England Go From Strength To Strength In Short But Sweet Series

Blink and you missed it, that was the feeling at the end of England’s three Test series against South Africa. Each match seemed to be played on fast forward. Test cricket for the T20 generation perhaps. No game lasted for a full three days, with the first match over by the middle of the third afternoon, denying the paying public a Saturday at Lord’s. The final Test would have been over inside two days – the first time this had happened in England since Andy Caddick skittled the West Indians at Headingly in 2000 – but for some killjoy umpiring in perfectly playable light.

One feels slightly short changed from this. It is almost like ordering a sumptuous meal in a fine dining restaurant and then being told you only have 15 minutes to eat it. There was plenty of captivating cricket played over the three contests but it went by at such a breakneck speed as to make it hard to digest it all.

The pitches were of a staggeringly poor standard, unlike the ones earlier in the summer that had seen three out of four games go deep into the final day. The media in this country react with outrage when India prepare dust bowls to suit their spinners but remain resolutely silent when English groundsmen produce endless green tops for the home side’s battery of fast medium seamers.

England will not mind, however. The new Stokes/ McCullum partnership has transformed the national side (I’m not going to use the B word) and brought joie de vivre back to a group of players for whom playing cricket had seemed to become a chore. To hear of McCullum pairing the backroom staff down to the bone and cutting short the endless hours of pointless practice has been refreshing and timely. Under previous regimes too many cooks routinely spoiled the broth.

England’s players are now enjoying playing Test cricket again. Even an old warhorse like Jimmy Anderson speaks of going to bed at night excited at the next day’s play. Stuart Broad has spoken of similar emotions. How refreshing it is to see those two centrals to England’s plans instead of shoved to the sidelines, treated as an irritation that will not go away, a barrier to the endless pursuit of youth.

South Africa made a great noise about attempting to play traditional, steady Test cricket but the brittle nature of their batting made this nearly impossible. By the end of the series Dean Elgar resembled a cricketing Theresa May, repeating the “strong and stable” mantra while all collapsed around him.  Never since the aforementioned West Indian tourists of 2000 can a much vaunted touring team have arrived with such a poor batting line up.

Given their many flaws, the tourists may have struggled to win the series regardless, but in truth they lost it on the first morning of Old Trafford, when, after catching England cold with a fine performance at Lords, they opted to fix what was not broken. Out went Marco Jansen, the left arm seamer who was surely the find of the series and in came a second spinner in Essex’s Simon Harmer. Worse still, Elgar broke the golden rule of combating Bazball (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) and batted first, allowing England to seize back a grip on the series that they never let go.

The second Test also produced one of Ben Stokes finest innings of his England career. Out went the inflexible positivity of early innings and in came a more nuanced response to the match situation. The captain took 101 balls to reach his first 50 and only then, with the bowlers worn down and batting conditions becoming easier, did he unleash the big shots on his way to a match winning hundred. Coupled with the 14 over spell bowled on a wounded knee in South Africa’s second innings, no one could accuse the skipper of not leading from the front. Whether Stokes’ knee holds up to such treatment throughout the winter and into next summer’s Ashes is another matter entirely.

Despite their regular collapses the tourists still gave us moments to savour this summer. The spells bowled by Anrich Nortje on the third afternoon at Lords and the second morning at Old Trafford were exhilarating, and in the finest traditions of South African fast bowling. The vein popping celebrations at the fall of each wicket recalled Alan Donald at his very fieriest.

Sadly, however, these moments were all too short and far between.

South Africa may still make it to next summer’s World Test Championship Final at Lords and the contest against Australia would certainly be a mouth watering one. But they will have to find more batsmen in the mould of Graeme Smith or Gary Kirsten if they are to compete away from home against the top teams. No wonder the South African board only want to play two Test series. The less this batting line up is exposed to the red ball the better.

England on the other hand, continue to go from strength to joyous strength. Whether this approach will work outside of favourable conditions remains to be seen. It is worth remembering that the only Test England batted first in this summer they conspired to lose by an innings.

Such concerns can wait for another day, though. For now, let us just enjoy the memories of the first summer played out in front of full houses for three years. The crowds turned up and Ben Stokes and his men certainly put on a show.

Billy Crawford


  • It’s hard to judge where this England side is at the moment as South Africa, despite their world ranking, are such a weak batting side, unable to come to terms with the moving ball. Bazball is not being tested as we never have to score many to win. Stokes kamikaze batting is a worry as is Root, who is supposedly the rock we build innings around and who has been infected with similarly poor judgement, batting like a dasher. That’s certainly not making best use of his talents at this level.
    Letting players go out an express themselves as they want to play is not the answer. In that case you have to ask what use is having a coach. Test matches are won with technique and disciplined temperament, not raw talent, as everyone at that level has talent to burn. They are not called ‘Tests’ for nothing.
    So much of Bazball seems to be woolly thinking in the name of providing ‘entertainment’. Tests matches over in 3 days is just dumbing it down and short changing punters who have tickets they can’t use. The drama that is unique to test cricket needs time to play out. Why make it just another one dimensional white ball style knock about that nobody remembers as the ‘entertainment’ is provided largely through elementary floors in approach, not by quality.

    • Spot on. Out of a possible 15 days of cricket in 3 Tests, 6 were not used. That’s no good for the game and seriously short changes spectators in the middle of an austerity crisis. It’s not good enough. Exciting, yes if you like a sort of T20 Test match, memorable? Definitely not. Be forgotten in a year. And England will need to bat second with these techniques in every match to continue to bash themselves to a win. Verdict? Not for me, more dumbing down to attract the instant society.I
      And I do wish McCollum would move from his lazy position with his feet up and that horrible smirk on his face.

  • I thought England had beaten a feeble side when they got the luck of the toss in an eminently forgettable load of junk – but apparently this was better than the 2005 Ashes and England are now better than Bradman’s Invincibles with a leadership team cleverer than the combined teams of the Monty Python Philosophers’ Football Match.

    Who knew?

  • I was lucky to have day 2 tickets for Old Trafford so witnessed an afternoon session of actual Test cricket! Looking forward to a great day at Trent Bridge tomorrow….which will probably feature more proper batting than the whole test summer!

  • So what’s to be done? It feels like if we (England) win it’s because the opposition are rubbish and if we lose it’s because we are rubbish. Fundamentally you can only play (and beat) what is in front of you. Across the board away wins are getting harder which can probably be put down to lack of warm up games – I’m old enough to remember when touring sides played most of the counties. There seems massive reluctance nowadays for this sort of commitment from touring sides now who want to get in and out as fast as possible (we are also guilty of this when we tour).

    Equally how do you persuade South Africa and others that they should be playing more than the bare minimum of test matches and how to persuade their public to go and watch – seeing Newlands or the Wanderers largely empty for test matches isn’t a recent phenomenon. Even Australia lose money on every home test series except India and England. If test cricket is to survive, much less thrive there has to be more than this.

    As a serious question – would people prefer England to win playing like this or lose playing ‘normally’?

    • If we are to play test cricket as a version of one dayers is there really any point to it. Test cricket has to survive as a test, its drama is unique to that format. Yes play to win but that doesn’t necessarily mean slogging your way to victory.
      Are you really saying that Humanity has changed overnight into a dumbed down race incapable of appreciating anything but instant gratification.

  • I don’t think we should completely write off this series win. Yes, SA can’t bat for toffee. And it’s depressing for Test cricket. But England won when conditions suited us this summer as our bowling is very good on seaming pitches. And we won on flat pitches, too – because our batting isn’t too bad when conditions allow attacking cricket. So basically we weren’t quite one trick ponies, although I do take Simon’s point! The media don’t half go over the top sometimes imho.

    • Yes we have Robinson to look forward to but who else is on the horizon to replace Broad and Anderson? We can’t seem to keep any quickies fit so it’s back to the much of a muchness band of seamers, as we have no budding spinners either. Are you really saying a top 3 of Lees, Crawley and Pope inspires confidence, even on good wickets. Quick 50’s don’t win tests unless your bowling is top notch and totals are small.
      Stokes captaincy has certainly been a revelation but it can’t paper over the cracks against decent bowling. Discipline seems to have gone out if the window in the name of positivity.

    • Does this mean your boycott of English cricket has ended?

      Or do you still refuse to “support the brand”?

      • What’s this about a boycott? If you’re a supporter you support through thick and thin. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything that’s going on. Protestors have proved they have a voice as the county members anti new divisional proposal campaign has managed to get the planned changes delayed a season for revue.
        I’m a blue nose in footie which means I’ve little to celebrate in terms of success as every season is a struggle against championship relegation. Should the 2nd team in the UK’s 2nd city be in this position, clearly not, so there’s a serious problem behind the scenes too, but I still go and support them. Supporters are the one constant factor for club and country.

  • After watching England since McCullum took over in June, would anyone disagree that there was a cultural problem that McCullum has at least partly remedied?

    One wonders, why is it only foreign coaches who are able to do this with England teams?

    • At what cost to the game? Certainly the self belief is there as winning breeds confidence. Root was never a great motivator and Stokes clearly is. The problem this summer has been test matches finishing in around 3 days if the conditions favour the bowlers, which undercuts the punters. Stokes suicide batting, where he has only made 1 significant contribution with the bat all summer is affecting the rest. Lees looks a mess, Crawley can’t be relied on and Pope is no no.3 as he gets turned round constantly. Even Root is becoming a bit of a dasher. Is this an improvement on what we had? Without Broad, Anderson and Bairstow, hardly new boys, would we be winning? Robinson is the only new boy to make an impact under Bazball so far. The drama of test cricket is being sacrificed on the altar of white ball batting. It’s called ‘test’ cricket for a reason, not TDI.

  • T20 cricket makes the future of test cricket fragile but it makes it intersting as england chassed the test totals in a splash.

  • It’s true that the SA series didn’t exhibit many great displays of test match batting (although the Stokes-Foakes partnership in the second Test seems to have been forgotten by some on here). But in terms of this new leadership group, that’s only the three most recent matches. The four before that featured England chasing down very challenging totals (277, 299, 296, 378) by scoring big hundreds against more than handy bowling attacks. And all of them went to Day 5, with the exception of the first game against NZ which finished on Day 4. Have they re-written Test cricket? No. Were they assisted by decent batting tracks? Absolutely. But I can’t think of any other teams to have done this that comfortably four times on the bounce, so it clearly can’t be common or an easy feat… especially to win by 5-7 wickets each time. They played very, very good red ball cricket in those matches.

    I don’t think it’ll be sustainable in the long run but the captain and coach at least deserve credit for their approach which has (in the short term anyway) lifted the mental shackles of ‘scoreboard pressure’ and injected some belief in the playing group. You can only develop a winning culture by winning first!

  • So England have gone from being maybe the worst teat side in the world that looked incapable of beating anyone to beating 2 of the top 4 at home playing an energising brand of cricket that can win on flat pitches and bowlers pitches.

    And this place is full of whingeing.

    Yes there are lots of asterisks and questions of sustainability. But surely you can allow yourself the odd smile every now and again. Maybe a cheer, it doesn’t hurt you know.

    • Test cricket is not an extension of ODI. It has a drama all its own which Bazball batting is sacrificing. Good batsmen are being reduced to dashers as they chase, all but once this season, small totals, so building an innings becomes a rarity. The one time we batted 1st we lost by an innings. Look at England’s top order and can you honestly say that inspires any more confidence than it did Pre Bazball, as 5 day matches are reduced to 3, so denying punters opportunities they’ve paid for. Cricket fans are more fans of the game than supporters of any particular team, unlike footie, so test matches have a particular fan base that’s not impressed by this dumbing down.

      • Nope I don’t have much faith in the top order. There is a lot of work to be done.

        My point is we have gone from a team that loses every game to a team that is now winning at home against high ranked opposition on different pitches.

        The batting needs a huge amount of work but it’s been a hugely successful summer in terms of results so it’s strange to see so much upset.

        I want England to win test matches however they do so. There are lots of ways to win them and its wrong to say they should do it a particular way. They will get found out if they don’t improve the batting but let’s celebrate a very successful summer instead of dwelling on negatives.

    • You must be in the wrong place. This board is dedicated to complaining about the administrators.


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