In A Hole Again

I didn’t manage to write a report for day 1 as I’ve been irritatingly sick this Christmas. I’ve had the lurgy from hell and it just won’t go away. Maybe I’ve come out in sympathy for Pope, Leach and the others victims of the Benochi Belly?

However, had I been match fit enough to put a few words together, I might have said something like this: “five seamers? FIVE bloody seamers? Win the toss and bowl? WFT? Have Joe Root and Chris Silverwood lost any remaining semblance of sanity?

It’s all so frustrating. Imagine my initial disgust when, from my sick bed, I saw the name ‘Bairstow’ inked in at number 6 rather than Pope. I was having palpitations until I eventually realised that the latter was a late victim of the bug sweeping the England camp. Although I bet England were secretly itching to get Jonny back in the side anyway.

My thoughts at the end of day 2 are that South Africa are comfortably ahead. A chase of 200 would’ve been doable (albeit not a forgone conclusion) but I fear that 250 or, god forbid 300, will be too much for our balsa wood brittle batting line up.

So where did it all go wrong? Inserting the opposition and then bowling poorly is the obvious place to start. It was a really curious decision considering the illness suffered by Broad, Archer, and Stokes. Surely Root should’ve given them as much time as possible to recuperate? Asking them to bowl in sweltering conditions was beyond curious – as was the composition of the team England picked.

I’ve said it before and I’ll bloody well say it again. Five seamers can rarely do what four can’t. I can understand the move if (as some reported) England knew Stokes would be limited with the ball on day one, but it was still a daft decision. England’s argument that spinners rarely play a role at SuperSport park was undermined the moment that the home side, who know conditions best, included Maharaj.

England may still win this game – as we saw at Leeds last summer miracles do happen – but the way we’ve approached this game has made the task so much harder. I’m afraid I have little faith in Root and Silverwood’s capacity to make sensible decisions at this point. As a supporter this isn’t a nice place to be.

Although some thought that the teams were neck and neck after day one, I always thought the Biltong munchers has their noses in front. The fact that Gooch and Ramprakash, who must be the least impartial duo ever assembled on Sky’s The Debate, didn’t seem particularly positive last night said it all really.

Gooch tried to argue that skippers generally want to bowl the opposition out “in a day” after inserting them but I think we all know the truth. In reality Root was looking to bowl South Africa out for about 200 (or ideally less) and then build a match defining first innings lead. It was an optimistic plan considering England’s lack of preparation and recent form to say the least.

The other hint most observers missed is that Sam Curran was England’s best bowler by far. I like Sam as a cricketer, and he’s clearly improved his bowling, but he still needs assistance from the pitch (or in the air) to be a difference-maker at Test level. The fact he picked up four wickets should’ve told everyone that the pitch favoured the bowlers and that South Africa’s total of nearly 300 was a good one.

England’s performance with the bat wasn’t just deja vu; it was deja vu all over again (if you get my meaning). We’ve seen this kind of stuttering effort so many times in the past. With the exception of Joe Denly, who again showed great stoicism and the occasional flash of flair, nobody came to terms with the conditions. Philander, Rabada and Co were just too good.

It’s hard to blame the batsmen too much on this occasion as the majority received good deliveries to dismiss them – particularly Burns and Sibley. However, the wickets of Root (who defends to backward point with half a bat far too often for my liking) and Stokes were particularly disappointing.

Jonny Bairstow was also dismissed in all too familiar fashion. Although the ball that got him was fast and kept a little low, he was clearly trapped on the crease with his bat anything but straight.

We’d been assured that Jonny had sorted out his technical issues in the nets (in fact, England justified his recall on this basis) but it certainly didn’t appear so on today’s evidence. Nortje simply followed the blueprint that all international bowlers have followed in the past – pitch the ball just outside off and move it back into Bairstow.

Although England’s bowlers showed some fight in the final session (and ensured that we’ve still got a sniff) their efforts couldn’t disguise the fact that the Saffers are on top and should win this Test tomorrow or early on day 4. They’re currently 175 ahead and will feel very comfortable if they can add another 100 runs.

Sadly this pitch isn’t improving either. If anything it’s getting harder to bat on. England are going to need a hero or two if we’re going to pull this off.

James Morgan



  • Nothing changes with the English batsmen; Can nobody bat for more than 3 hours? Of course not, because apart from Burns & Sibley and to an extent, Denly, they are all playing test matches like they are one dayers or even T20.
    Until the ECB recognise that Championship cricket is the real route to test cricket, the same will continue.
    Even the match at Old Trafford was a lucky win only because Stokes had nothing to lose by going hell for leather. The rest of the recent series have shown our batting as brittle at best.

    Help required, apply to Messrs Graves & Harrison and get sent home with a flea in your ear.

    • This.. they play each test like a one day knock and hope it comes off ( which is then praised by fans and media as a great knock ).. stokes knock in the ashes was a great knock but it was all or nothing and he had nothing To lose. Take nothing Away still but we do have to remind ourselves that he isn’t batting like a test player very often.. hence an avg’d 35!!

      Amateur cricket is as bad.. skill levels dropping off alarmingly as well as participation. It is all linked to the decline in pro cricket as the system was quietly changed in the early to mid 2000’s to favour white ball

  • The sad fact is that we are a very average test side at best. Can’t play on flat tracks, can’t play on pitches with uneven bounce like this, an extremely inept captain, aging bowlers, too many batsman with one day mentality, playing guys who are not fully fit and as James says 5 bloody seamers!
    I shall continue with Aus vs NZ, a proper test match.

  • Sibley is a worry but we need to give him 10 tests before analysing (although Bairstow has somehow got 71 tests!?!?!)
    Burns.. happens but he’s shown enough. Not nailed on though so needs to keep going
    Denly.. showed fight and patience. Shame not to csrry on
    Root.. again, played a one day knock and got out in similar fashion..nicking off trying to manufacture a single to third man.. white ball mode
    Stokes.. seemed to want to play a white ball knock.. we know he can do it but his avg of 35 shows that he isn’t this world class test batter that people now think he is.. knocks like today show how much he has to improve. Pathetic
    Bairstow… well, the guy is just crap.. utter crap.. shouldn’t be there, shouldn’t have a central contract and at 30.. go play white ball fella and be a mercenary
    Buttler. Poor lad.. doesn’t know whether to stick or twist. Mis managed
    Curran.. over rated with the bat. This knock sums him up… hit out or get out

    Rest.. can’t bat

  • Expecting some kickback, but I feel sorry for Jonny. He has been a good servant for England at all types of the game and gets pushed back in when the selectors go brain dead.
    When was the last time that Jonny played real cricket with some time to get prepared? er…um…?
    Totally agree about 5 seamers, especially when one is not Woakes.
    Frustrating day and then Chelsea play like the test team.

    • Why??

      He got found out so went away and actually improved. Came back in and did well (purple patch).. then he decided he wanted to play white ball and changed his mentality and technique.. it’s been a rapid downhill slope ever since and he’s simply not prepared to change back. Zero sympathy.

      • That really isn’t fair. England told everyone to focus on 50 over cricket, so he turned himself into someone who could credibly be argued to be the best white ball opener in the world (I’d probably rank him 2nd, behind Rohit, but there’s not a lot in it) and helped win the World Cup. It isn’t his fault the team were then thrown into an Ashes series with no time to prepare properly. Nor is it his fault that he’s been recalled before being given time to do any meaningful technical work and test it in the middle. He signed a Test contract, and agreed to come to South Africa early, when it would have been easier, and probably as lucrative, to ask for a white-ball only deal and do the full T20 franchise circuit (effectively what Moeen’s doing). He’s willing to put the work in, I don’t think anyone can seriously doubt that, but the selectors should have been sending him with the Lions/helping him find an overseas FC deal before considering him for a Test recall.

  • With Archer and Broad struggling for fitness and Anderson still in rehab on top of Stoke’s issues with the ball I guess 5 seamers were inevitable, especially as the pitch seems to have variable bounce already.
    Don’t rate Bess much higher than Root as an off spinner, so the untried Parkinson is the only alternative variation. Woakes just seems to be out of favour at the moment, largely as his batting seems to have disintegrated at this level.
    Seems to me players are being picked on reputation that somehow will magically become good again. No player should go into a 5 day match with fitness issues, especially in those conditions.
    South Africa still have a core of decent players and I never understood them being seen as Cannon fodder.

  • Seven wickets crash for 39 to concede the opposition a 100 run advantage on a surface with plenty of juice in it. From here England need a sensational bowling performance to keep the 4th innings target even vaguely manageable and then to bat out of their skins. A cockeyed selection (if I was Matt Parkinson, or late call-up Dominic Bess I would be fuming, especially given that SA have picked a spinner), and below par efforts with both ball and then bat have landed England right in the mess.

  • Back from a lovely family Christmas and now watching the cricket in peace and quiet. I am really wondering why to be honest. Same old same old. I do try to support England I really do but honestly they do make it difficult. Listless, boring and an air of disinterestedness from the England players.

    I suppose I ought to remember that most of them are all and look like the walking dead but it is hard to tell the difference….

  • The whole experience is like watching some film late in a once-decent Hollywood franchise like TERMINATOR GENISYS or POLICE ACADEMY 6. Most of the qualities and the people that once made it appealing have long since departed. We’re left with some has-beens phoning it in, replacements who just aren’t up to it and an atrocious script.

    England against SA has been one of the great treasures of the game. The state it’s now is like finding your local gallery have let their masterpiece grow mold while concentrating on the funky video instalations and the revenue from the coffee show.

    The ECB throw bribe money at the counties, the counties buy Kolpaks (on 3 year deals – think they know something about Brexit killing Kolpaks isn’t going to happen), the quality of international cricket collapses (CA guy was lobbying for 4 day Tests yesterday), England appear incapable of any sort of a youth programme. The whole edifice is rotten but the guy presiding over it gets an honour!

    On five-seamers, what are the spin options? Leach was yet again supposedly unavailable and that just leaves Parkinson.


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