Lions With The Bat, Buffoons With The Ball – Day 3 at

A day of mixed emotions at Centurion. The good news is that we’ve still got a sniff thanks to some remarkably resilient batting in the evening session. But after what we witnessed during the morning session, which was as lamentable a performance as I’ve seen from an England team in the field, I’m not sure whether I can say (hand on heart) that we deserve to win.

First let’s deal ‘with the positives’ (© ECB media training vernacular). How good was Rory Burns today? He survived a close LBW decision early on, and was also dropped in the slips, but he didn’t ‘alf make the South Africans pay.

What I’m about to say now will be hugely controversial. You’ll scoff. You’ll scowl. You’ll argue that I’m nuts. But Burns’s innings tonight was just the kind of knock that Alastair Cook, for all his attributes, rarely played. Alastair was a master when it came to batting big against somewhat limited seam attacks on flat surfaces, but when the opposition contained two world class pacemen and the ball was moving around, he often failed. His technique just wasn’t quite good enough.

Now I’m not going to suggest that Rory Burns has a perfect method by any means. But the way he played today was excellent in the toughest conditions imaginable. Rabada and Philander are world class, the match situation was dire, and the pitch offered plenty with the new ball. But Rory stuck in there, played positively, and came through with flying colours. Let’s hope he can convert this innings into a third Test century tomorrow.

If Burns can score runs in these circumstances, he can score runs against any seam attack. He’ll probably never be as good as Alastair Cook (he can’t play spin anywhere near as well for example), but his efforts today, plus the guts he showed at home in The Ashes – it’s worth mentioning that Cook never scored an Ashes hundred at home – shows how far he’s come. Rory may always need a little luck here and there but that’s true of most international openers. Basically he’s doing fine.

I also thought that Dom Sibley’s stock went up. Yes he only made 29 runs, and he rarely looked totally at ease, but he ate up a lot of deliveries and did exactly what Test openers should do i.e. see off the new ball. The jury is still out of course, and some remain unconvinced, but it’s worth remembering that the alternative is probably Keaton Jennings. I don’t think anyone wants England to go back there. Although Zak Crawley is also waiting in the wings, something tells me that Jennings is the man Ed Smith really wants back in the side. I sense young Zak is on this tour for development purposes.

And now, lamentably, we must address England’s performance in the field. Yuk. I know that Root was off the field for a spell, and that it’s hardly ideal when your skipper is absent, but the lack of coherent planning was shocking for a bowling attack with the experience of Anderson, Broad, and Stokes. The new coach Chris Silverwood must also take his fair share the blame. What on earth was he telling them?

England’s policy of bowling short, rather than aiming for the top of off, was as brainless as picking an all seam attack to begin with. It was remarkably village. I really struggle to see how any management team / leadership group with any cricketing IQ whatsoever could have sanctioned such absurd tactics. It really makes you wonder.

The only silver lining is that Archer picked up 5 wickets. However, I doubt even the chairman of the Jofra fan club would argue that he bowled brilliantly. In truth none of the bowlers covered themselves in glory. Oh for the inclusion of a spinner. Sigh. At least a bit of variation would’ve made life harder for the batsmen and possibly even bought a wicket or two.

Can England pull off a win tomorrow? It’s unlikely but possible. This pitch hasn’t deteriorated as expected so there is some hope. But don’t get your hopes up too much. Root is feeling under the weather, Jos Buttler may be too sick to take the field, and wickets tend to fall in clusters (or perhaps I should say avalanches) when England are at the crease. It’s going to be extremely tough.

James Morgan 

PS Before I sign off I should quickly mention the cricketers awarded gongs in the New Year’s Honours list. Eoin Morgan got a CBE, Ben Stokes and Trevor Bayliss secured OBEs, whilst Joe Root and Jos Buttler were awarded MBEs. Congratulations to all of them.

However, part of me is somewhat annoyed. When England’s rugby players won the 2003 World Cup, all 31 members of the squad received MBEs whilst captain Martin Johnson was upgraded to a CBE. The head coach Clive Woodward was knighted. So how come only 5 members of the cricket team won gongs? It’s a team game so all of them deserved to be honoured. That’s what happened after the 2005 Ashes after all.

The whole honours system seems random in my opinion. In what universe do Andy Gomarsall and Iain Balshaw deserve to be MBEs when Jason Roy, Jofra Archer and Co are not? What’s more, if we’re splitting hairs, it seems unfair that Jos Buttler (who had a slightly underwhelming World Cup) received a gong when Roy and Bairstow, for example, scored a lot more runs. It’s weird to honour specific individuals but ignore others.

The biggest insult, however, was the fact that Colin Graves secured a CBE. I assumed this was a joke when I first read the news on social media. Graves has been a highly controversial and polarising chairman of the ECB. He’s about as popular with the fans as a turd in a swimming pool. His gong therefore makes absolutely no sense. It’s quite disturbing really and undermines the credibility of the whole system.


  • Agree with you about Graves. I would avoid swimming in a pool with Graves in it (absolutely the not juste, there). Also about Burns v Cook. I know which one I would want batting for my life against good quick bowling on a dodgy track. The only series when Cook was really world class was the Strauss Ashes in Australia; otherwise, like Michael Vaughan, he spent most of his career as a fairly ordinary player with a purple patch in the statistical bank (where you can also find some very large scored in drawn matches, dead rubbers and on dead wickets). .

    • To be fair to Vaughan he achieved that against one of the best Australian attacks ever (McGrath, peak Gillespie and Warne). Cook’s was against one of, if not the, worst ever Australian attacks (Hilfenhaus, Siddle, Beer / Doherty). I rated Cooks heroics in India as skipper quite a lot higher than his great Ashes series imho. He was amazing in that series.

    • Vaughan has become as annoying as heck – but to try to re-write his record as a player is nonsense. His Adelaide 177 was against absolute peak McGrath and Warne (and I wouldn’t be so dismissive of his other two centuries on that tour – they may have been in dead rubbers with Warne injured but MacGill was also a bloody good bowler and how many did everyone else make?) ; he made 120 off Wasim, Waqar and Saqlain; his 105 in Kandy in 2003 against Murali and Vaas is the best England rearguard innings this century.

  • Agreed – the bowling today was lamentable for the most part, but I think we should cut the team some slack. Emerging from two dressing rooms (with Root and Buttler ‘quarantined’ in one), and three of the seamers severely underdone in terms of preparation, or still ill, with a deputising wicketkeeper and a partly absent captain, is a massive handicap in anybody’s book. To reach the end of Day 3 and still have a sniff of a chance is laudable.

  • Well James someone needs to make a very big hundred for an unlikely England victory. And as you say they don’t really deserve to win. One question though, how come none of the S. Africans are sick? Odd.

    On the question of the Honours I have never believed highly paid sports people should be included. They should be purely for all the unsung heroes who contribute often without pay for the benefit of society and the human race. Sports men and women are paid for a living and while they promote sport to some degree by success the amount of new people who actually take part has a limited time span. I’ve swum the Channel for charity but I can’t imagine that it would inspire loads of people to attempt it.

    And anyway to give them out for a one day game which will continually cause discussion on who really won is quite frankly bizzare.

  • The difference might be that the 2003 RWC and the 2005 Ashes weren’t decided on count back?

    No answer for Graves though

  • It is with the ball that England have failed in this match. Letting SA score 284 in the first innings on a lively pitch was nearly criminal, and in the second, after being given a lesson by SA they continued to bowl too short. Yes, Archer got wickets, but he also conceded far too many runs in such favourable conditions – and him trying to batter De Kock with short stuff was as brainless a plan as anyone involved with England has come up with at any time in my life. If England do somehow snatch this one it will be even less well deserved than the Headingley Heist earlier this year.

  • I think that England have a slight chance of winning only if Stokes can perform again. Root and Buttler look as though they will be too ill to bat well and Bairstow is looking woeful.

    Regarding the Honours, they seem somewhat bizarre giving Clive Lloyd and Alan Knott a gong decades after they played. Furthermore, it is a gross insult to award Coilin Graves for ruining English cricket, Meanwhile, it is absurd to only give some of the World Cup winners an award whilst leaving others out. The only explanation might be that only a limited numbers of awards were allocated to cricket and the rest will be honoured at Queen’s birthday Honours.

    Finally, why was Ian Duncan Smith given a Knighthood for?

  • Why are we still debating the honours system. It has been so discredited in terms of meretocrisy that only it’s assosciation we the ‘queer old dean’ gives it any semblance of respectability. To me it is the last vestige of a class based establishment built on who you know over what you do.
    I am no socialist or rampant anti monarchist but I feel ashamed as a patriotic Englishman to have this annual travesty held up as a reflection of achievement. Abolishion is the only way forward.

  • England failed again. Illness aside they could have played Overton and Bess for a start, both of whom are reasonable bats. If players are sick fly some in. What happened to Crawley? Root’s shot-abysmal. There are effectively 3 number 11’s in Archer, Broad and Anderson. Someone said Archer cold bat. Really? I’d put him at number 12 if there was one. You just cannot play all three of those together.

  • The inclusion of both Graves and IDS – two of the most widely loathed people in England – should be the final nail in the coffin of the Honours system. To ensure its demise I would rid the world of Queenie and her dysfunctional and abolish the House of Lords. I would seriously prune the number of MPs, ECB employees and England backroom staff. That’s for starters.
    As for the Test, the better team won. The Saffers put their hands up when required – ours largely went up in surrender. Will lessons be learned? I rather doubt it.


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