England Vs. South Africa Series Review: Marks Out Of 10

England:

Andrew Strauss: 3/10

It is easy to criticise a man who has captained his supposedly very strong side to a comfortable series defeat on home turf but more of a concern than his leadership skills has been his lacklustre performances with the bat at the top of the order.

Alistair Cook: 5/10

In stark contrast to his form in recent times this series was a bit of a struggle for Cook. Throughout the vast majority of the series he didn’t look overly comfortable against the strength, accuracy and potency of South Africa’s gifted bowling attack and this lack of ease is highlighted by the fact that he failed to pass 50 on any occasion apart from his series-opening hundred at the Oval. He may have started the series with a fine knock but from then it was all downhill as he failed to pass seven runs on three occasions.

Jonathan Trott: 6/10

By Trott’s exceptionally high standards to date this was not an overly brilliant series but he still got a couple of fifties and ended with an average in excess of 40 for the series so it would be churlish to pan him. He did of course turn his arm rather a lot too and though he failed to take a wicket in the series he did give a few of South Africa’s much-vaunted batting lineup a tricky spell or two and it isn’t really his job to rip through the opposition’s batting lineup after all.

Kevin Pietersen: 8/10 on the field, 1/10 off of it…

Pietersen Scandal

KP may have out-performed the rest of his team mates with the bat but his behaiour off of the field has been apalling

There was little wrong with Pietersen’s form with the bat as he amassed not far shy of 300 runs with the bat in the two tests in which he featured and he was also surprisingly impressive with the ball taking four wickets in the second test at Headingley.

Sadly though, it has been Pietersen’s off-field behaviour which has been the recipient of far more headlines as he has been embroiled in some reported in-fighting both in the England dressing room and with the top officials in the English game.

If the text messages to SouthAfrican players included the sort of content that they are alleged to have, then no matter how well Pietersen might have played in the second test, the decision to drop him for the final match was wholly justified. No man is bigger than the team and if he has been caught red handed when bad-mouthing his generally very popular and very respected captain then he shouldn’t be given an easy-route back into the side unless he has made some serious attempts to right his wrongs and until he has proven that he can act more maturely and can be trusted in a team environment.

Ian Bell: 3/10

When compared with the ease and fluency of his run-scoring exploits in the most recent test series’ on home turf Ian Bell endured a bit of turgid time of things against the South Africans, managing an average of  just 28.80 and a high score for the series of just 58. More so than the scores themselves the methods of dismissal will concern and irritate Bell as he was far too easily tempted into loose strokes by the South Africans, which saw him lose his wicket cheaply on more than one occasion.

James Taylor: 4/10

It is hard to make a fair judgement on Taylor’s first strides as a test cricketer as he was thrown right in at the deep end against arguably the best bowling attack in the world. He only batted in three innings in the series and in one of those three he was run out by Trott, in another he failed to get in before being dismissed and then in the other he made a score in the thirties which was probably far better than it sounds as he batted with great patience and he supported Pietersen very well en route to his big hundred at Headingley. It wasn’t the best start to life as a test cricketer but I’ve seen worse.

Jonny Bairstow: 8/10

He only played in one test match but boy did he do well. He struggled throughout much of his maiden test series earlier in the summer against the West Indies but the manner in which he stepped into the Kevin Pietersen shaped void amidst very tricky circumstances in the final test was truly admirable. He proved that he has real potential as a test cricketer and demonstrated an encouraging amount of confidence and intent at the crease as he notched back-to-back half centuries, it was just as shame that he fell five short of his maiden test century when he fell for 95 in the first innings.

Ravi Bopara: 2/10

Off the back of an impressive ODI series against Australia this was another major chance for Bopara to try and re-establish himself as part of England’s test side but it went pretty dismally. He scored 0 and 22 in the first test and then he removed himself from contention for a place in the side due to personal reasons.

Matt Prior: 7/10

Over the past couple of years Prior has fully re-asserted himself as England’s first-choice with the gloves and has become arguably the best keeper-batsman in world cricket and his performances in this series will have done little to harm his reputation. Prior was very impressive at times with the bat, never more so than in his courageous second innings knock in the final test, and he was generally very assured with the gloves minus a dropped catch which would have got rid of Amla for just two in the final test. On the whole this was another very decent series for the gloves-man.

Stuart Broad: 5/10

Broad showed glimpses throughout the series of what he brings to the England attack but he looked a little short of rhythm as failed to consistently threaten the South African batting lineup. He seems a little short of pace at the moment which is strange for a man with such a great fast bowling physique but he did however contribute well with the bat in England’s brave final day resistance today and he deserves credit for that.

Graeme Swann: 4/10

Swann Vs. South Africa

Swann was seen as the part of the England attack that might have given them the edge but it wasn’t to be

Having re-announced himself on the international stage in phenomenal fashion over the past few years, Swann has become one of the most feared spinners in the game but he is going through a bit of a barren spellat the moment by his high standards. Like his Nottinghamshire clubmate Stuart Broad he contributed bravely with the bat in England’s final innings of the series but his attempts to help England maintain their place at the top of the world rankings proved futile as they fell fifty runs short of an historic win.

Tim Bresnan: 4/10

Brezza failed to maintain his test match ‘lucky charm’ status as he tasted test defeat for the very first times in his career. He was made to look fairly ordinary by South Africa’s superior batting lineup in the first couple of tests and it was no surprise to see the more threatening Steven Finn preferred to him in terms of selection for the final test.

James Anderson: 5/10

This series proved to be pretty frustrating Anderson as he bowled well for long periods of the game without much reward for his efforts. There is little doubt however that Anderson will come back strongly from a disappointing series and I fully expect him to play a huge part in England’s forthcoming matches in their quest to now recapture what is no longer their place at the top of the world test rankings.

Steven Finn: 7/10

Having spent a bit of time in the wilderness in terms of test match cricket, young Steven Finn returned to regular action for the test side and played in the second and third matches of the series. In his two opportunities in the series he maintained his reputation as a great wicket taker at the highest level even if he did still have a tendency to spray the ball around and provide the opposition with run-scoring opportunities.

Finn’s best day of the series came when I was at Lords to watch the match and it was a pleasure to see two brilliant spells of bowling from the young man. His first spell of the day was brimming with pace and hostility and he must take a lot of credit for the wicket of Dale Steyn, which may have been taken by Broad but was set up by Finn’s aggression and accuracy. His spell of bowling in the afternoon though was the real highlight as he removed Amla, De Villiers and Rudolph in a devastating spell that saw him take 3 wickets for just 14 runs. It will be very surprising now if Finn isn’t selected next time England are in test action.

South Africa:

Graeme Smith: 8/10

Smith led from the front with some of his trademark stubborn, hard-nosed batting at the top of the order and he backed up his strengths with the bat with consistently good captaincy and he fully deserved to lead his side to victory.

Alviro Petersen: 6/10

Five of his six marks out of ten are awarded to Petersen for his marvellous 182 at Headingley as his other five innings in the series garnered a combined total of just 83 runs as he failed to match his opening partner Smith in terms of consistency. His first innings performance at Headingley was terrific and he showed enormous resolve to score big whilst the majority of his team mates failed to fire as they did in the other innings’ throughout the series. However, his form aside from this knock was very indifferent so it is hard to award him more than six out of ten even though he did average over 60 for the series.

Hashim Amla: 9/10

Amla Vs. England

Amla’s 311* was arguably the highlight of the series

Man of the series without a shadow of a doubt. Absolutely no one got anywhere near him in terms of run scored or in terms of batting averages in this series and his staggering knock of 311 not out at the Oval was the highlight of South Africa’s tour. This series was billed as a battle of the bowlers beforehand but in truth it has been South Africa’s staying power and persistence with the bat that has impressed the most and Amla has been the figurehead of this outstanding team display.

Jacques Kallis: 7/10

An enormous unbeaten contribution with the bat in the first innings was the highlight of the series for South Africa’s veteran all-rounder who otherwise failed to make any major contributions with the bat but as always he did offer South Africa an invaluable option with the ball and he defied troubles with persistent back spasms to contribute four wickets in the series.

AB De Villiers: 6/10

Having stepped into the breach in the wake of Mark Boucher’s untimely retirement, AB kept wicket pretty well on the whole in his first full series in the role but he failed to set the world alight with the bat. He did though average over 40 for the series which is respectable given that he was twice not required to bat in the series due to the stellar efforts of some of his team mates.

Jacques Rudolph: 5/10

Rudolph looked solid and added some depth to South Africa’s line-up in the absence of Mark Boucher but he only produced one innings of any real note when he scored 69 having been thrown in to open the batting for his side whilst usual opener Petersen was left back in the hutch due to severe stiffness. He hasn’t long been back in the side after a few years out of the reckoning and though he wasn’t a major force with the bat this time around he didn’t play himself out of the side either.

JP Duminy: 7/10

Duminy wasn’t called upon with great regularity in the series but when he was he proved just why South Africa deem him to be more than just a very good one day player. He contributed with characteristically steady batting down the order bagging himself the second highest South African batting average of the series whilst also contributing when needed with the ball.

Vernon Philander: 8/10

Philander came into this series with a fantastic start to his test career under his belt and he took little time in impressing upon England just why he has been such a success. He may not have been a prolific wicket-taker throughout the entire series but his five-for in England’s final innings was suitable reward for a series of accurate, disciplined and determined bowling. A series bowling average of 23.6 tells you all you need to know about how well he bowled.

Dale Steyn: 8/10

Steyn Vs. England

The world’s number one test bowler is now part of the world’ number one test side

It seemed for long stretches as if Steyn wasn’t quite at his sparkling best but he was still comfortably the biggest wicket taker of the series and as such deserves enormous credit once again. If you aren’t at your very best and you’re struggling with a couple of niggles but you still take the most wickets in the series by a distance then you know you’re a bit special.

Morne Morkel: 6/10

Morkel can at times be one of the most frustrating bowlers in test cricket but he performed pretty well as part of South Africa’s potent attack in this series. He averaged 34.5 with the ball which was less impressive than either Steyn or Philander but he did manage to take 11 wickets and he also chipped in with a few valuable runs right down the order.

Imran Tahir: 5/10

Tahir was arguably the least threatening part of South Africa’s front-line bowling attack but the veteran of English county cricket demonstrated his knowledge of English conditions in playing a part in South Africa getting the better of England’s disappointingly frail-looking batting line-up. The spinner department is arguably South Africa’s weak link and Tahir will surely have to better his average of 47 with the ball in this series if he is to hold onto his place in the world’s best test side.

Bittersweet Weekend on the Road Continues Cycling Fever across GB

Following Danny Boyle’s brilliantly bonkers Opening Ceremony on Friday night, hopes were high across Britain that one of our glory boys of recent times would cash-in on the wave of euphoria and kick-start our Olympic campaign with a gold medal. Sadly though, Saturday’s Men’s Cycling Road Race failed to deliver the result we were all hoping for when our great hope Mark Cavendish failed to ever seriously threaten a podium finish.

However, from the ashes of Cav’s failed attempt to get Team GB off the mark rose Lizzie Armitstead’s quite magnificent ride to a silver medal finish in the Women’s Road Race and this first medal of the Games was arguably made all the sweeter by the disappointment that Cavendish, his team mates and the entire sporting fan-base of Great Britain had suffered on the opening day.

Armitstead Silver Medal

The whole of GB was holding out for a Cavendish victory in the Men’s Road Race but instead we were able to celebrate a silver in the Women’s race for Lizzie Armitstead

I was one of many who was fortunate enough to see first hand the efforts both of the men and of the women in the road races and having never been a real fan of cycling before recent British successes (call me a glory supporter if you will…) I must admit that I am well on the path to conversion.

Don’t get me wrong, you are unlikely to find me gripped to my television screen watching road cycling events all year round but the monumental achievements of the likes of Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Lizzie Armitstead on the road over the past couple of years have certainly gone a long way towards inspiring a passion within me for the sport as a whole.

In order to break the back of learning both to watch and to enjoy road cycling I have found it helpful to compare it to test cricket which is a sporting discipline I have always had an enormous affection for.

Sure, some stages of test cricket can be an absolute bore as can some stages of the Tour De France but the beauty of both comes in the moments of sheer excitement that emerge from these lengthy spells of monotony and tedium.

Just as Cavendish’s disappointment made Armitstead’s success so thrilling, the dull and at times dismal periods of test cricket and road cycling make the great spells of play all the more memorable.

I can accept that road cycling will never be on a par with something like the 100m sprint at the Olympics in terms of sheer and complete excitement but where it does excel is in it’s ability to drag viewers through the seemingly more boring moments with captivating tactical battles which can only be fully appreciated as a result of an increased understanding.

Until recently I have never tried to properly understand the real gritty and at times enthralling tactical side to top-level cycling and though I am a million miles away from being an expert on the subject now, my knowledge has certainly improved and I can say with undoubted integrity that I am much more appreciative of the skill of road cycling for having spent some time taking an active interest in it.

It is also immensely helpful to me as a spectator of road cycling that I have now had the opportunity to see before my very eyes the world’s finest road cyclists’s taking on roads and landscapes with which I am well acquainted. Even if the route had taken in merely 250 km of straightforwards roads in my local area I would have gained a greater appreciation for their talents for having a more enhanced knowledge of the route, but for the male competitors in particular to have had to conquered Box Hill nine times in a row in the middle of their race is truly phenomenal and it has earned all my respect.

I myself am sporty and would consider myself to be reasonably fit but I would happily wager that I couldn’t manage one round of Box Hill in isolation without doing myself a serious mischief along the way. So, for them to have completed nine straight circuits of the area as just the focal point of their gruelling ride is totally astounding as it is a tricky enough ascent when walking on foot let alone when trying to force an unwilling bike up there.

As for the women’s race, they may only have had to conquer Box Hill twice in a shortened version of the men’s route but I have a very sizeable amount of respect for their efforts too in what was still an enormously demanding race which was also played out in some of Britain’s very filthiest summertime weather, unlike the men’s race which was awash with sunshine.

As I mentioned I was road side to see Armitstead and co whizz down Hampton Court Way on their route back towards The Mall and as I stood observing the latter stages of the race the conditions ranged from bellowing thunder, to huge bolts of lightning and then most joyously of all to a storm of hailstones.

That spell of vile weather was enough to make me feel terribly sorry for myself for just having to stand there getting soaked and stung by the hail let alone cycle into it at 50 kph for hours on end. Therefore I have nothing but the highest of praise and admiration for Lizzie Armitstead as she rustled up a whole lifetime’s worth of my capacity for bravery and resolve in just one day of phenomenal effort on the roads of London and Surrey.

Though Team GB’s plans may have gone a little awry in the men’s race, the women’s plans were implemented and executed superbly off the back of the knowledge provided by the previous day’s efforts and Lizzie Armitstead demonstrated tremendous skill, power and determination to force home a splendid finish and to grab a hold of Team GB’s first medal of our third Olympic Games.

Armitstead’s awesome show on the roads will undoubtedly see her go down in pub quiz folklore for the rest of her existence and beyond and the honour of becoming Team GB’s first medalist of our home games must surely be beyond her comprehension.

Hopefully over the next few days Armitstead’s opening medal for Team GB will inspire further success both on the bikes and in the many other varied sporting disciplines in which we are battling for medal success and just as an aside, congratulations to Rebecca Adlington for facing up to the enormous weight of expectation in grabbing a bronze medal in the Women’s 400m Freestyle. It has been a slow start for Team GB but the best is still to come…

Will England prove themselves the new Lords of the Test arena

The world’s number one ranked side are coming to town and England must prepare for what could be their greatest challenge of recent years. India are currently rated the outstanding side in all forms of world cricket and England’s aspirations to usurp them at the top of at least the Test format rely heavily upon their forthcoming series.

Will Sachin be saluting his 100th International ton at Lords?

The challenge before them seems incredibly tough with India having unsurprisingly brought a fresh and full-strength squad after resting key names in their series against the West Indies. The likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Zaheer Khan, Harbajhan Singh and MS Dhoni will all return looking to add to their already well founded track records in English conditions.

Add to this the enthusiasm and raw talent of their younger charges such as Ishant Sharma and England’s task really does appear to be formidable.

England’s long-term goal to become the greatest Test side in the world may not be such a huge problem as India are currently have an old squad which may be superb for now, but a period of transition is surely inevitable.

Soon masters of the sport like Tendulkar and Dravid will have to retire and the baton will be passed to the younger crop of talent. We await to see if the likes of Sharma can handle the pressure and continue to achieve when the experienced heads aren’t there to support them.

Sharma will be hoping to take on England's openers

For now though England must not get ahead of themselves. They have to prepare for the challenge of facing up to the most complete side they have encountered in years. This level of opposition has probably not been seen before an English Test side since the swan song of Australia’s ‘Golden Generation’ in the 2007 Ashes series Down Under. Sadly we all remember only too well how that went.

Having mentioned such dark days it is important to underline that England have come along way since then in all formats of the game. This is probably attributable to the set-up in place to support the current English sides in all forms of the game. Head Coach Andy Flower along with major back-room staff David Saker, Graham Gooch and Richard Halsall has seen major improvements across all of bowling, batting and fielding. Such improvements have seen an increase in confidence and ‘aura’ surrounding this England side, as was highlighted so much throughout the unforgettable 2005 Ashes series. With an increased level of confidence in their ability, England have gone on to record back-to-back Ashes series victories both at home and abroad and have become the reigning World Twenty20 Champions. Though successes in the 50 Over format have been limited by contrast, the recent series victory against World Cup finalists Sri Lanka points towards a new and more positive approach to One-Day Internationals.

England's backroom staff watch on against Sri Lanka

At present it seems that the Test format is England’s strongest suit and that is why such emphasis has been placed upon achieving that number one ranking. The management and selectors of the Test side appeared to have invested a great deal of optimism and confidence in our current Test squad. There has been something of an epiphany regarding the depth of talent there ready and available for the selectors at present, and a realisation that we can now boast many of the world’s finest Test match cricketers.

The management appear to have aided the rise of players such as Alistair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell, Graeme Swann and James Anderson into the current world forces in their particular disciplines. Alongside these in-form stars England can now boast a truly matured and World-Class wicketkeeper/batsman in Matt Prior, a brooding Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad striving to recapture their finest form and an innovative, quick-scoring, middle-order run machine in Eoin Morgan.

KP and Broady will be hoping to rise to the occasion

Perhaps the most exciting part of the English game at present though is the fast-bowling department. In addition to the truly world class Anderson, England have a long queue of outstanding talent in this area. Messrs Stuart Broad, Chris Tremlett, Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan, Ajmal Shahzad, Graham Onions and Jade Dernbach have all represented their country within the past eighteen months and have each impressed. For now Tremlett appears to be a dead-cert in the line-up courtesy of some outstanding form after being brought in to the side halfway through the Ashes. Aside from this England could pick any one of the remaining six contenders to fill the remaining slot in their much-feared four man attack.

It seems likely that the selectors will stick with the currently out-of-form Broad, with his case strongly supported by the rewards reaped from having stuck with fellow youngster Alistair Cook in his times of trouble last summer. It seems that his ability to contribute quick and important runs down the order even if he isn’t firing with the ball may well maintain the edge he has over other potential suitors in the meantime. However, Broad must deliver and do it soon otherwise the others will start to prowl. This is the beauty of England’s current predicament, there really does appear to be a list of players able to step in to fill any non-firing members of the side. Few players are entirely safe in their position for the first time in a long time and this competition can only improve the current squad on a consistent basis.

With conditions likely to favour them, expectations of England are very high going into this series. They may be up against some of the finest players ever to play Test cricket, but they should aim high. They themselves now have really outstanding players, a mix of genuine raw talent and realised potential.

If they remain optimistic and perform to the best of their ability then I believe that they can prove the great strength of their current side and come out victorious. Having said that, it really will require their very best otherwise the series will be India’s for the taking. Both sides contain genuine match-winners and it should make for an intriguing battle, this is however dependent on whether the marvellous English summer allows some more cricket than it did against Sri Lanka.

What a debt we owe to the South African production Line

England/South Africa's Finest...It is easy to ignore amidst the euphoria of Adelaide glory that four of ‘English’ Cricket’s seven batting heroes are South African by birth. It is a much reported upon subject and I am not here to criticise the English selection policy but more to thank whole-heartedly the magnificent talent production line that is South Africa. Andrew Strauss and Matt Prior, both South African by birth, spent only small amounts of their youth in their native country. In contrast, Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott are South African through and through. Pietersen’s case is a much publicised tale of trial and failure in domestic South African cricket but Trott’s story is lesser known.

Trott is a real product of South African cricket having starred in the U17’s and U19’s youth sides. Following on from this were a couple of stuttering and starting spells in South Africa and New Zealand’s domestic leagues. However, Warwickshire gave him his break in 2002 when they signed him as a non-overseas player due to his family’s English descent. Upon his arrival Trott had to bide his time whilst plying his trade in the 2nd XI but soon Trott’s class came to fruition in his record knock of 245. Trott had proved his worth and since then has never looked back. To show for his efforts in domestic English cricket he had amassed over 8,000 runs an admirable if not  exceptional average of 44.

Due to a horrible loss of form from promising young batsman Ravi Bopara in the 2009 Ashes Series Trott, averaging 97 for the 2009 season with Warwickshire, was called upon for his high pressure Test debut in the fifth and final test. He managed a confident first innings 41 before being run-out and then a steely match winning century in the second. How better to introduce yourself on the international stage?

Trott’s burst to international prominence has been cemented over his fifteen month test career. Having endured a somewhat disappointing tour to his native South Africa last winter he has come back strongly with impressive performances against the testing attack’s of Bangladesh and Pakistan. Highlights of his first British summer as  a test batsman included a test high of 226 and a world record eighth wicket stand of 332 with Stuart Broad. Such brilliant achievements have instilled a level of confidence in Trott that has served him beautifully down under.

Trott has recovered from a poor first innings dismissal in the twenties at the GABBA to go on and post a record unbroken partnership of 329 with Alistair Cook in the second innings. Also, he has contributed to Englands record breaking first innings total of 620-5 with a hard-fought 78 having come in following Strauss’ early dismissal, yet again proving his ability to perform in a pressure situation.

Here we have then a man who has in the space of fifteen months gone from county performer to test match record breaker. Trott has made the number three spot his own and is the rock around which England’s batting successes of recent times have been built. An unconventional and at times ugly style has irked opponents far and wide but he is without doubt a class act that, for now,  proudly boasts the  all-time best test match average of any Englishman, the highest current ranking of any English batsmen and an average in excess of 100 in the current Ashes series.

Australia beware. One more major score from England and their South African contingent and they could regain The Ashes. Surely the thus far toothless Australian side will not give up their quest to regain the little urn so easily? Or do they simply have no means with which to fight back?

*Something to consider…  South Africa’s most recent test line-up with the addition of the Anglo/’Saffers’:

Smith, Strauss, Amla, Kallis, Pietersen, Trott, Prior, Botha, Steyn, Harris, Morkel