New Zealand 0-0 England review

It was only thanks to the last day heroics of Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad and Monty Panesar that England avoided losing a first series in New Zealand in nearly thirty years. England did not have a good series overall and in some respects never seemed to really get going. They started the series disastrously by succumbing to 162 all out on a very flat pitch and although they then batted very well to save that Test, they were helped by losing four sessions to the rain. They did play well in the second Test, but could not take their only chance to force a result before the rains set in.

England’s batting, although being what saved them on the last day, really let them down in this series. None of the pitches were in any way minefields and there was no excuse at all for being bowled out so cheaply in Dunedin. They can at least point to some swing in Auckland, but there was still not enough to justify the ensuing collapse. New Zealand bowled well throughout the series, but it was not until the last Test that they actually looked threatening on their own merits. England simply batted very poorly in one innings and fairly poorly in another and in a three Test series that is going to be problematic. The lack of preparation may have been partly to blame; there was only one first-class match ahead of the series and when Jonny Bairstow had to come in for the third Test he did so having not played a first-class match since the second Test in India.

But whilst that may explain some of the team performance and that of some of the players, it does not explain all of it and it is hard to escape the notion that England were simply not up for it. The way the team behaved in the field when they were behind in the third Test was a disgrace and even though they came back to show a lot of heart and fight on the last day it spoke volumes about their attitude. This is something on which Alastair Cook will need to work as captain; it has happened before when he was leading the ODI side and it is hard to imagine that it would have happened under Strauss. It is still early in his captaincy and I think he will improve, but he needs to do so quickly and this is a further suggestion that Strauss retired too soon.

England’s bowling was better than the batting, but not by as much as England would have liked. In addition to the poor attitude displayed in the final Test, they struggled throughout to make the ball swing as much as they would have liked and in the last Test they were actually outbowled by New Zealand’s seamers. The pitches were generally flat and the Kookaburra ball does not swing as much as the Dukes one does, but they also bowled consistently too short and this was exposed in Auckland. It was a very lacklustre performance overall.

For all of England’s faults, however, New Zealand played quite well. Brendan McCullum, controversy about his appointment aside, led them very well and was comfortably the better of the two captains. The seamers bowled consistently well on generally unhelpful pitches (though it was not until the third Test that they really excelled in the manner that I had been expecting) and the team not only fought hard with the bat in the second Test, they batted very well in the first and last Tests to put themselves into dominant positions twice. I was keen before the series to see how their new openers would get on and although Peter Fulton looked scrappy at the start he finished the series with back-to-back centuries. Forming consistently large partnerships will still take some work, but this does look like the best opening pair that New Zealand have had in some time. They certainly deserved the share of the spoils that they got and probably deserved to win the series. Without question they deserve to be ranked higher than eighth (which was true before the series began too) and the fact that this result has not moved them up the table shows just how poor the ICC rankings can be.

Although I don’t like the back-to-back series in general, in this case it will be very interesting to see if New Zealand can continue to play well in the return leg in May. It is fair to expect that England will be better and that New Zealand will be faced with a much tougher task. It should tell us a lot about whether this New Zealand team can play more consistently well and challenge teams away from home. For England, it will be vital to put in a strong show ahead of the Ashes.

Auckland, day four: England 90-4

The hope of last night that England might bowl very well and give themselves a chance for a remarkable victory was always likely to be a vain one. But it would have been nice if England had made an effort to do something to resist New Zealand in the morning session. Not only would it have been better for the supporters, they might not have found themselves in the rather parlous position that they do now. Instead, England came out without any clear plan and from there the wheels came off very quickly. Not only was there not an attempt to force more wickets, there did not even seem to be a coherent attempt to choke off the runs at first. The field setting was just odd. By the time Monty Panesar had bought the wicket of Doug Brownlie New Zealand were already looking comfortable and the arrival of Brendan McCullum saw them tee off. Not only did the bowlers look helpless and Cook clueless, there did not seem to be any effort made by any of them to do something. They just sat back and seemed to take the view that eventually he would declare. That, far more than the actual result, was the most infuriating aspect of England’s performance. All notion of discipline appeared to collapse and an utter shambles was the result. It was a disgraceful effort and the worst I have seen from England recently.

It may be harsh on Cook, who is still a very new captain, but it is hard to imagine that happening in such an important match under Strauss’s leadership. As bad as things got in the UAE, England never appeared to just give up in the field and in fact did a very good job of keeping it close. Even the following summer as South Africa piled on the runs at the Oval, the worst that could be said was that England did not appear to have a plan, but they kept coming in and at least tried to bowl well enough to keep the runs down. Strauss’s captaincy was not perfect, but he never lost control in the field. Cook will no doubt grow into the role, but right now this is very reminiscent of England’s 0-5 ODI series in India in late 2011. The irrelevance of the pyjama-only tour meant that it did not attract a lot of attention, but Cook had trouble keeping everyone in line then too. With a long double Ashes series coming up, it is something at which Cook and Flower need to look.

England were given 143 overs to bat out the draw, something which they have only managed three times before in their history. (And one of those was the Timeless Test in Durban in 1939.) They have made a decent effort, but Cook and Trott both went to loose shots after getting set. Both batsmen really ought to have gone on after getting set and both played very uncharacteristic shots. It leaves England in an almost impossible position. Ian Bell has batted doggedly for eight runs off an Boycott-esque 89 deliveries, but England do not have a lot of batting left. Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow are both inexperienced and short of time in the middle. Matt Prior is very good at counterattacking, but England need crease occupation. Stuart Broad is hopelessly short of confidence and throwing his bat at everything. And Steven Finn is already in and out as nightwatchman.

To say that the odds are against England would be a massive understatement. They would need one of their young players to play the sort of innings that Faf du Plessis did for South Africa in Adelaide, but it looks almost vanishingly unlikely. New Zealand will complete a famous and deserved victory tomorrow, probably before tea.

England 2012 marks out of ten

Twenty-one different players represented England over fifteen Tests this calendar year. There were, as one can imagine, varying degrees of success and I have given them my year-end marks out of ten here:

Andrew Strauss – 4
The year leading up to Strauss’ resignation and retirement was, as one would expect, not the best for him. He did score a couple of battling fifties in the subcontinent and a pair of centuries to start the summer, but two defeats in four series led to him stepping down.

Alastair Cook – 8
Cook was England’s leading run scorer in 2012 and finished the year by captaining the side to a historic 2-1 series win in India and setting a new English record for most career centuries. He also just barely missed out on finishing the year with a career average above fifty.

Nick Compton – 7
After an incredible season with Somerset, Compton got a chance to open the batting for England in India. He did not quite grab his chance with both hands, but he did play quite solidly throughout and should open again in New Zealand.

Jonathan Trott – 5
It was only an okay year for Trott; he never really played poorly and had a very good innings in Galle. But at the same time he seldom seemed to really click, at least until the excellent 143 he made to help secure a draw in Nagpur.

Kevin Pietersen – 7
On the field it was a great year for Pietersen as he made three excellent centuries, but it was rather more rocky off the field. He came around though and then played the best crafted innings of his career to help put England in a winning position in Calcutta.

Ian Bell – 4
It was a sub-par year for Bell; Saeed Ajmal ran rings around him in the UAE and although Bell batted well after that (he scored six fifties) his mind never quite seemed settled until the last match of the year.

Eoin Morgan – 0
Morgan started the year with a terrible tour of the UAE, scoring only 82 runs in six innings. This wasn’t massively worse than the rest of the team, but coming from a player whose big strength was supposed to be spin bowling it cost him his place in the side. With the number of better options England now have, he should not appear on this list in twelve months’ time.

Jonny Bairstow – 4
Bairstow had a tough start to his career as he was worked over by the West Indies quicks then dropped for the start of the South Africa series. Finally recalled for the Lord’s Test, he made a pair of excellent fifties that helped give England a sniff of victory. He then only got one Test in India and may have fallen behind Joe Root in England’s pecking order.

Ravi Bopara – 0
The reasons why Ravi Bopara should not only not be picked again, but should not have been picked in the first place are fairly well documented here. Suffice to say he did nothing to disprove any of that and seems to have finally fallen completely out of the England picture.

James Taylor – 5
It’s very hard to say anything about James Taylor. He played only two Tests and batted fairly well, being run out by Prior in his last innings. He was then inexplicably left out of the side to tour India in favour of Eoin Morgan. Hopefully he will get another chance, but there are a fair few ahead of him now.

Samit Patel – 3
Patel was picked as a subcontinent specialist in Sri Lanka and India and whilst he never really failed he never did anything of note either and gave no indication that he was a Test player. He was rightly dropped for the last Test.

Joe Root – 7
Root was included in the party to tour India after an excellent season with Yorkshire and although he missed out on the opener’s spot in favour of Compton he did get a chance at six in Nagpur and played an exceptional innings after coming in at a tricky point in the first innings. He is probably the front-runner for the spot in New Zealand, though it’s still not settled.

Matt Prior – 9
It’s hard to ask for much more from Prior. He had another almost flawless year with the gloves and batted brilliantly with England often in strife and with the tail. His biggest problem right now is needless run outs.

Stuart Broad – 6
It was a mixed year for Broad; he started out by demolishing Pakistan in the UAE and taking eleven West Indian wickets at Lord’s. But he struggled to find his pace after that and after a middling series against South Africa he had injury problems in India and was dropped after a pair of shocking Tests. He still finished with a creditable forty wickets in eleven Tests.

Tim Bresnan – 2
After coming off a brilliant 2011, Bresnan started this year with elbow surgery that kept him out of the series in the UAE. He was never quite himself after that; his pace was down and he was not swinging the ball as much. His high point was running through the West Indies at Trent Bridge, but by the end of the year he was only picked due to injuries to other bowlers. His batting is down from what it was as well.

Graeme Swann – 9
He was helped by having nine Tests on the subcontinent, but Swann finishes 2012 as England’s leading wicket taker with 58 in 14 Tests. He was a consistent attacking threat for England and even finished the year with a stylish half-century in the first innings at Nagpur.

James Anderson – 9
Anderson had an incredible year as he seems to quite often. He got swing, both conventional and reverse, even on the notoriously unhelpful subcontinent wickets. He instigated top order collapses in all conditions including twice dismissing Kumar Sangakkara first ball and becoming the all time leading wicket taker against Sachin Tendulkar.

Chris Tremlett – 0
Tremlett played one Test in 2012 in which he failed to take a wicket. Subsequent injury and the success of Steven Finn and Graham Onions means he will have a tough time getting back into the team.

Monty Panesar – 7
Panesar came in as England’s second spinner for six of the nine subcontinent Tests and overall did very well. He took eleven wickets on the raging turner in Mumbai and had a some good performances in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the first innings at Calcutta as well. He did have some trouble maintaining it and Swann will not fear for his place.

Steven Finn – 8
Finn only managed to play in five Tests partly due to injury, but in those Tests he bowled with consistent pace and an improved accuracy, taking twenty wickets. If he can stay fit he looks like he will replace Bresnan as England’s third seamer.

Graham Onions – 6
Onions was probably unlucky to only get one Test this year and especially unlucky to have that Test be almost completely washed out. He did take 4-88 in the only bowling innings though and should stay in England’s thoughts for next season.

England squad in India

With the retirement of Andrew Strauss, there now another aspect to the question of how England will look when they play India on the 15th of November. England need a new opener in addition to deciding how they want the middle order to look and deciding on the balance of the bowling attack.

As far as an opening partner for Cook goes, there are three main possibilities: Trott could be moved up a spot with someone like Nick Compton coming in to the middle order, Joe Root of Yorkshire could come in or Michael Carberry could come in. Of the three, I think moving Trott up would be a very bad idea. He has batted at three for almost his entire career and despite being a bit short of form at the moment he has had great success at that spot. To move him would also necessitate moving Ian Bell up to three and them possibly leaving three batsmen at four, five and six with only six caps between them. I would rather break up the inexperience. Choosing between Root and Carberry is interesting because a couple of years ago there really would not have been a choice. Carberry was the heir apparent and was even given a Test against Bangladesh when Strauss was rested in 2010. But he suffered from a blood clot in the lung and although he has fought back from that his form has fallen off this year and Root has had a blinder. (Both have been in Division Two.) I’d be quite tempted to have them both on the plane to India and see who looks better in the warmups. I’d have Root as the favourite though and (with a couple of LV=CC matches still to come, of course) if I had to pick just one right now it would be him.

With the bowling attack, England still have the ‘problem’ of having more Test quality bowers than they can fit into a single match. There is also the added problem in India of whether to play two spinners and if so how many seamers to play alongside them. The received wisdom is to play two spinners in India and indeed anywhere on the subcontinent. It is important as it provides a threat when there is not a lot of help for the seamers as well as a way to keep the scoring tied down. But England’s strength is seam bowling. We have seen in New Zealand’s series in India that good seam bowlers can get help from the Indian pitches and can make life difficult for the batsmen, at least in August. I think England would be well advised to play three seam bowlers, but that does not rule out two spinners. England played three seamers and two spinners in the one match they won over the winter last year, so Flower is clearly not impossibly set against the idea and it has been successful. I favour five bowlers anyway, but especially in conditions such as in India that can be quite draining on the bowlers. To play three seamers and two spinners would give England ample options for both attack and defence and I think they will need that.

The most obvious second spinner would be Monty Panesar, though Samit Patel does offer more with the bat and acquitted himself decently in Sri Lanka. He did not, however, look Test quality and England may need a bit more in a four Test series. There is also the matter of Swann’s elbow to be considered. He is being rested from the ODIs against South Africa, but it is not at all clear how fit he will be in India. England could not afford to have just Patel and a half-fit Swann, I think, which would mean an almost certain recall for Monty Panesar. He didn’t look great in the one match he played in Sri Lanka, but he was very good in the UAE before that and his nearest competition, James Tredwell and Simon Kerrigan, are a bit short of international quality and still too inexperienced respectively. At least one of them (and with an eye to the future I would have it be Kerrigan) should be in the squad as backup, but I would not expect them to play unless Swann is so injured he has to miss a Test.

This just leaves the middle order. Right now it is Trott, Bell, Taylor and Bairstow, but if England do play five bowlers than one of them would have to miss out and it’s a fair assumption that it will be one of the lower two. (Though if Trott is moved up to open then that would no longer be the case.) Bairstow is probably the favourite to stay in the side after his heroics at Lord’s, but Taylor looked very talented as well and should at least be on the plane. He can push for a spot in the playing XI during the warmups. There will also be no doubt suggestions of recalls for Eoin Morgan and/or Kevin Pietersen. Neither should be seriously considered, however. Morgan did well by announcing that he wanted to focus on his Test career, but he still has to back that up by actually refining his technique and improving at the first class level. He may get back in the test side at some point, but he is behind both Bairstow and Taylor now and will need to prove himself over most or all of a season with Middlesex. Pietersen should simply never be considered for England again. Most of his actions this summer have been unconscionable and although he was not the main reason for Strauss’s departure there can be little doubt that he does carry some of the blame. As Rob Smyth put very well in the Guardian: ‘if he cannot see “Straussy’s” blood on his hands, he has an even bigger lack of self-awareness than we feared’. Pietersen threw England into disarray at the end of 2008 and he is having a go at doing so again. Regardless of how talented he may be, it is time England got shot of him for good.

With all of the above in mind, my touring squad to India would be: Cook*, Anderson, Bairstow, Bell, Bresnan, Broad, Carberry, Davies†, Finn, Kerrigan, Panesar, Prior†, Root, Swann, Taylor, Trott

The playing XI would depend heavily on the results of warmup matches, but I would lean toward: Cook*, Root, Trott, Bell, Bairstow, Prior†, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Finn, Panesar

Farewell, Straussy

Andrew Strauss retired from all forms of cricket yesterday. It is a sad moment for England who lose one of our most gifted and successful captains of all time, but also for cricket in general as it loses one of the true gentlemen of the game. Strauss was one of the few left of whom it could always be said that he played in the proper spirit and was an ideal role model. I don’t know that there is anyone right now who can fill that role. It was also, I suspect, a very sad moment for Strauss himself. Certainly it was not an ideal ending to his career. Strauss took England from the shambles of the divided dressing room and the 51 all out humiliation to an Ashes triumph within a year and then to seven consecutive home series victories, an Ashes win down under for the first time in 24 years and the top of the ICC Test rankings. All throughout that time he put the team before himself, leading with a quiet authority and stoicism. He played for 100 Tests, captained for fifty and with the bat he fell one short of the England record for most Test centuries. ‘Great’ is by no means too high praise for him. Both as a captain and a person he deserved so much better than to go out in the situation he did.

I wish that he had stayed on longer. I wrote why he should for the Armchair Selector just recently and I don’t think any of that has changed. I have trouble finding fault with the notion that England are a worse side without him than with him. But he clearly disagreed and I think it’s fair to say that he probably knows the situation better than I do. He spent his entire career doing what was right for the team and doing an admirable job of it. It saddens me greatly in this case, but there can be no doubt that he has done enough to earn faith in his decision making.

England 0-2 South Africa review and player marks

It should have been more than just three matches. The second two Tests were very good, very close and very much left one wanting more. But fortunately the possibility that the reduced series might have robbed us all of a proper result did not come to pass. South Africa were very much the better side and deserved to win. England came close in the last two Tests, but never looked like outplaying South Africa and I don’t think even the most partisan Englishman would begrudge South Africa their victory.

England were always up against it after their dismal performance in the first Test. The batsmen gave away a good start, the bowlers toiled for three days on a flat wicket and then the batsmen succumbed to the pressure of trying to bat out the draw. Whilst they did improve dramatically in the next two Tests, it was always going to be a tough task to come back and South Africa were simply too good. Michael Vaughan put it well on TMS when he said that throughout the series when England built partnerships one always got the feeling that South Africa would find a way to break them, but when South Africa built partnerships it felt like they would bat indefinitely. Part of this was that England threw wickets away too regularly (though South Africa did so as well) and part was that England dropped too many catches in the field. But I think a lot of it was to due with the fact that the English bowling often just looked too flat. South Africa seemed to always have something whether it be swing, bite or just raw pace and aggression. When the ball stopped swinging for England, however, all too often one simply could not see how they were going to get a wicket. It was a fairly harsh come down after they had performed so well in the subcontinent in the winter.

Both sides have slightly to somewhat tricky tours up next in the forms of India and Australia, but first here are how the players did in this series:

England (75/140, average 5.36)
Andrew Strauss* – 5
Stayed calm, measured and reasonable as the KP problem overshadowed the third Test and his hundredth. Led the side admirably as England went for the runs both at Headingley and Lord’s, but his own form was quite poor. His nemesis, Morkel, got him with the fourth ball of the series and the best Strauss could do after that was just making starts. His dismissal on the fourth day at Lord’s told of a someone who had a trying week.

Alastair Cook – 6
Scored 195 runs in the series, but 115 of them were in his first innings. Threw his wicket away a few times (once out of necessity at Headingley), but also had problems with the bowlers nipping it back into him and was lbw to Philander twice.

Jonathan Trott – 4
Somehow managed to average over forty in the series despite looking terrible throughout. Had a decent knock in the first Test before getting out to a terrible waft outside off. He also threw away his wicket after a good start at Headingley and edged his way to 63 at the Oval whilst running out Taylor for good measure. Starts show he is seeing the ball okay, but needs to regain the patience he showed most notably in the last Ashes.

Ian Bell – 6
Played some good innings in the series, but had the same trouble as most of the batsmen in getting out to poor shots. Played very well to try to save England at the Oval and dig them out of a first innings hole at Lord’s, but should have gone on in both innings. The fifties were useful, but England needed hundreds.

James Taylor – 5
Replaced Bopara for the Headingley Test and had a decent debut. His 34 was hardly going to set the world alight, but it was very patiently scored over the course of 104 balls in fairly difficult circumstances. Didn’t get many at Lord’s but was the victim of a decent ball in the first innings and was done up by Prior in the second. Should have a spot on the plane to India.

Jonny Bairstow – 9
Harshly dropped for the first two Tests after it was perceived that he had a problem with the short ball against the West Indies, but made a strong statement when he returned for the last one. Came in with the score 54-4 in the first innings, rescued England and came agonisingly close to getting on the Lord’s honours board. Came in with the score 45-4 in the second innings and scored a fifty at better than a run a ball to (amazingly) keep England in the match. Could not have asked for much more.

Matt Prior† – 8
England’s leading run scorer in the series by a distance; he scored valuable runs with the tail in four of the six innings and had a fifty in each Test. The only marks against him with the bat were some soft dismissals after he had got to fifty. Somewhat offset though by his stunning 73 in the last Test which gave England a sniff of a very improbable victory. Was good with the gloves, but dropped Amla on two in the last Test (his first drop standing back for two years) which ultimately cost England 119 runs.

Stuart Broad – 4
Came into the series having averaged 19 with the ball in the past twelve months, but had a very poor series. His pace was well down for most of the series and he only had one really good spell, in the second innings at Headingley. He did swing the ball some in the last Test, but never looked as threatening as he had last year. Fairly poor series with the bat as well, but found a bit of form at Lord’s.

Graeme Swann – 4
Had trouble really getting into the series with the ball. Bowed some very good spells in the two Tests he played, but by and large the South African batsmen were equal to the challenge. Took only four wickets, all of them in the last Test and one thanks only to a very clever bit of work from Prior. Managed to average exactly fifty with the bat, however, which was good enough for third best in the series on the English side and hit a thrilling 41 on the last day.

James Anderson – 6
Desperately unlucky for most of the series; he had a few spells where he beat the bat with regularity but was not rewarded. Unlike in the winter, though, he could not always coax enough movement out of it to trouble the batsmen when they were well set. Looked flat at periods when the ball was not swinging and ended up without a lot of reward.

Steven Finn – 8
Finally got his chance when Swann was left out for the Headingley Test and had problems with his knee hitting the stumps, denying him a wicket in the first innings. Did well enough to keep his place for the Lord’s Test though and was brilliant there. He provided a much needed pace option when the ball was not swinging and his spell on the fourth day almost got England back into the Test. Has given Bresnan a bit of work to do to get back in the side.

Kevin Pietersen – 8
His off-the-pitch antics were almost the only story in the run up to the third Test, for which he was dropped. My thoughts on that matter are well documented, but on the pitch he had a good series. His 149 at Headingley was an absolutely staggering innings and included hitting Dale Steyn back over his head for six. Tempered somewhat by his throwing his wicket away in both innings at the Oval and costing England a good position in the first. Also performed admirably with the ball at Headingley when Swann was absent. Was outdone by his replacement, Bairstow, at Lord’s.

Ravi Bopara – 1
Scored 22 runs total in the only Test he played. Threw his wicket away to an appalling shot in the first innings and then to a poor one in the second, though in that innings he had at least hung on for a while before hand. Missed the next two Test due to personal reasons and the performances of Taylor and Bairstow will make it tricky for him to reclaim that spot. Inexplicably, he is expected to have a chance anyway.

Tim Bresnan – 1
A very poor series for the Yorkshireman saw him dropped for the Lord’s Test in favour of Steven Finn. Before that he had taken just two wickets, both of Smith and both in rather surprising ways, for over two hundred runs. His batting had suffered a bit too and he was going much more slowly than usual. Seems to still not be up to full strength.

South Africa (73/110, average 6.64)
Graeme Smith* – 8
A relatively poor tour of England for the South African skipper, he ‘only’ averaged 54 and ‘only’ scored one century. He also appears to have failed to cause the resignation of his opposite number. Still did very well, of course and his captaincy was at the best I’ve seen it. He declared aggressively at the Oval and was rewarded with an innings victory and made an odd declaration going for an unlikely win at Headingley.

Alviro Petersen – 7
Out for a duck at the Oval and had three days to think about it whilst his teammates batted and batted. If anything though, that time seemed to help him as he scored 182 at Headingley to see South Africa to a decent score. Didn’t get many in the second innings after injuring his hamstring and only had a couple of starts in the third Test, but still did enough to average over sixty in the series.

Hashim Amla – 10
Amla is the sort of batsman one could watch forever and for England fans that seemed to be what happened. Hit an unbeaten triple century in the first Test (when he came to the wicket in the third over) and then backed that up with a vital and arguably match-winning hundred in the second innings of the last Test. Only looked human when he hit a full toss straight to cover in the second Test and when he got a jaffa from Finn in the third. England fans will be relieved to see him bat against the Aussies for a while.

Jacques Kallis – 7
Came into the series with a very poor record in England and looked like turning it around with 182* at the Oval. His next highest score in the series was 31, however, though he was brutally given out in the first innings at Lord’s. Did manage to pick up four wickets in the series as well, including the important one of Broad on the last day at Lord’s.

AB de Villiers† – 5
Did well with the gloves in his spell as Test ‘keeper. Made few clear mistakes and none which might not have been made by a full-time gloveman. Did not perform as well as South Africa might have liked with the bat though; he scored no fifties in four innings. He did pass forty three times, however.

Jacques Rudolph – 4
Not a great series for the former Yorkshire batsman. He did not get to bat at the Oval, of course, and somehow managed to get out twice to Pietersen at Headingley. Finished the series with just one fifty to his name and an average of 35.

JP Duminy – 6
His highest score in the series was the 61 he made in the first innings at Lord’s, but that disguises the fact that he put on some incredibly frustrating runs with the tail. His second innings partnership with Philander probably won the third Test for South Africa. Was also stranded on 48* at Headingley and was South Africa’s best spinner.

Vernon Philander – 9
He did not run through England the way he had done to other teams in his career, but he did bowl extremely well. He consistently bowled a good line and length and got the ball to nip around making life very difficult for the batsmen. Man of the Match in the last Test with 96 runs in the two innings and a five-fer to bowl England out. Might have been Man of the Series were it not for Amla.

Dale Steyn – 9
Bowled with his usual pace, hostility and accuracy and was rewarded with the 15 wickets, the most of any bowler in the series. His five-fer at the Oval made sure that England could not bat out a draw and he picked up important wickets throughout the series. Was only made to look bad by Pietersen at Headingley.

Morne Morkel – 6
Drifted between brilliant and wayward. Usually opened the bowling to Strauss and Cook as both have problems with him at his best, but this was only effective twice as he was simply too inaccurate most of the time. One of those times was in the fourth ball of the series, however, which seemed to convince Smith to keep trying it.

Imran Tahir – 2
It’s never a good series when one is outbowled by both JP Duminy and Kevin Pietersen and that is what happened to Imran Tahir. Only managed one top order wicket in the series, that of Strauss, and his only strength seemed to be an ability to get Prior late in the innings as the latter went for quick runs. Was utterly taken apart on the last day of the series as England tried to get a win.

Lord’s, day four: England 16-2

Barring a miracle, today was the last day of England being number one in the world. As they have in most of the series, England had some very good spells with the ball. But they never got the kind of collapse they needed to keep the South Africans down to a reasonable total. Steven Finn was the best bowler for England and for the first time in the three Tests he has got this summer he really looked like fulfilling his potential. He bowled a hostile spell with the old ball in the morning and then coming on as first change with the second new ball in the afternoon he had a spell of 3-14 to give England an opening. It was an excellent demonstration of his value in a four man attack; neither Jimmy nor Broad were getting any appreciable swing and were looking innocuous. Finn, however, used his pace and height to good effect with the still hard ball. As useful as Bresnan is when he is on song, I think that variation in the attack is very important for England. Ideally both Bresnan and Finn would play, but since that does not seem likely I would go for Finn.

Finn gave England a bit of a chance; he gave them an opening. But he had to come off eventually and after tea South Africa regrouped with their tail again. JP Duminy and Vernon Philander built another frustrating partnership and by the time Philander gifted his wicket to Anderson it was already too late for England. It was the same sort of frustrating partnership that the two put on in the first innings. It wasn’t as long, but in the circumstances it was more important and although the Amla-De Villiers partnership was worth more I think there is a fair case to be made that if South Africa win it will be because of that eighth wicket partnership instead. It took the momentum and indeed the match away from England who were otherwise in with a chance.

That partnership took the game away from England, but where England all but lost it was in the 13 overs of batting before stumps. Three hundred and forty-six was always going to be a very tough ask and probably too much (it would have been a record for a Lord’s Test). But there was still some faint sense of hope that maybe, maybe on a flat wicket England could do something special. That hope lasted approximately four overs, in which time Philander (that man again) got both openers lbw. Strauss’s dismissal was particularly horrific. He completely misjudged the length of a ball and left one that hit him halfway up the pad. Michael Vaughan described it simply as the shot (lack thereof, more accurately) of a man who had too much on his plate this week and whose mind was just a bit scrambled. It definitely did seem as though the Pietersen issue had got to him. It was far less than he deserved in his hundredth Test. England were left needing another 330 to win with eight wickets in hand, but the simple expression does not do justice to how unlikely that really is. England only have ninety overs and so would have to not only bat better than they have all year, but do so quickly. There is little to no chance that tomorrow will be anything other than a formality.

Lord’s, day three: South Africa 145-3

It has been another absorbing day of Test cricket and once again it feels as though South Africa have just about had the better of it. It has been close enough, however, that they are still only on top by a bit. They might be a bit disappointed though as they did have a chance to take control of the match in a similar way as England did yesterday. It was not as good a chance and they did not miss it as utterly, but it was still there.

South Africa had that opening partly thanks to some generosity from England and in particular Matt Prior. After seeing off the eight overs to the new ball comfortably, Prior had a flash at the first delivery from the new ball which was well wide and edged it to slip. It was an absolutely terrible shot and was the sort that one expects to see Brad Haddin play. Jonny Bairstow also became the second England batsman to have been bowled through the gate by Morkel in gutting circumstances this Test as he fell short of his ton. But from 264-8 England still got a first innings lead as South Africa had the same sort of problem in dismissing the tail that hurt England. Graeme Swann played a very good, restrained, innings of 37 not out and was supported by double figure scores from both Anderson and Finn. Whilst a lead of six is not significant, it had looked like England would be facing a significant deficit and batted well to avoid that.

The most interesting part of the day was South Africa’s innings though. The pitch throughout the match has looked flat and for the first time South Africa would be batting with the sun out. They did make a fairly untroubled start, but England never really let them get away. I criticise Andrew Strauss’ field placings and bowling strategy a lot, but this is a time where it worked very well. England had to keep South Africa from getting away and let the odd good ball keep the pressure on and that is what they did. Strauss also made the excellent decision to bowl Swann as first change after it was clear that the seamers were not getting much out of the pitch. Swann bowled very well, especially after tea. He beat the bat of Smith more than once (and once so comprehensively that England for some reason decided to waste a review on it) and ultimately trapped him lbw. He also forced Amla to take an off stump guard to negate the possibility of an lbw. Although the bowlers never really looked on top of the batsmen they managed to winkle three batsmen out and kept it tight enough to keep England well in the match. The only real blot was Prior’s drop of Amla when the latter was on only two.

With two days left in the Test, there is very likely going to be a result. South Africa are on top at the moment with a lead of 139, but England have an opening and South Africa actually have a nightwatchman in after the late dismissal of Kallis. So far in this Test, neither attack has been able to instigate a collapse without some help either from the batsmen or from the umpire, so South Africa will basically need to keep batting sensibly. England aren’t letting them get away, but anything short of a proper collapse will probably be okay for South Africa if possibly not ideal. I don’t think England will want to chase too many on the last day and a bit; although it is a flat wicket, both sides barely got to 300 and there have been no centurions in the match. I think the pitch is a lot harder on which to bat than it looks and the way England bowled today suggests that there is the occasional bit of help in the pitch to keep the batsmen from getting very settled. It is also worth remembering that England were bowled out for 240 on a very flat pitch at the Oval. Whilst they don’t have Pietersen or Bopara to throw it away this time, it is still by no means certain that they will not succumb to pressure during the run chase. There have been a lot of suggestions that 300 is gettable for England and whilst it may be, I would not expect them to succeed. I think England will not be favourites in chasing anything over 275, which means the bowlers have a lot of work to do tomorrow.

Lord’s, day two: England 208-5

The first two days of this Test have had an odd symmetry about them. Both sides have suffered from dramatic top order collapses, and in fact both lost their fourth wicket on 54, before recovering to decent positions. South Africa are probably in the better position, however, as they have the security of knowing that their tail has wagged (whilst England are still only hoping that theirs do) and they are not the ones under pressure to win the match.

Part of that success from the tail was Vernon Philander scoring his maiden Test fifty this morning. He joint top-scored in the innings with 61 and frustrated England by building good partnerships with the other bowlers. South Africa’s last four batsmen, all pure bowlers, made 114 runs between them. England did not bowl too poorly this morning, but Anderson for once did not use the new ball terribly well. He kept banging it in short to the batsmen, but he did not control it well enough to make it really count. Broad was still down on pace, but was pitching the ball up and getting it to swing well and probably deserved more than just the one wicket that he got. England would not have been too disappointed with their efforts, 309 is hardly a formidable total. but the lopsided nature of the scorecard was quite disappointing.

As disappointing as South Africa’s resistance and England’s post-lunch collapse were, probably the most gutting aspect of the day for England supporters came on the stroke of lunch. Andrew Strauss got off to an excellent start with the bat in his hundredth Test, but was bowled through the gate on twenty and in the last over before lunch. It was Morne Morkel to get him yet again and with an excellent delivery. Going around the wicket, Morkel had got several balls to shape away from the left-handed Strauss and finally nipped one back in and through the gate to bowl the England captain. Whilst Strauss maybe should not have had that gate, there was not a lot he could have done. It was a fantastic piece of bowling and the demoralising effect possibly played a role in the collapse that came after the interval.

England have at least done a better job of recovering with their recognised batsmen than South Africa did, South Africa lost their fifth wicket on 105 and their sixth on 163, and will hope to leave less work for their tail. Jonny Bairstow was responsible for a lot of England’s recovery. He was dropped after a poor series against the West Indies in which it was decided that he had a weakness against the short ball, but three innings always seemed like an absurdly small sample size and he went about showing the folly of that judgement today. South Africa had clearly heard about his supposed weakness and gave him a steady diet of short stuff at the start of his innings. That’s not an easy thing to get through for anyone, regardless of any real or supposed weakness, but Bairstow did so well. He not only managed to fight through the difficult bit but also managed to score some runs as he did so and after tea the South Africans had clearly tired. Bairstow and Bell scored more fluently after the interval and put on over a hundred before Bell was out to a slightly loose drive off Philander. It came during a good over in which Philander had beat the bat twice and the wicket taking ball was a good one, but Bell looked as though he had got just a bit too relaxed and was maybe a bit careless. Matt Prior played a chancy innings, but both he and Bairstow survived to stumps.

England trail by 101 runs at stumps with five wickets still in hand. On paper one would probably back them to get to parity, but there is the obstacle of the second new ball to be negotiated. It is due after eight overs of the morning session tomorrow and what England do in the morning session will probably dictate with how much a lead or deficit England end up. Given that England batting second and needing to win they cannot really afford a significant deficit and could very much do with a decent lead. Prior and Bairstow need to survive to the new ball tomorrow and get themselves well enough set to at least get a few off it even if they get out to it in the end. Prior can be quite dangerous in that sort of situation, but one expects that a lot will really come down to whether or not Broad and Swann can score appreciable runs. Broad has talent, but has been out of form this summer whilst Swann is very hit-or-miss (often literally). Unless Prior and Bairstow do the very unlikely and knock off the deficit themselves, England will very much need Broad and Swann to show up with the bat tomorrow.