Lancashire v Kent preview

After a week off in round two of the County Championship, Lancashire are back in action this week with another home match, this time against Kent. Although there were quite a few positives to be taken from the draw against Worcestershire, Lancs could really do with a win this week. It is early yet, but the last thing we want is to have to make a late push to ensure promotion and I would much rather we get into a position of strength early on. Lancashire did win the last meeting between the two sides, back in 2010.

James Anderson returns to Lancashire’s side this week for the first of two matches allowed by the ECB this year. Not only is it good news for Lancashire that he is being allowed more time than last year, it is probably good news for Anderson as well who will have more time to find his rhythm ahead of the Test summer. Lancashire named a squad of 13 with Anderson simply added to an otherwise unchanged squad from the last match. After Wayne White had a good start to his Lancs career, my guess is that Anderson’s inclusion in the playing XI will probably come at the expense of Kyle Hogg. Given that our batting was much stronger than our bowling against Worcs, however, I would prefer him to replace Steven Croft as an extra bowler. We already had Glen Chapple coming in at nine against Worcs, so there is plenty of batting depth. That’s not to say that Croft really did anything wrong, but I think the balance of the side will be better with the extra bowling option, especially as Kent put up a total of 619 runs for only twelve wickets in their only match (admittedly against Leicestershire). Otherwise, I would name an unchanged side.

Hopefully the Old Trafford pitch has a bit more in it for the seamers this time and hopefully the weather stays away. Both were large factors in the draw two weeks ago and between them made sure there could be no positive result. Unfortunately, there is currently a moderate chance of rain on day one and decent chances over parts of the next three days, so it may be difficult once again to get a result. It’s also supposed to be generally cloudy and quite chilly, so all-in-all not great conditions.

The toss will probably be of some importance; I don’t know how how the pitch looks, but with day one looking the driest of the four the best option is probably to bat and try to put up a big total early. Lancs are certainly capable of this and getting Anderson a chance to bowl with Kent under some scoreboard pressure is probably the best way to win the match. But Kent do have a strong looking batting order, so there certainly are no guarantees. I think a draw is probably the most likely result; Lancashire certainly can win, but I think they will need to breaks with the weather and toss to go their way to do so. Kent should certainly not be written off, but I think Lancashire are the better side and Kent would need a lot to go their way to have a decent shot at victory.

Nagpur, day two: India 87-4

After India probably shaded the first day of the Nagpur Test England emphatically won the second. England actually found batting a bit easier in the morning. Perhaps India had been a bit demoralised by Matt Prior and Joe Root playing comfortably the night before and perhaps the pitch was just a tad easier. Prior was ultimately out missing a ball that just went on, but Joe Root continued to bat very well until finally getting a bit too impatient and getting out. It was very similar to the dismissal of Pietersen, actually, and by coincidence occurred on exactly the same score. But it was a very good innings by Root and especially given in how much trouble England were. Perhaps most important was how composed he looked for most of it. It leaves a bit of a selection dilemma for the tour of New Zealand. It would be very harsh to drop Root after this, but Jonny Bairstow had an excellent Test at Lord’s at the end of last summer and the pitches in New Zealand will be closer to that. This is also just the one innings from Root. And then there is James Taylor, who should have been in the squad instead of Eoin Morgan. It is a very tricky problem, but fortunately for England one which can be left for another day.

After Prior was out Graeme Swann came up with a nice reminder of how good a batsman he really can be. A lot of the time when he bats we see him come in at ten with only one of the other bowlers for company and he ends up trying to get quick runs before England are bowled out. This time though he had Root at the other end who was settled and Swann played much more sensibly with him. He still played some shots, but he has the talent to do so within reason and today he had the time to get to 56 before he started getting over aggressive and was lbw reverse sweeping. It isn’t the shot one really minds from a tail-ender, and especially not one batting with Jimmy Anderson, but it is not a shot with a good reward to risk ratio and there was really no need to play it at that point. It was a very good innings overall though and Swann’s first fifty since 2009. Hopefully this innings is enough to ensure that he bats a bit higher up the order next time and has a chance to form a proper partnership.

England’s score of 330 looked like a decent one. India have to win this game and batting last I would estimate they need no fewer than four hundred in the first innings. That did not look like it would be easy to get at the start of the innings and now at stumps it looks very unlikely. I suggested yesterday that the success of Ishant Sharma would bode well for Jimmy Anderson and that is exactly what happened. Anderson was not only the best bowler, he was almost unplayable. He took three wickets and the dismissals of Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir were both set up beautifully. He did not have time to set up Virender Sehwag though: the ball that knocked over Sehwag’s middle stump was only the third of the innings. He beat the bat of Virat Kohli a few times as well and looked an almost constant threat during his spell after tea.

Part of the reason Anderson was so threatening though was the bowling of the rest of the attack. England started off attacking, but eventually settled down into the same plan that India had used. Not only did it have the same effect of building the pressure, but England’s spinners also started to find real turn. With Tim Bresnan getting the ball to move about and Swann and Monty Panesar getting the ball to turn and even bounce a bit there was no way for India to really release the pressure without playing some shots. Anderson was bowling better than the other three, but I don’t think he would have had the same success without the pressure being built at the other end as well.

There was also some very good captaincy by Alastair Cook. Tendulkar had looked uncertain against Panesar, but Cook brought Anderson on to bowl instead and it paid off with the fifth ball. It was the ninth time Anderson had dismissed Tendulkar, giving him sole possession of the record for most dismissals of Tendulkar. It will also bring the questions of how long Tendulkar will stay in Test cricket back to the fore. The ball that got him was a good one that nipped back in, but Tendulkar’s footwork was absent and he seemed surprised that the ball kept low despite almost every ball in the match doing the same. It was a great ball, but he played it very poorly and there was a strong sensation as he walked off that it was his penultimate innings. Certainly it ought to be. He is doing neither the team nor himself any favours by hanging on.

England are in control of the Test. The two batsmen at the crease now for India are out of form and looked very uncertain playing out the rest of the day. The next man in is on debut, though he has had a good domestic season, and after that is only Ravichandran Ashwin and the tail. Ashwin has batted well in the series, but it is not a good idea to put one’s hopes on a number eight, even a good one. Even if he does score some runs again it won’t matter if the other batsmen don’t get some first. India can’t afford to only get up to parity; they have to get a first innings lead which means they will have to bat all day tomorrow and then some. It’s not a task they can leave for the number eight, though may be too much even for the recognised batsmen. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility of course, but it’s less likely than the alternative and at the other end of the spectrum England have a chance to effectively put the match to rest with one very good hour in the first half of the day.

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.

South Africa win by an innings and twelve runs

The final scoreline probably disguises the true gap between the way the two sides played. England won the first day, but ought to have done better. South Africa dominated from there. That said, England probably should still have escaped with a draw. The pitch was still a very flat one even on the last day, though it had broken up a bit by then. Jimmy Anderson and Tim Bresnan made it very clear that once batsmen played themselves in they were hard to dislodge. England simply threw too many wickets away in their effort to get a draw and more broadly in the Test itself.

England’s first innings total of 385 always looked a bit under par and South Africa showed just how far short it was. South Africa in general and Hashim Amla in particular batted with incredible patience on a flat wicket. They did very seldom played outside the off stump and Graeme Smith did well to survive and negate a testing spell from Graeme Swann on the third morning. It was an example of how to bat in stark contrast to the way England went about their affairs for far too much of the match. The first day was especially galling. England were in a great position with the wicket looking very flat and South Africa’s attack looking a bit rusty, but still Trott fished outside his off-stump to get out and Kevin Pietersen played an idiotic attempt at a hook just before the new ball. The next day Bopara played a half a hook to nick behind and Tim Bresnan somehow contrived to play a wide long hop from Tahir onto his stumps. Those sort of mental lapses cost England dearly, especially as South Africa never seemed in any great danger of making them. I count eight avoidable dismissals by batsmen who ought to have known better and I am being rather generous. That number could easily be expanded to twelve or more. England were probably never going to put up 637-2, of course, but 450 should have been a minimum and those extra 65 runs probably would have been the difference in the match.

England’s bowling was lacklustre though. There was a period on the second day where the conditions very much favoured the bowlers and in that time England looked fantastic. Jimmy got an early wicket and Broad looked very threatening. But after the sun came out, there was suddenly nothing. The best thing South Africa did with the ball was that they kept testing England and making things a bit difficult even when there was not a lot out there. All of England’s bowlers seemed a bit down on pace and there was no out and out aggression of the type that South Africa occasionally produced. Once the long partnerships started to develop with the ball not swinging England looked out of ideas. This is where a fifth bowler, especially one such as Steven Finn who offered a bit of variety, would have been very useful. Especially seeing as Bopara made nought and 22 and threw his wicket away twice. England can say that South Africa had the rub of the conditions, and that would be true, but it is not enough to account for the disparity. England looked short a bowler and the bowlers who were there looked short of match fitness. Almost as if not playing any red ball cricket in almost two months was not a good lead up to the series.

England will take few positives from this match. They do not even have another three or four Tests in which to come back, only two thanks to the ECB. They must play a lot better at Headingley in two weeks, though that is something of a result ground and there will likely be more in it for the bowlers. Work must be done, however, to ensure that the other bowlers are properly match-fit. There was some suggestion that a few were carrying niggles; we have good replacements for Broad and Bresnan so if one or both of them is not fit they should not play. I would also play Finn no matter what. As alluded to above, he offers some variation in an attack that can otherwise look bereft of ideas when the ball is not swinging. Ideally for me Finn would come in for Bopara. I know people say that since our batting failed we should not drop a batsman, but playing six batsmen for the sake thereof is pointless. We cannot just play any batsman because that does not shore up anything; it just weakens the bowling. If we can find a batsman who can regularly contribute then that would be excellent, but Bopara is not that batsmen and there are not currently any others who would not in some way be a gamble. Now is not the time to gamble; Finn has a Test average of 14, that’s as high as Bopara’s average against teams other than the West Indies.

I don’t think England will drop Bopara, but I still think Finn ought to play. More or less by definition, this means Bresnan is to miss out unless Broad is injured. I have seen a few calls to drop Broad and although he had a poor Test I think they are very rash. Coming into the Test he had over fifty wickets at an average under 19 in the previous twelve months. One bad Test is no reason to drop him, meaning that Bresnan is the unlucky bowler. It is an unfortunate aspect of England’s current strength in depth and also a slightly ridiculous one given that they persist in playing a non-performing batsman at six.

England have a lot of work to do both going into and following the Headingley Test to rescue this series, but they did not get to be number one in the world by accident. It was a poor performance this time, but it is far too early to draw any conclusions just yet.

The Oval, day four: Eng 102-4

Spare a thought for Alviro Petersen. Two days ago he got a peach of a delivery from James Anderson; it which swung back in at him, beat the inside edge of the bat and trapped him plumb leg before for an eleven ball duck. In the 48 hours after that, South Africa lost just one wicket and three batsmen all scored centuries. One of those batsmen was Hashim Amla who remained patience personified at the crease and went on to record the first triple hundred in South Africa’s history. It was an absolutely amazing innings and it was only as he neared the mark that he started to show any sign of nerves. He became only the second batsman ever to score more than 300 at the Oval, with the other being Len Hutton in that famous match against Australia. The 13 hours and ten minutes he spent making Amla unbeaten 311 was also only seven minutes short of the time Hutton was at the crease in 1938. That was not the only significant mark of the day as South Africa’s 637-2 declared was the first time England have conceded over 600 in an innings since the 2009 Cardiff Test.

England were given exactly four sessions to bat as South Africa declared at tea. It was a declaration that was perhaps only aggressive by Graeme Smith’s standards, but it was very clever as it meant that runs would be important as well. He gave England an incentive to try to score the 252 needed to make South Africa bat again. It really should have been possible. The pitch had been sucking the life out of the Test for most of four days and the batsmen had only struggled under cloud. England, however, promptly did their best to make the pitch look much spicier than it had ever been. Cook did get a good ball to get out and Trott got a decent one, though he followed it a bit. Kevin Pietersen threw his wicket away again. He had already offered a dolly of a chance to Kallis at slip that had been put down when he got a straight one from Morkel and somehow played inside the line to a ball that knocked over middle stump. He played the sort of defensive shot that I have been known to play and that is not a compliment. It was simply appalling. It was Strauss’ dismissal, the last of the day, that was the real blow to England. Strauss was the last batsman who one would back to bat deep in the innings, but he went out top edging a sweep to Tahir. It was a bad shot, but to his and Tahir’s credit it was a bad shot borne of very good bowling. The previous two balls from Tahir had really leapt out of the rough and it was clear that Strauss felt that he had to find a counter. To be fair, he was probably right; there was every chance he would have got out if he had stayed as he was too.

England’s position at stumps is one that looks hopeless. They still trail by exactly 150 runs and have lost the three batsmen most likely to grind out an innings to save the match. Ravi Bopara and Ian Bell are the two not out batsmen and they are England’s last two middle order players. Tomorrow will tell us a lot about whether or not the selectors knew what they were doing in selecting Bopara. He and Bell simply must find a way to build a partnership. There is still a chance that England could at least make South Africa bat again, though I think the odds of England actually drawing the Test are low. England will have to have Bell, Bopara and Prior erase almost all of the deficit and then hope that the pressure to get wickets shifts to South Africa enough that Bresnan, Broad and Swann can build a lead big enough that South Africa do not have time to chase it. Tomorrow is supposed to be the best day for batting in the Test, but England will simply have to do much better than they did today.

There are a few causes for English optimism. One is of course that the last time these two side played each other, England managed to cling on for nine-down draws twice. Another relates to the earlier alluded to Cardiff Test of 2009. It was the last time that England conceded 600 in an innings and the scores are quite similar to those so far in this Test. At Cardiff, England needed 240 to make Australia bat again and found themselves 46-4 and later 70-5. That ended in a draw, though England did not have as much time to bat then. A little bit farther back, however, England have actually not lost any of the last three matches in which we have conceded over 600 in an innings.

All of that could be construed as simply grasping at straws though and to be honest that is exactly what it is. The history and stats are interesting, but tomorrow it will come down to whether or not England’s remaining seven batsmen can find a way to keep out the vaunted South African attack for the better part of ninety overs. The result will say a lot about both sides.

England v South Africa preview

The most eagerly awaited Test series in a year. The most ridiculously shortened Test series since the last time South Africa played a major opponent. The winner of the series will finish as number one in the world, though if South Africa win by one Test they will be top by only 0.16 points. A draw will see England maintain their position at the top of the table, but by a reduced margin.

The teams are almost impossibly close on paper. The series will feature the two best bowling attacks in the world and arguably the two best bowlers in the world in Dale Steyn and Jimmy Anderson. Steyn has had the better career and Jimmy has a long way to go to catch him, but over the last few years they have been on level terms with Jimmy actually faring slightly better. Steyn will have the support of the also brilliant but somewhat overshadowed Morne Morkel as well Vernon Philander. It is the last of these who I think will be most interesting to watch. He had an incredible start to his Test career, becoming the second fastest all time to fifty wickets. He is yet to really have an ‘off’ Test. But he is also yet to face top quality opposition. Of his seven Tests, five have been against Sri Lanka or New Zealand and the other two were against an Australian side in a bit of disarray. That said, he still took 5-15 in the famous 47 all out and regardless of the strength of the opposition that is quite impressive. He has, however, not quite managed to replicate that form with Somerset in the Championship. In five matches he has taken 23 wickets at 21.34. No one would argue that is anything but good, however it must be viewed in the context of the incredibly bowling friendly conditions of the early season; most sides would have been in with a chance of victory if they scored 213. It is also, rather surprisingly, a third again higher than his Test average! It will thus be very interesting to see how he gets on.

For England, Jimmy is backed up by Stuart Broad and one of Tim Bresnan, Steven Finn or Graham Onions. Bresnan is the presumable choice, though Finn and Onions are good injury replacements and (although it is very unlikely) possible fourth seamers if England decide to go that route. It is the new ball attack of Broad and Anderson that will be England’s main weapon, however. Broad is actually almost as dangerous as Jimmy as he is now the bowler that everyone expected him to be from when he first came into the side. In the past twelve months has has played ten Tests, four of them on flat Asian wickets, and taken 54 wickets at an average under 19. It’s not quite what Philander managed to do, but it is close and it is far better than what Morkel has done in the same period of time (26 wickets in eight Tests at 29). How England handle the third seamer position will be an interesting to watch. Tim Bresnan had a shaky start to the summer, but finished the series against the West Indies well whilst Finn and Onions did not manage to use the innings that they got in the third Test to demand inclusion in this series. Bresnan also strengthens the batting and as I have said before I think it strengthens it so much that England should play five bowlers. Even without the bonus of his batting, however, Bresnan is a more than capable third seamer: he bowls quick, he bowls a ‘heavy ball’ and he can get the ball to reverse swing.

That’s how the seamers align and taken as groups there is almost nothing to choose between them. Over the last few years Anderson has matched Steyn, Philander has outdone Broad with the ball and Bresnan has outdone Morkel with both bat and ball. England probably have a slight advantage due to Philander’s inexperience. Where England have a large advantage, however, is in spin. South Africa will be bringing Imran Tahir to England. Whilst he is a considerable step up from Paul Harris, he is not a match for Graeme Swann. (It’s also a personal disappointment as I think the ‘team full of Rhodesians’ joke I would have made is funnier than the ‘team full of Pakistanis’ joke I will be making instead.) The group stats support the notion that England have an advantage, but a slight one: England’s team bowling average over the last two years is 26.52 as opposed to South Africa’s 28.74, whilst the teams are neck and neck in ‘notable’ scores. England have bowled their opponents out for under 200 eleven times in 24 matches in the past two years whilst conceding 400 or more four times. In the same time period, South Africa have played 13 Tests and bowled their opponent out for under 200 six times whilst conceding two scores over 400. Interestingly, in this time period neither team has lost when conceding 400 but have each one once after doing so.

So it’s advantage England by a nose in the comparison of bowling attacks, but each side have very good batsmen as well. South Africa have the formidable Grame Smith opening and boast Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis farther down the order. The first three each average just short of fifty apiece and each over the course of fairly long Test careers. Kallis averages even higher, almost 57 in his career, but oddly has never fared well in England. In twelve Tests he only averages 29.30 with a solitary century. It will be interesting to see if he can, in what will likely be his last tour of England, turn those numbers around a bit. It will also be important for South Africa, who already have a couple of holes in their top and middle order. The injury to Boucher means that Jean-Paul Duminy will come into the side and it was already assumed that both Alviro Petersen and Jacques Rudolph will play. Both had decent series in New Zealand (the latter scoring 156 in the last Test), but apart from that none of those three have looked particularly imposing at Test level. Petersen and Rudolph have also both played in the County Championship this year and neither have been impressive. Petersen scored a big century, but it was against Glamorgan and his other ten innings yielded only ninety runs between them. Rudolph did slightly better, but for all his starts he only passed fifty once in ten innings. It also remains to be seen how AB de Villiers will react to taking the gloves. He has batted very well when keeping wicket in ODIs, but this will be the fourth time he has kept in Tests and in the first three matches he averaged only 22.

England, by contrast, have no real stars. Only Jonathan Trott averages over fifty and his average has been going steadily downward since he first established himself. However, England also have fewer weaknesses. The only batsman to average under forty is Ravi Bopara and that is offset somewhat by the fact that Tim Bresnan at number eight actually averages over forty. At the top of the order, Andrew Strauss has scored three first class centuries already this summer with his an unbeaten 127 in his most recent innings against Notts. Alastair Cook has lost the form that saw him dominate attacks last year, but he still had a decent series against the West Indies. Ian Bell has had a good summer, but as far as the middle order goes all the attention will be on Kevin Pietersen. Embroiled in controversy since retiring from pyjama cricket earlier this summer and making some rather questionable demands of the England management, he has nonetheless been in excellent form with the bat. Most recently was his jaw-dropping innings at Guildford where he treated a skilled Lancastrian attack as though they were a team of under-elevens. He will go into the South Africa series with a point to prove and whilst it could result in more rash shots for cheap dismissals, there is also every chance that it will drive him to have a huge series. KP is someone who has tended to perform when under personal pressure and saves his best for the big stage. This is a big stage and he is under pressure. South Africa will be well advised to get to him early in his innings.

England also have an advantage down the order. Whilst AB de Villiers is a better batsman overall than Prior, he is still a part time ‘keeper. Prior is much more reliable with the gloves and it remains to be seen which de Villiers will show up with the bat. But farther down is where England could really put some pressure on South Africa. England’s last four batsmen, ie: numbers eight through eleven, have a cumulative average of 101. The corresponding average for South Africa is only 58. That is a potential extra 43 runs in each innings for England, an entire extra batsman’s worth. The upshot for me is that South Africa will probably have to get an above average performance by some of their more unheralded batsmen or a very good series from someone like Smith. Even if Kallis shows his true class, I do not think South Africa will be able to get away with having any failing batsmen.

The series may well come down to little things. Neither side have had ideal preparations. England were playing ODIs, but at least winning. South Africa, meantime, did not look too impressive in their pair of tour matches and suffered the loss of Boucher in that time. Both captains are very defensive minded, especially Smith who has previously delayed declarations absurdly long. I don’t think either side will want to be in a position of having to force a victory; it will play against the natural tendency of both captains. This will favour England at first, as they only need a draw to retain the number one ranking, so this is something South Africa will want to negate early. And then there is the weather. So much time has been lost to rain in this summer both in the international and county matches. South Africa did not play the rain particularly well against New Zealand; Smith will need to take it into account better in England.

As for a prediction, the two sides are so close that it is very hard to say. The winner may simply be whichever side manages to have fewer poor days. I think a lot will come down to whether one player, probably a batsman given the skill of the attacks, can step up and dominate the series. For South Africa that may be Smith having a series like he did in 2003; for England it may be something special from KP or a captain’s series from an in-form Strauss. With the series being as short as it is, whatever numerical result is reached is unlikely to reflect the play itself (unless one side simply fails to show up of course). As outlined above, I think where there are edges to be had most of them go to England. With that and the lighter pressure on them, something with which South Africa notoriously struggle, I think England will win the series 2-0. I would say 2-1, but I don’t think the weather will co-operate enough to get three results. However it finishes, though, it should be a cracker and I cannot wait for it to start.

England v West Indies ratings

England were not troubled in their 2-0 victory over the West Indies, but they were some way short of masterful. They were a bit sloppy, especially in the last match, and they conceded almost a third again as many runs in this series (1549) as they did in the three Tests they lost in the UAE (1178). The good news for England that in they were even worse at the start of last summer, conceding 1606 runs against Sri Lanka, with no effects in the second series.

The West Indies looked like an improving side. Against Australia they never gave up, despite the regular horror-sessions. Here they always looked on the verge of collapsing with the bat, but actually did so only once. They let things get away occasionally with the ball, but did well at regrouping in between sessions and fighting back after intervals. Overall, they were outclassed by England, but can go home with their heads held high. (Or at least they could if they did not still have to play a bunch of pointless ODIs.)

My individual marks (out of ten):

Andrew Strauss* – 9
Came into the first Test at Lord’s with ‘questions’ about his place in the side and responded with a majestic first innings century. Made just one in a tricky spell in before stumps in the second innings, but then came back with a bigger hundred and at a vital time for the team. He finished at the top of the England run-scorer list and second in average. His captaincy was poor by his standards, with the players often looking unmotivated and the field settings characteristically negative.

Alastair Cook – 6
A deceptively decent series by the vice-captain. Failed in the first innings in each match, only scoring 54 runs in the three innings. Stepped up when required in the second innings, however. Contributed with an excellent and all but match-winning 79 in the second innings of the first Test and saw England home with an unbeaten 43 in the second Test.

Jonathan Trott – 3
Got himself in a few times, but only managed a solitary fifty from the first Test. Did enough to still average over thirty in the series, but it was not really enough from the number three and almost half of his runs came in relatively easy situations. A disappointing series for such a good player, his Test average is now only a little bit above fifty.

Kevin Pietersen – 7
Made more headlines off the pitch than on it, but still had a good series. Only had one failure with the bat, in the second innings of the first Test, which he followed up with consecutive half-centuries. Put Shillingford and Narine to the sword in the second and third Tests. Had a century in his sights twice, but got out slightly loosely on both occasions.

Ian Bell – 9
In four innings this series, he hit three fifties. Two of them were unbeaten and one of those was a match-winning knock in the first Test. The only time he failed to go past sixty was when he fell for 22 in the second Test. Apart from that, he looked majestic and can count himself unlucky not to have scored a century. He was stranded with the tail in the first Test and was denied by the rain in the third.

Jonny Bairstow – 0 1
Looked talented, but never passed twenty in three innings. Undone by Roach in the first two Tests, then by Best in the third. Deserves another chance against South Africa, but looks unlikely to get one. Addendum: I have accepted the suggestion given to me that he deserves one point for the brilliant run out he effected at Lord’s.

Matt Prior† – 6
Excellent as always behind the stumps, but only got two innings with the bat. Did not contribute significantly in either of them, but has the excuse of twice coming to the wicket when needing to score relatively quick runs.

Tim Bresnan – 7
A series of two halves for Bresnan. Was arguably fortunate to have even been selected for the first two Tests after looking poor in the last Test in Sri Lanka and very poor at Lord’s. Kept up that form for the first part of the second Test, despite getting some tail-end wickets on the second morning. Then showed why he was selected with a some vital runs in England’s innings and then blew away the West Indies. Finished with twelve wickets in the series, second most for either side.

Stuart Broad – 9
Was perhaps slightly flattered by his eleven wickets in the first Test, but it is very hard for someone to luck into such a feat. For comparison, no West Indian bowler took more than ten wickets in the entire series. Highest wicket taker in the series with 14 and also contributed some useful runs in the second Test.

Graeme Swann – 3
Found life difficult on pitches that were not taking appreciable turn and was only a real threat in the second innings of the first Test. Scored thirty in the first innings of that Test as well.

James Anderson – 8
Showed his value most highly in the third Test when he was rested and England were rudderless. His nine wickets in the first two Tests were insufficient reward for the skill with which he bowled, though he did not get the same swing he got last summer.

Graham Onions – 7
Only got one innings of one Test, but looked very good therein. Had the best bowling figures of the innings with 4-88 and looked much like the Onions of old. Unlikely to be picked against South Africa, but will have put himself in the selectors minds.

Steven Finn – 5
Was not picked until the third Test, despite widespread suggestion that he ought to be. Bowled well in the one innings in which he got the chance, but was a bit wayward on the fourth morning. Looks very good, but perhaps still not quite the finished product and may have slipped behind Onions in the pecking order. Made an amusing 0* as nightwatchman.

West Indies
Darren Sammy* – 7
Continues to get the most out of his side, some feat given the massive internal problems of the West Indies. Showed his batting skill in scoring a maiden hundred in the second Test, but badly threw his wicket away in the other two. His bowling was only that of a useful fourth seamer and nothing more. Should definitely be happy with his efforts, however.

Adrian Barath – 4
Not a great series for the West Indian opener, but not a dreadful won. Stuck around well in both innings of the first Test, but never managed to pass fifty and went cheaply in both innings of the second. Comfortably the best of the top three.

Keiran Powell – 2
Three single figure scores in five innings and a top score of only 33 make this a series to forget. His only saving grace was that he did manage to drag his innings out and wear the shine off the ball to protect his colleagues.

Kirk Edwards – 0
Eight runs total in four innings and seven of them came in the first innings of the second Test. For comparison, Fidel Edwards even managed to score twelve. Dropped for the third Test, needs to do a lot of work to come back.

Darren Bravo – 3
Another top order batsman to struggle, he made it into the twenties three times, but not once into the thirties. All the more disappointing after being considered the second best batsman in the order coming into the series. Comprehensively outshone by batsman down the order from him, though was unlucky to be run out by his partner in the first innings of the series.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul – 8
Another good series in England for the West Indian wall. Missed the third Test due to injury, but passed fifty (and came close to a hundred) in both innings at Lord’s, plus a 46 in the first innings at Trent Bridge. His only failure was when playing an uncharacteristically wild hook in what would be his last innings of the series.

Marlon Samuels – 10
Could almost do no wrong. Out to a loose drive in the first innings at Lord’s, he then seemed to feed off Chanderpaul’s patience (with whom he frequently batted) and after that his lowest score in the rest of the series was 76. Did not look overly threatening with the ball, but did enough to pick up five wickets and was a decent second spin option.

Denesh Ramdin† – 4
Scored a century remembered mostly for his puerile celebration in the last Test, but was very underwhelming in the first two. Should be aware that a ton in a rain-ruined dead rubber against a second choice attack is not enough to compensate for three single figure scores in the previous four innings. Was below average with the gloves, but not horrifically so.

Kemar Roach – 8
Some ferocious new ball bowling saw him top the list of West Indian wicket takers despite picking up an injury and missing the third Test. His top moment was causing some worry in the gloom at the start of the England run chase in the first Test, but was class throughout.

Fidel Edwards – 1
His mark matches the number of wickets he took in the first Test, before being dropped. Most notable for the ridiculous design cut into his hair.

Shannon Gabriel – 5
Unfortunately injured after the first Test, but looked good when he played. Someone who should boost the Windies when he returns.

Ravi Rampaul – 7
Came in for the second Test and looked quite good. Got the ball to swing and nip about off the seam. Got some important top order wickets in the first innings, especially that of KP when England looked set for a huge total and dismissed Cook twice in the series.

Shane Shillingford – 1
Desperately unlucky to have only played in one Test. Left out due to a preference for an all-seam attack at Lord’s and due to a preference for hype in the third. Did not look terribly good on an admittedly flat pitch at Trent Bridge, however as KP and Strauss scored at will off him.

Assad Fudadin – 2
Hard to say a lot about a 110 ball 28, apart from it being twenty more runs that Kirk Edwards had scored at that position in the entire series before then. No worse than any other member of the West Indian top four.

Tino Best – 7
Came in for just the last Test, but what a Test he had! Made the highest ever score by a number eleven with an aggressive but technically sound innings. Deserved a century, but suffered a rush of blood on 95. Also picked up some wickets in England’s abbreviated response.

Sunil Narine – 0
Victim of a flat pitch and two of the best players of spin in Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen, but his 0-70 still did not come close to living up to the massive hype that surrounded his belated arrival. His ‘mystery’ could not even fool the number eleven, Steven Finn.

Edgbaston, day four, Eng 221-5

Today could have been, and maybe should have been, a terribly dull day. With the first three days and the forecast for tomorrow making a result almost impossible, there was almost nothing for which to play. Instead, and fortunately, we got plenty about which to talk.

England started the day much as they finished the previous one. All that time they looked keenly aware that a result was not on the cards and not at all keen on the match. It would be easy to look at the scorecard and conclude that Finn and Onions are simply not Test quality and whilst there would be an element of truth to that, the reality is that they generally bowled quite well and the team let them down. Four catches were put down all told in the innings and the fields and tactics seemed slightly more defensive than usual. More than that though, the entire team just looked like they weren’t really there. Michael Vaughan made the good point on TMS that whilst England did not seem to miss the bowling of Jimmy, they did seem to miss his energy.

It would also be easy to say that England’s rotation policy is at fault here. That is certainly true, but we always knew we would miss Jimmy. Whilst I do not agree with the policy overall, once the first two days were lost I think it was a good idea. By playing Finn and Onions we got potentially important information on how they can fare at Test level and given that the match was overwhelmingly likely to end in a draw anyway, we did not lose much if anything. I think this is probably not at all far from what Flower was expecting to have happened (though perhaps not the poor fielding) and will consider it a success.

If this was a ‘bowl-off’ for a place against South Africa, Onions was the comfortable winner with 4-88. I doubt, however, whether this will be enough to get him in the XI for the Oval next month. England are still unlikely to play five bowlers, although I disagree with that policy, and Onions and Bresnan were still close enough that Bresnan’s batting will probably keep him in the side. Onions may have passed Finn in the pecking order, however.

During all this, Tino Best batted brilliantly to get the highest ever score by a number eleven in Tests. He was finally caught for 95, but it was his partner at the other end who sparked a bit of controversy. When Denesh Ramdin reached his century, he took a note out of his pocket and displayed it to the commentary box. The note suggested that Sir Vivian Richards stop criticising him. Whilst it was not a major point, it was poor form. The job of a commentator or analyst is to criticise at times and it was hardly as though the criticism of Ramdin had been unwarranted. It was a petty gesture and did take some of the gloss off the century.

England stumbled a bit in their reply and it was with this background that Sunil Narine came on for his first bowl in Test cricket. (He could have done so in April, but we’ll let that go for now…) I had heard before the match how he would be a threat to England, how he would make the West Indies competitive again. Which is why I wrote about why he should not be picked. (After which I heard even more support of Narine. As expected, the wicket was flat and England had worked him out after about an over. Narine took 0-70 in fifteen overs. He was not a wicket taking threat, he did not even trouble Finn when the latter came in as a nightwatchman, and he was not even vaguely keeping it tight. Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen were both treating him with contempt by the time he came off. By comparison, Marlon Samuels took 1-29 in nine overs. Welcome to Test cricket…

England win by nine wickets

In the end, this was not close. To be fair, it should never have been. The West Indies had some good sessions, usually accompanied by England seeming to switch off a bit, but in the rest of the match England were utterly dominant. In a way, it was another good warmup for England before South Africa (pity about the huge number of ODIs in between, but that is another rant). The West Indies showed in the evening of the first day and the first half or so of the third that England could not really afford to let up, but England seldom bothered to get out of about second gear. The one time they did, on the third evening, the West Indies found themselves 61-6.

There were some bright spots for the West Indies: Darren Sammy had a very good match with the bat; he finally realised that he could not simply throw the bat at everything and hope it came off. Not only in the first innings, when he scored his maiden Test century, but also in the second as he tried to push the target up to something reasonable he found a much better balance of orthodox attack and sensible defence. It was a far cry from his dismissal at Lord’s to a ball that he did well to even reach. Marlon Samuels did very well in both innings, with a century in the first and an unbeaten 76 in the second. He is another who seems to have worked out the value of patience; in both innings his strike rate was under fifty. Kemar Roach had a massive no-ball problem and apparently still has a slight ankle problem, but he bowled brilliantly with the second new ball.

England will not go into Edgbaston thinking that there are no problems, but the scoreline is a fair one for the Test as a whole. None of the batsmen really fared poorly, most of the dismissals were to good deliveries. The main exception, Strauss, can be excused on the grounds that he had already made 141. The bowling was very good in the second innings and for parts of the first. Jimmy finally started to get a bit of luck, though his match figures are still less than he deserved. He and Broad blew away the West Indies top order twice and though many of the batsmen were complicit in their own demise, there are few who would say that the opening spells were anything but sharp. They might care to look at the balance of the side and ensure that they are still effective with the old ball.

Going into Edgbaston, I suspect the West Indies may name an unchanged side. There is not a lot of reserve talent at their disposal, so even Kirk Edwards will probably stay on. Roach and Rampaul bowled well enough, at least in bursts, that there should be no temptation to bring Fidel Edwards back. That will probably become clearer after the match at Leicester, however. Roach also needs to work on his no-balling problem in that match.

England, despite their comfortable win, may make at least one change. There has been a suggestion that with the series wrapped up they may choose to rest Broad and Anderson. Bresnan would appear to have secured his place for the near future. I do not think that Jimmy will be rested, though Broad might be. Jimmy is a bowler who relies on being in a good rhythm and appears to improve when he has a few overs under his belt. Given that there are also eight or nine ODIs between Edgbaston and Lord’s in which Jimmy is not certain to take part, I would certainly play him at Edgbaston. Broad is a slightly different story. He is a more integral part of the ODI side and can be expected to play in all of them. He also has a lot of past injuries, which Jimmy does not. I think England must give Finn a chance to show himself at Test level and resting Broad would be a good way to do that for a Test.

Whoever plays, I expect another comfortable win for England. There is simply a massive gulf between the two sides and I don’t think the West Indies can overcome it. There have been positive signs from them at least, perhaps in another four or eight years we will have a proper contest again.