss was for South Africa, who had no options when Broad and Wood were frolicking in the middle.

The plight of South African cricket – in which England themselves are certainly complicit – provokes a sense of gloom for anyone who loves this stupid game. It makes any praising of England laced with concern as they go about their business of beating up a national team who we desperately need in the world game. But it does need to be said that by one means or another, England are beginning to identify the core of what might be a half reasonable side. If Joe Denly is unlikely to have a long term future in the team, he has at least brought a degree of discipline that has rubbed off on those with more natural ability than him, and to that extent if nothing else, he’s performed a valuable service to English cricket. Likewise, the improved overall disposition has highlighted specific problem areas that were previously just part of an endless list of disasters to be dealt with. Jos Buttler’s struggles with the bat were disguised among everyone else’s – now they are abundantly clear.

We are two days in to this game, and the outcome of this match is pretty clear, barring miracles. The depression of South African cricket lovers, not at the state of this series but at the state of the sport, mitigates the degree of satisfaction their English counterparts at the way their team is progressing. England are not even close to the finished article, but they do at least look like they have a plan. After several years of circling the drain, that is welcome. If only the world game could develop a similar plan to allow all nations to compete on an even basis.


27 thoughts on “Castle on the Hill: 4th Test, Day Two

  1. dArthez Jan 25, 2020 / 4:55 pm

    “They are not even close to the finished article, but they do at least look like they have a plan. After several years of circling the drain, that is welcome. If only the world game could develop a similar plan to allow all nations to compete on an even basis.”

    Since grammatically speaking ‘they’ refers back to “South African cricket lovers”, may I ask if you are in the business of selling poisoned chalices on the internet? And if so, what is the going rate? I could have one please.

    As for what the finished article looks like, I hate to even think 10 all out will not be a new Test record in a few years time. But with the way South Africa are going, that might be a team best in 2027.


    • thelegglance Jan 25, 2020 / 5:02 pm

      Fair objection. Now corrected to make clear it meant England.


  2. Mark Jan 25, 2020 / 5:18 pm

    In reacting to the fan, I’m afraid Ben Stokes has insured that he will now be called “Ed Sheeran” by every local wannabe middleweight, and local town drunk at every foreign cricket ground he plays at.

    I’m sure the Aussies will have Ed Shreerans greatest hits (if that’s not an oxymoron) blaring out for the rest of his career.

    As to the cricket…..memo to authorities. Sport is no good if there is no contest. And the authorities have spent the last five years doing everything they can to make cricket a sport with little in the way of contest.

    Looks like we can add SA, to the list of others WI, SL, who have passed there sell by date. It’s difficult to judge England when so many of their opponents are hapless.


    • dArthez Jan 25, 2020 / 5:20 pm

      Well, if they play Sheeran’s greatest hits, Stokes should say: “At least you all sound more intelligent than you used to.”


      • thelegglance Jan 25, 2020 / 5:21 pm

        I am frankly gutted neither of you two have passed comment on the title of this post. What are you, music lovers?


        • dArthez Jan 25, 2020 / 5:23 pm

          Yes. I hardly have anything produced after 1979 in my music collection, thank you very much (there is a bit, but most of those artists were making music before then).


          • thelegglance Jan 25, 2020 / 5:25 pm

            Have you listened to the new Who album? It’s astonishingly good. A huge surprise.


          • dArthez Jan 25, 2020 / 5:35 pm

            No I have not yet. Will give it a listen, and thanks for pointing it out (it is not like I have much access to music news here in Kenya, unless I go out of my way).

            Liked by 1 person

          • thelegglance Jan 25, 2020 / 5:44 pm

            It opens with the line “I don’t care/I know you’re going to hate this song” and you think well, they’re back then! 🤣


          • Mark Jan 25, 2020 / 6:30 pm

            Someone gave me Roger Daltrey’s autobiography for Christmas. I haven’t read it yet.

            I’m still half way through Keith Richards book. The first bIt about his early life and meeting Mick is very good. I fear the latter part will descend into a drug fuddle,


      • Mark Jan 25, 2020 / 6:21 pm

        That’s an Ed Sheeran song is it? Castle on the Hill? I would not have a clue.

        Sounds more like something The Strawbs, or Jethro Tull would have churned out about 1973. More my era.


        • thelegglance Jan 25, 2020 / 6:28 pm

          I did have to Google a song title. I’m very proud…


          • Mark Jan 25, 2020 / 6:36 pm


            So his greatest hits will be a bit of a mystery to us then? Perhaps it will even defeat the Aussies from finding it.

            Liked by 1 person

    • thelegglance Jan 25, 2020 / 5:21 pm

      I suspect his team mates are already piling in with the Ed Sheeran stuff. Maybe we need to re-name the Barbra Streisand effect.


      • Mark Jan 25, 2020 / 6:14 pm

        It’s not exactly Viv Richards jumping into the crowd when he was racially abused is it? I know Ed Sheeran is not exactly Clark Gable (one for the teenagers) but FFS!


      • Marek Jan 25, 2020 / 6:16 pm

        Is Ed`Sheeran worse thann “potato” do you think?!


  3. man in a barrel Jan 25, 2020 / 6:47 pm

    Curious, isn’t it, that Sky do not renew Gower’s contract and then hire Gooch as a pundit? Who the hell would employ Gooch as a pundit? He has the personality of a sheet of sandpaper. A man of no opinions at all. I suppose he is an improvement on Dominic Cork but that is setting the barrier below sea-level


  4. man in a barrel Jan 25, 2020 / 6:48 pm

    I am waiting in hope for Specsavers to cash in on Stokes, Sheeran and the “four – eyed” abuse. Has anyone asked Ed for his opinion?


  5. psoans Jan 25, 2020 / 8:04 pm

    Sky did an interesting piece during the Ashes about the no. 11 position. Darren Gough made a statement that he felt he was not a no. 11 and his batting got worse once he got pushed down because he didn’t care as much because most of the time he wanted to get bowling as fast as possible. I wonder if the same thing has happened to Broad. He may not have taken a wicket but he was on fire.


    • thelegglance Jan 25, 2020 / 8:42 pm

      I guess the one thing there is that he’s just got down to 11. They kept him higher in the order than his batting warranted. Take the point though.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. dArthez Jan 26, 2020 / 10:05 am

    One 79-run stand to pretend that South Africa is remotely Test class these days. The other wickets have contributed 95/8 between them thus far. On a pitch that is not doing much. Against a good, but hardly world class bowling attack (although with the deterioration of standards in world cricket today anything that was average in 1990s would probably be world class today).

    Oh, and needless to say, yet again the tailenders and de Kock (who was promoted to bat at 5 AHEAD of a specialist batsman (who has a record that does not even look favorable when compared to Buttler, but Buttler at least has the excuse of keeping wicket for quite a bit) did better than the specialist batsmen. I think I finally figured out why South Africa are persisting in picking 5 bowlers. The batsmen will bat more poorly than the bowlers anyway.

    Seriously, I’d be surprised if Root does not enforce the follow on, and if the “Test” does not end today.


    • dArthez Jan 26, 2020 / 10:39 am

      No follow on, so a loss by 420 runs it will be then.


  7. dlpthomas Jan 26, 2020 / 10:21 am

    Good effort from Wood. He looks a much better bowler when he pitches it up.


  8. man in a barrel Jan 26, 2020 / 11:22 am
  9. dArthez Jan 26, 2020 / 12:28 pm

    In case people are wondering, after the Philander injury, it means that Nortje is the most experienced Test bowler for South Africa on the field; a guy who made his own debut in South Africa’s previous series (in India).


    • Marek Jan 26, 2020 / 12:51 pm

      …and got his second test wicket in this series!

      If my maths is correct, based on your figures, apart from Rabada and Maharaj all the other bowlers who’ve played tests for SA and are still available have 40 test caps between them–or not many more than Chris Woakes.

      That’s including spinners and all-rounders, and they’re shared between twelve different players. Only Dane Piedt has more than six–and I suspect he won’t play again.


  10. dArthez Jan 26, 2020 / 1:21 pm

    Rabada 43. Available.
    Maharaj 30. Available.
    Piedt 9. Available. But maybe as a second or third spinner in Asia only (if Maharaj does fall of a cliff)
    Nortje. Playing his 6th Test now.
    Ngidi. 5 Tests. Battling many injuries and not much FC experience either. Might have a short international career as a result of that.
    Morris. 4 Tests. Think he is still available (though given the amount of money he can make as a T20 mercenary, probably not – he is getting a big payday in IPL this year).
    Phehlukwayo. 4 Tests. Available.
    Pretorius. Playing his 3rd Test now.
    de Lange. 2 Tests. Might be available from a technical point of view (he could not get a Kolpak deal for Glamorgan when he decided to go, so he got to play domestic cricket in England, due to having a Danish wife).
    Paterson. Currently playing his second Test
    Shamsi. 2 Tests. See comments about Piedt.
    Muthusamy. 2 Tests. See comments about Piedt
    Hendricks. Making his debut now.
    Mulder. 1 Test. Young allrounder.
    Linde. 1 Test. allrounder who bowls left arm orthodox.

    That is about it (I checked for players who made their debut in 2010 or later, I might have overlooked someone who made his debut slightly earlier).

    That is 40 Tests between 13 players, with several of those being spinners (Piedt, Linde, Muthusamy, Shamsi), so not exactly realistic to pick outside Asia.

    So we can look forward to random selections for a year for a couple of pacers, until someone more or less accidentally makes themselves undroppable.


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