First let’s start with the positives. England picked the right team, won the toss, and correctly decided to bat first. Hallelujah! In this day and age that’s a triumph. It’s just a shame that the rest of the day – you know, the bit that actually involves playing cricket – didn’t exactly go to plan.
Sadly there’s no hiding from the fact that 262-9 represents a big disappointment on a decent batting pitch. It’s even worse when you consider that England actually batted pretty well for most of the first session when the ball moved around the most. Denly and Sibley looked solid until the inevitably mistakes crept in.
Although all the normal caveats apply – obviously we won’t know how competitive England’s total is until the Cricket Boks bat – there’s no escaping the fact that six of our top eight batsmen rather gave their wickets away. They all got decent starts but failed to capitalise.
Sibley was the first batsman who lost his wicket in completely avoidable fashion. He plays at too many balls that he can leave on South African wickets. Today he was drawn into defending one he could’ve left on both length and line. It was frustrating.
Joe Denly also looked very solid … until he was inexplicably bowled through the gate by Maharaj. Did he simply switch off? Did he misjudge the line? Heaven knows. It came from nowhere.
Ben Stokes was another batsman whose brain farted. He was moving encouragingly towards a half-century when he completely mistimed a shot that can only be described as a hack / slash and spooned the ball to extra cover. Weird.
Meanwhile, Jos Buttler used the modern method of moving across to off-stump, presumably so he could leave anything outside of his eye line, but ended up poking at the ball anyway. The one he edged wouldn’t have hit a second set of stumps.
And then there was Joe Root. He’s such a good player of pace that it was alarming to see him get into trouble against the short ball. Is he moving back and across too much? Again it was perplexing. As perplexing, in fact, as Sam Curran leaving a ball that knocked his off-stump out of the ground.
But strange as these individual dismissals were, England’s overall predicament isn’t strange at all. It’s basically what we’ve come to expect these days – an underwhelming first innings performance that’s put the team in a rather large hole.
The only bright spot, of course, was Ollie Pope. Didn’t he play well?
It’s hard not to get excited about Pope – especially considering the mediocrity surrounding him. He’s compact, his technique is relatively simple (in a good way), and he seems to be a thinking cricketer too. The only problem is that he’ll probably have to open to avoid running out of partners in this flakey line-up. And even that’s not a given.
The only thing that bugs me about Pope is that I can’t quite put my finger on who he reminds me of. Every time I see him I end up tearing my non-existent hair out. My best guess is Ross Taylor. Does anyone have a better suggestion? Whoever it is must be a pretty good player.
One senses that the series could well be decided tomorrow. If the Saffers bat well, and build a first innings lead, then it could be curtains for England. Fortunately, however, their batting line up has almost as many holes as England’s – which is slightly more than a kilogram of Emmental.
Let’s just hope that Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad can find some form. They’ll know that Jofra Archer’s injury might have given them a reprieve, so they’ll be desperate to prove a point. Personally I’d love to see a Jimmy 5-fer.
Although I’m slightly concerned that England’s attack lacks a cutting edge in this game – Nortje’s pace certainly benefitted South Africa today – Quinton de Kock is the only ‘danger man’ I’m worried about. After all, I’ve never seen Faf du Plessis play well (even for for Lancs).
If we can bowl with good discipline and pick up Dean Elgar early on, then we might be able to make inroads. It’s important to remember that we’re dealing with two pretty poor Test teams here. And poor teams usually make for exciting cricket with oscillating fortunes.