Steven Finn’s knee

With a recall for Steven Finn looking very likely for the Calcutta Test, there will almost certainly be more discussion about his recurring problem of kicking the stumps in his delivery stride. It’s something that has gone from a mild curiosity to almost a controversy after Graeme Smith claimed during the summer that it was a distraction and the umpire called a dead ball. Since then the ICC drafted in a playing condition for the T20 World Cup that the first instance would be a warming and anything further would be a dead ball. Since this has tended to penalise the batsmen more than the bowler (assuming it’s roughly random it is far more likely to impact a run-scoring delivery than a wicket-taking one) there have been suggestions that a version of ‘advantage’ should be called or even an outright no-ball.

But both the ICC’s response and the calls for a harsher punishment are silly. Finn is not the first bowler to occasionally kick the stumps and whilst it most certainly is something he would be well advised to stop doing it, there is no need for the ICC to come up with a new regulation about it. If it is a distraction then the batsman can inform the umpires and risk losing out on a scoring shot or they could pull out as they would do for any other distraction. They do so quite late for other distractions without any problem. But whether or not it really is a distraction is something that entirely rests with the batsman at the crease; none of the batsmen before Smith seemed to have a problem with it and whilst I am sceptical that he did either that should not really matter. If the batsman says it’s a distraction then the umpires need to take him at his word, but it is a mistake to draft in a blanket regulation covering all batsmen as clearly not all of them find it problematic. Giving a ‘warning’ is even more ridiculous. If the batsman is distracted and gets out because of it then why should it be different if it is the first instance or the second instance?

What I suspect, however, is that the warning is an artefact of the apparent thinking of the ICC and several others that this is supposed to be a punishment for the bowler so he gets one warning. This also explains the suggestion that there should be an advantage or a no-ball. But they all completely miss the fact that the bowler has done nothing for which he should be punished! He has contravened no laws and as is evidenced by the large number of times it has happened before this episode he has not gained an unfair advantage either. It would be as ridiculously unfair to punish the bowler for kicking the stumps as it would be to call a no-ball every time someone walked in front of the sightscreen. There is no merit to the notion that if the batsman gets a run it was not a distraction, but if he gets out it was. Batsmen get out without being distracted all the time and they cannot have this both ways. It’s either a distraction and therefore a dead ball or it isn’t, but it is certainly not like the bowler overstepping and gaining an unfair advantage by bowling closer to the stumps.

If the Indian batsmen lose runs to dead balls and are not happy about it then they should tell the umpire they do not find kicking the stumps to be a distraction. If the umpires call it anyway then it is a) a mistake by the umpires and ICC, not the bowler, and b) something I am sure the BCCI will change in no time at all.

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.

South Africa win by 51 runs

Last night I thought today was going to be a pretty dismal day. Today was not only the last day of the Test, but the last day of the series and the last day of Test cricket this summer. That is always a sad day and this was also going to be the day that England lost the number one ranking. I expected a relatively steady procession of English wickets until a finish sometime around tea. Instead England started the morning session with an incredibly attacking intent. Trott and Bell were playing almost a shot a ball and missing more than they were hitting. It looked like batting to a plan, but it also never really looked like coming off. The ball was still quite new and it was cloudy making it swing. If anything it was swinging too much for South Africa to really make inroads; the batsmen were frequently not even coming close. It did manage to account for Bell, however and probably should have done for Trott too. It was a phrenetic morning and it only got more chaotic when Trott ran out James Taylor as the latter went for a fourth run. It was very, very poor from Trott as the fourth was definitely on. Taylor is quick and he was the one running to the danger end, but Prior stood his ground. Taylor would certainly have beat the original throw, but had to go back almost the full length of the pitch and the relay throw from South Africa beat him. It was a very disappointing dismissal for both the obvious reason that it left England four down and still 300 runs (exactly) behind but also because Taylor was deprived of a chance to show his Test credentials ahead of the India tour. He had a good, but not world beating, Test at Headingley and only scored ten in the first innings here. He would have really liked a chance to get a big score and secure himself and I think England would have liked to get a better look at him.

At 45-4 there was a suggestion that England might be all out well before tea, if they even made it to lunch. Trott was still batting madly and Bairstow came in and started playing aggressively too. Bairstow, however, was much more restrained than Prior. He was scoring freely, but off of balls that were less likely to get him out. It wasn’t the same throwing of the bat that we were seeing from Trott and it was actually much more effective; he was scoring at better than a run a ball. Although he departed after lunch and just before Trott did as well, England kept going for it. A draw would not have got anything directly for England, but there were reasons for trying to get one. But that was clearly not what England had in mind and astonishingly they they were not out of the match until the penultimate ball of the day. Prior played a brilliant innings, Broad scored a very good 37 off 42 and Swann scored 41 off 34. They all got out going for runs and in other circumstances their dismissals would have been terrible. But in this case it was clear what England were doing and no one could have had any complaints. England actually got above the required run rate late on during the Prior-Swann partnership as they completely took Imran Tahir apart. In the end it was not enough. England fell short. But it was an astonishing effort and some absolutely thrilling entertainment for everyone watching. When England were 280-7 there still seemed a very real chance that England could do it.

In the end, no one would argue that South Africa did not deserve to win. They played the better cricket in this Test and won the big moments. They got vital runs when they needed to and kept England at bay consistently. England dropped too many catches and let South Africa off the hook with tail end runs the one time they had a real chance. Although the stat most commonly cited is the number of runs scored by South Africans after drops, I think the tail end runs were a bigger issue. There will always be a few drops and whilst it is important to come back and get others (which England did not do well) there is much less of an excuse for tail end runs. England lost by 51 runs; South Africa’s bowling quartet scored 168 runs in the match and Philander managed 96 of them himself. That is simply too many and it cost England badly in the final reckoning. Even if they had only managed to shave 30 off the eighth wicket partnership of 54 it would have made a difference to the complexion of the match as it neared the end. And if they had managed to break it promptly they might have won outright.

Not only was it a deserved victory for South Africa in the Test it was a deserved one in the series. England fought back well after the debacle at the Oval, but South Africa always just looked like the better side overall. There’s a reason for that. They have been number two for a while now and should enjoy their new position at the top. But thank you to England for making a good day out of what should have been a terrible one.

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.

Lord’s, day one: South Africa 262-7

I suspect that Andrew Strauss will have enjoyed the first day of his hundredth Test more than Graeme Smith will have enjoyed the first day of his record-tying 93rd as captain. I said yesterday that I thought it would be a good toss to lose as both captains would likely bat despite the good bowling conditions and that seems to have been the case. Smith won the toss and batted and England bowled very well in the overcast conditions, reducing South Africa to 54-4 at lunch. It was comfortably England’s best session in the field in this series and the first time South Africa had been under real pressure.

It did not come without some fortune for England, however. Both Alviro Petersen and Jacques Kallis were ‘Kasprowiczed’: given out caught to a ball that took the glove after the bat had been released. The Kallis dismissal was particularly controversial as it was given not out by the on-field umpire and reviewed by England. The ball clearly hit the glove and Rod Tucker overturned the original decision, but he seemed to completely forget that the glove had to still be holding the bat. Whilst it was a matter of millimetres and milliseconds, there was never enough evidence to actually overturn the decision and had it been the other way there might not have even been enough evidence to uphold it. It was an absolute shocker and South Africa will no doubt feel aggrieved. For England, though, the morning session represented an overdue slice of luck after a series seemingly dominated by good balls missing the outside edge or miscued shots avoiding fielders.

Apart from those two questionable dismissals, England did bowl very well through the first part of the day and the dismissals of Smith and Amla were both down to simply excellent bowling. A very good away swinger from Anderson after lunch also accounted for de Villiers, but after that England took their foot off somewhat. It is not to say that they bowled poorly, but they were not bowling those sharp, testing balls that were helping to induce errors. Part of this was that the ball was older, of course, but once it stopped moving extravagantly England seemed to relax too much. This is all too often the case with England. Rudolph and Duminy batted well, but for most of their innings they were not under the same pressure as their predecessors. Even after Rudolph gifted his wicket to Swann, England did not seem to attack enough. Philander rode his luck a bit, but then settled into a proper innings and made it to stumps 46 not out. That’s more than any of South Africa’s top five and more than Smith, Amla and Kallis scored combined. Whilst he does have some skill with the bat, England will be very disappointed with letting him score so many.

Whilst England did get Duminy out with the second new ball, that was the only one they managed to get before stumps. They did do well overall; England are on top still and I am sure that having lost the toss Strauss would have taken 262-7 at stumps. But the tale told by South Africa going from 54-4 to 105-5 to 262-7 is not a pretty one for England and they really should be batting by now.

Tomorrow England need to finish South Africa off quickly. The pitch is not a minefield; it’s still recognisably a Lord’s wicket. But it’s not quite as flat as the usual style and we have seen deliveries misbehave already. It looks like 400 is probably a par first innings score, possibly even less. England really cannot waste any more time; they have already conceded more tail end runs than they would like and one expects that England will have to bowl South Africa out for under 300 to really still be on top. And whatever score South Africa do make, England then have to match it. England’s batsmen have good records at Lord’s, but they need to keep their heads tomorrow. We saw them get in and get out at Headingley; they must not do that here. They still have a good chance to take control of this match over the next two days and it’s crucial that they start to do so tomorrow. If they fail, however, South Africa could very easily be on top by stumps.

Eng v SA third Test preview

For the second time in as many years England go into the sixth Test of a summer knowing that a win will secure the number one spot. The pressure is much higher this time, however, as unlike against India there is no room for error. England have had a poor 2012, a fairly poor series and the preparation for this last Test has been far from ideal.

This crucial Test is also Andrew Strauss’ hundredth. Unfortunately this has largely been overshadowed by the Pietersen saga, but Strauss has handled himself extremely well and his comments on the matter of been a welcome oasis of level-headedness. Whilst England will miss Pietersen in that he is a talented batsmen, the increase in team unity should not be underestimated and nor should the benefit of having that distraction at least taken out of sight. It will leave the batting weakened, but it is important to remember that Pietersen has failed when the team needs him at least as often as he has played the sort of brilliant hundred we saw at Headingley. The batting is weakened, but not to the extent many seem to believe. England’s rise to the top of the Test ranking was built off team efforts and it is to this which they will be trying to return in their effort to stay there.

England will need their batsmen to fire, but they actually have a very good record batting at Lord’s and for all the talk about the batting I expect the key will be the bowling. England’s attack did much better at Headingley than they did at the Oval, but they won’t get a lot of help from the Lord’s surface. Despite effectively doing so at Headingley, England are unlikely to play five bowlers at Lord’s so at least one of Tim Bresnan or Steven Finn will miss out. But as I’ve said before I would actually drop them both and play Graham Onions who will likely be better suited to the conditions. Whoever is named in the XI tomorrow morning, however, they will all need to perform. England do not want to rely on Stuart Broad finding his length in a devastating spell as happened at Headingley.

South Africa meantime have little about which to worry. They will have no doubt enjoyed watching the Pietersen furore and although the Headingley match was probably closer than they might have liked they have the confidence of knowing that their plans have worked so far. There seems little chance of a change from the last Test; the only possibility was that Petersen might miss out with his hamstring injury but he has come up well. This will also be an important Test for Graeme Smith as he will tie Allan Border’s record of most Tests as captain.

The Lord’s pitch tends to flatten out at the match goes on and the rumour is that it is more green than usual to start this time so it might be a decent one on which to bowl first. The weather forecast is also for overcast conditions on the first day, which usually plays a big role at Lord’s. Strauss got a lot of flak for bowling first at Headingley, but it actually proved to be a decent decision. This must be weighed against the fact that the last time South Africa toured a very similar logic led to South Africa bowling first and conceding over 500. In the end, it might be an excellent toss to lose. I think this game will be one of steady partnerships and will probably be decided by whose bowlers can best instigate a collapse. England will have the confidence of having done so at Headingley, but still have a very formidable South African top order with which to contend.

Probably not the end of the KP saga

Over the weekend, Kevin Pietersen has released a video in which he completely backed down from his demands to retire from ODI cricket and play a full IPL. But he never apologised for any of his actions and he never mentioned textgate. The selectors gave him six hours to do so and when he either did or could not they dropped him anyway.

It was the right thing to do. As good as it was for Pietersen to back down from his demands, the manner in which he did so was not a matter that suggested he was trying to bring about an end to the affair. If he wanted to end things he could have said all of that directly to the ECB and also apologised for his behaviour. Instead he tried to garner public sympathy whilst simultaneously saying ‘your move’ to the ECB. I do think he deserves credit for dropping his ridiculous demands, but this was not even vaguely the right way to do it and he abjectly failed to address any of the other important issues. The ECB, for all their faults in this saga, did the right thing by telling him what he still needed to do and giving him an extra six hours in which to do so. As he did not, they were quite correct to still drop him.

The issue seems to primarily be the texts Pietersen sent to his friends in the South African dressing room and whether or not they were derogatory about Strauss and Flower. There can now be little doubt that they were and Pietersen seems absolutely incapable of actually apologising for them, or even trying to explain them. This is not, contrary to what a lot of people are saying, a matter of someone simply having a whinge to a friend about their boss. Not only was the friend in the opposition dressing room, one’s captain is not the same as one’s boss. Cricket is a team sport; it is not the same as an office environment. It is very important for the team that players show respect to their captain in a way that simply does not exist in most workplaces. Pietersen’s snub of Strauss at the press conference (which he implied was a mistake, but for which he did not apologise) and the texts he send to the opposition players may be acceptable in a standard workplace, but they are not acceptable in a dressing room. The eleven who take the field must play as a team and part of that is showing respect to the captain. Pietersen seems unable to understand that and looking at his history, never has. This is also why the people who ask why Swann was not dropped for the comments he make about Pietersen in his book or whether Strauss had said anything about Pietersen during the saga are missing the point. Pietersen isn’t the captain; Strauss is. That’s not to say they management or other players ought to be dismissive of anyone who is not the captain, but that it is a different situation. There are different rules and protocols to be observed and quite rightly. Unless Pietersen admits that his behaviour was not acceptable and actually apologises (and to the ECB, Flower and Strauss instead of the media this time) he should not be picked.

England will be without Pietersen for the Lord’s Test and contrary to a fairly popular view they most certainly can still win. Pietersen is a very good player, but he is not superman. He has a Test average under fifty which is less than Jonathan Trott and barely higher than Alastair Cook. He played a match winning innings at Colombo earlier this year, but he also cost England good positions in Abu Dhabi and at the Oval. There is no guarantee at all that he would have made a good score at Lord’s instead of getting out to a stupid shot after getting set; he does the latter with regularity. The last time England played without KP was in a must-win Test against major opposition at the Oval in 2009. England won by 197 runs. He is an asset, but he is not the only reason England win or even the main reason that England win. To say that England cannot win without Pietersen is utter lunacy.

I don’t think this is the end of the saga, however. I expect it will continue to rumble on in some form almost no matter what happens. Pietersen’s history suggests that even if he is allowed back in the future he will still do or say something at some point. In the immediate future though, there is the matter of whether he and the ECB can find enough common ground to get him to sign a new central contract. He has made this easier with his climbdown, but he will still need to answer for the texts he sent, on feels. But there is quite a bit of time left until the contracts are handed out and there is every chance that he will find his way back into the good graces of the ECB before then. I would not say it’s likely, but there is still a chance he could play against India in December. Either that, or we can expect the tour to be dominated by coverage of how Pietersen is playing in the Big Bash League instead.