The Knockout Blow

If this was a boxing match, the ref might well have stopped the contest at Port Elizabeth. After all, this series stopped being just that – a contest – quite a long time ago.

However, the struggling side gets no such respite in cricket. There’s a duty to fulfil the fixtures. And therefore South Africa’s humiliation – or perhaps ’emasculation’ might be a better word – continues to be played out in a very public manner. No wonder the local spectators have largely stayed away.

It’s a shame that a series which promised so much is ending in such a one-sided manner. However, as an England supporter there’s obviously plenty to cheer about. Our attack looks good in these conditions – perhaps England’s historic problems overseas have been pitch related rather than Kookaburra ball related – and enough of our batsmen have found form to put competitive totals on the board.

When England lost 5 wickets for just 60 runs this morning it looked (albeit briefly) that the hosts might be bowling their way back into the game. However, a manic last wicket stand between Wood and Broad put paid to that. It’s amazing how last wicket partnerships seem to bless sides with the psychological edge whilst cursing those on the back foot.

If the Cricket Boks were staggering around the (Bull)ring beforehand, this 82-run stand was clearly the knockout blow. It wasn’t just the number of runs that did for the hosts, it was the manner in which they were scored. Watching England’s last two batsmen cream their bowlers for a succession of sixes must have been completely deflating for Du Plessis’ team.

When the South Africans started their response to England’s mighty total of 400, a collapse always seemed likely. We’ve seen it so many times in the past when England have been on the receiving end. Once you’re beaten, you’re beaten. Nothing’s going to stop a team with sky-high confidence and a spring in their step from destroying an inferior force that’s had its will totally broken.

South Africa’s problem is that they’ve only got 5 players of proven international class – Elgar, du Plessis, de Kock, Philander, and Rabada. The first two are completely out of form, Philander doesn’t look sprightly enough to play back-to-back Tests anymore, and the latter is banned.

There are other quality South African cricketers out there, of course, but they’ve all turned their backs on their country (understandably so in most cases) to take up lucrative county contracts. This 1-3 series defeat therefore shouldn’t be a surprise in the circumstances.

Having said that, England have played a lot better than most observers (including me) expected. Sibley and Crawley have been revelations, Ben Stokes continues to make decisive interventions, Ollie Pope looks yum class, whilst Mark Wood continues to makes friends and influence games.

A fit and firing Wood makes such a difference to England. It’s not just his pace; it’s the energy he brings to the side. His enthusiasm really is infectious (if you excuse the cliche). Did you see the ball that dismissed Malan? It was the small matter of 94mph – the second fastest wicket-taking delivery by an England bowler in history.

Whereas Philander and the South African bowlers (with the notable exception of the promising Nortje) look short of rhythm, all of England’s bowlers look in fine fettle. In fact, I’m no longer sure what our best quartet actually is moving forward. You could make a strong case for all five of Anderson, Broad, Wood, Archer, and Curran. The reality is, however, that England only have room for three of them in normal circumstances. Chris Woakes also bowled well today.

The only disappointment for England has been the poor form of Jos Buttler. He was probably drinking in the last chance saloon today but missed his whiskey when the barman slid it down the bar. His dismissal was horrible – precisely the opposite of what was required.

England won’t want to drop Buttler because they probably see him as a potential captain in waiting if Root finally decides that he should focus on his batting. Perhaps that will be the next excuse they can find to keep him in the side? Jos Buttler, specialist captain. It would certainly be one way to lower the bar of expectations again. Mike Brearley averaged just 23.

However, perhaps it’s unfair to be facetious at this juncture. Buttler is an outstanding talent and he’s probably England’s greatest white ball batsman of all time. However, like other hugely gifted ODI players – Neil Fairbrother and Graeme Hick immediately spring to mind – Test cricket isn’t for everyone. And, as George Dobell argues here, there’s no shame in that.

James Morgan


  • When I saw the title of this post I thought Stokes had beaten that spectator to a pulp like Bristol all over again Time for Butler to go and make way for Foakes. Mind you I could have said that teo years ago.

  • I can’t believe even this administration would keep on indefinitely with Butler because they see him as a potential successor to Root. That could be years ahead. Presently a combination of our dominance and South Africa’s capitulation can cover up for his failures but our next opponents won’t allow that

  • If the weather allows a full day I would not be surprised to see this one finish tomorrow (there can be no case for not making this already beaten SA side follow on once those last four wickets have been taken) – at current rates of progress 14 South African wickets do not figure to take that long to capture. That last wicket stand was exhilarating, but Du Plessis’s “tactics”, including that field setting of eight boundary riders made no sense. There was no real fight from SA at any stage – even in those early overs when they were not actually losing wickets they were not causing England any real problems, and once the first breakthrough happened no one, even the stubborn Nortje, sent in at no 7, suggested permanence. I seem to recall someone saying on that first morning “I would have bowled anyway” after losing the toss, and what has happened subsequently has served only to decrease my already scant respect for that particular ploy by toss losers.

  • One for the stats fiends amongst you.
    When was the last time a test team was bowled out after toppimg 400 with a top score of less than 70.
    Indeed this may be a record.

      • in case you thought it was a quiz question, I have no idea either. I was just curious if anyone knew.

    • It’s a record. Previous record was 68 by David Boon out of Australia‘S 471 in Colombo in 1992

    • Whilst it does not meet your criteria, I think the most impressive example of this sort of disparity came in England’s 2nd innings of the Kingston test in 1974, where England scored 432/9 to save the draw with Amiss scoring 262 not out and the next highest score being Jameson with 38.

      • Ah Jameson. Now there was an entertainer. Was so disappointed that when Edgbaston decided to refurbish the Hollies stand they covered up the holes made by Jameson in the roof awnings. They should have put plaques there. Next to Allan Lambs attempts to knock the weather vane off the scorebox it’ was most famous player damage I can remember at the ground.

        • Indeed. I am pretty sure that, as a schoolboy at Edgbaston in the late 60s/early 70s, John Jameson was the only player I ever saw driving sixes over the covers. Kanhai’s falling over hook was the only rival for entertainment.

          • I always felt that ‘thumper’ Humpage must have watched a deal of Jameson.
            However, I do remember a certain RDG Willis hitting a six over cover point in a John Player match. I think he was looking to find cow corner at the time, off what could loosely be termed a drive, but his top edge was unerring.
            There’s supposed to be a ball buried in Cannon Hill Park with some sort of plaque over it, as the longest recorded hit out of the ground at Edgbaston, made by a young Paul Smith, but no one I’ve spoken to seems to know it’s whereabouts, though he was a prodigious straight hitter, so it doesn’t surprise me.

  • “Buttler is an outstanding talent and he’s probably England’s greatest white ball batsman of all time. However, like other hugely gifted ODI players – Neil Fairbrother and Graeme Hick immediately spring to mind – Test cricket isn’t for everyone. And, as George Dobell argues here, there’s no shame in that.“

    If you are a “hugely gifted ODI player” you are a hugely gifted cricketer. If you can play you can play – any and every format. The world’s best batsmen adapt during an innings – shot selection, pace etc etc. The world’s best batsmen similarly adapt between formats. It’s the same thing actually. Batting is about treating every ball you receive on its merits in the context of the match situation. If Jos can do this in an ODI (he can) he can also do it in a Test innings. Ed Smith knew this. Jos knows he hasn’t yet lived up to Ed’s confidence in him. He will. He’s smart. He’ll work it out.

    • Disagree. Test cricket requires different technique and mental attributes. Just because Kohli, Williamson, Smith and Root (ie the best 4 players in the world) can excel in all formats doesn’t mean everyone can.

      The history of cricket is full of players who were brilliant in ODIs but underachieved in Tests and vice versa. Michael Bevan, Yuvraj Singh, Glenn Maxwell, Jason Roy on the one hand and Alastair Cook, Cheteshwar Pujara, Jimmy Adams, Michael Baughan on the other.

      It’s never been as simple as ‘if you can play you can play’. Jos Buttler himself admits that he struggles with the mental side of Test cricket. It’s a half-mental game. And Test cricket also requires considerably more bravery. No short ball barrages in ODIs and T20s or umbrella fields for that matter. White ball is a test of hitting and nerve. Test cricket is a test of technique and focus / resilience.

    • Batting requires at least three elements; pure physical ability (sight and reflexes), technique and shot selection. Only the first is common to both white ball and red ball. Technique is often different in white ball, such as the need to clear the leading leg out of the way to enable leverage, whereas the leading leg needs to be aligned in red ball. And shot selection is completely different. Unfortunately Buttler too often selects white ball shots in test cricket. And that is a common failing of successful white ball bats.

    • I’m with you on that James. The main thing to remember is that the white ball is more batsman friendly than the red. Once the first few overs are bowled it seems to do very little in the air or off the seam. There’s no batting on worn tracks in white ball, it’s equivalent to the first day of a county game. The other major factor is that field settings are more defensive, so there aren’t the close fielders to take the edges.
      The entertainment value of white ball exists in the run getting not the wicket taking. All the hype surrounds the batsmen. The rules limit a bowlers participation but not the batsmen’s.

    • Was trying to reply not report the comment, sorry! My thoughts on this are basically when is he going to work it out? like Bairstow, the only opportunity he will have to ‘work it out’ before the summer tests is in Sri Lanka, assuming he’s even in the squad, after that he’ll just be playing white ball cricket. I keep hearing that Buttler has the ability, that Bairstow can play at 3 but until they get some actual match time with the red ball, how are they going to find the skills needed to do that?

  • Sorry James but I have to disagree with one of your comments. Whilst you can justify selecting any of Anderson, Broad and Archer as a seam attack (and Wood in his current form), the same cannot be said of Curran. He had the benefit of the new ball here (as he has had previously) and did not make it pay. Wood bowled exceptionally and Woakes (as usual) looked a class ahead of Curran despite not having the new ball. The love fest for Curran is not justified – either in respect of his bowling or his batting (what was he doing going in ahead of Woakes when he has never scored a FC century whilst Woakes has 10?).

    • If we look at Curran’s test stats they hardly justify his inclusion any more than Butler. Despite the variety he gives the bowling department there is no evidence this has made a significant impact on opposition batting lineups. You can count on the fingers of one hand how many testing spells he has produced and a number of his wickets have been with pretty ordinary deliveries. His batting is so clearly white ball that unless it’s a situation like yesterday when we’re looking to get on with it he can’t be relied upon, despite his undoubted competitiveness. It’s another case of who you know or who you play for as far as I can see. To me his brother is a better all rounder and even he doesn’t look test class.
      They might both come good in time, but for now I’d be looking elsewhere.

  • The likely dropping of Buttler would be the final nail in the coffin of Ed’s intital “Total Cricket” selection policy, where he thought a collection of all-runders and the odd luxury player would make a winning combination in Tests. The gradual recursion to specialist openers and batsmen playing in their actual positions has at least shown his willingness to change course.

    That being said, Buttler was definitely Ed’s flagship selction and the one which everyone used initialy to insist he was a genius, despite the idea of a number seven luxury batsman being an odd one. Ed also doesn’t appear to be a fan of Foakes, as he only went to Sri Lanka as an emergency back-up having been left out of the touring party. I suspect they will revert to Bairstow if Ed doesn’t decide to give Jos one more tour.

    Really pleased that Mark Wood has been fast in this Test thus far, especially given the question marks surrounding back-to-back Test matches.

    I also thought Chris Woakes had a quietly good day. Some perky batting and a nice spell with the ball. I’d give him the new ball in the second innings, He’s on 93 (I think) Test wickets now, which many people would not have predicted when he started out. Would love to see him make the 100 mark – he strikes me as another one (a bit like Moeen) who is a quiet lad and therefore easy to shuttle here there and everywhere because he wont make a stink – although I hope the beard is the start of him gradually performing a heel turn and becoming “Hollywood” Chris Woakes!

  • I was wrong. Kolpakshire is already stronger than what South Africa can take to the field. The same may be true in New Zealand in one or two seasons (mind you there are already a few South African born players in the New Zealand Test team (Wagner, de Grandhomme, Watling).

    So the only reason to tour South Africa is that it is hard to play cricket in England in December and January. But seriously, don’t bother inviting South Africa to play in England. Just call Kolpakshire South Africa, and that will be more competitive. You might even get more South Africans bothering to attend then, since no one will be bothering with the team if they are proudly serving up that kind of tripe.

    • It is hard to see attendances or interest going any other way than down given the dire state of their cricket.. who the hell wants to watch this .. thry are literally miles worse than England who aren’t a good side themselves

      • It’s the old adage, ‘you can only play what’s put in front of you’.
        Englands opponents in European and World cup footie have often been poor, but that doesn’t stop us celebrating wins. It’s more the relief of us doing a proper job on another potential banana skin that is the lot of being an England fan in almost any sport.
        The problem England will always have is that we seem to have originated most sports that are now played internationally, including the modern Olympics and are still seen as the mother country to beat however good, bad or indifferent our fortunes are.

        • My point isn’t about England because we are dumb and accept dire teams/players. People use the lack of attendances to berate Test cricket and yet they are low in the countries who are simply not very good. SA, WI, SL, Bang etc etc

          I can see why you wouldn’t want to go and watch this SA side for example.. it’s awful

          • You can’t consider yourself a true supporter of any side if you pick and choose the matches you watch dependant on your form or the quality of the opposition. Thick or thin you stick with it. Only fair weather fans stop supporting a side because they’re going through a bad patch. This applies the world over.
            I’ve been a blue nose all my life and have no great expectations of them, but that doesn’t stop me cheering them on or putting the boot in on a wet, cold January Wednesday night, along with thousands of others. You should try it sometime, it’s an education about family. You can travel anywhere in the world and there’s an immediate special bond if you bump into a fellow blue nose en route.
            If you’re a South African supporting your country this is magnified in every way. The players may not be good enough but they’ll be trying their best and that’s when a supporters encouragement is required to lift them. If you don’t get then I can’t say more.

        • You mean: you can only play against those you have not stolen from South Africa, you mean. Fixed it.

          • It’s not England’s fault that the SA economy is shit, and they’ve got quotas against white players.

  • Why should Buttler be seen as a FEC? Is he from the right sort of family (like Cook)? Probably not as he blotted his copybook recently by swearing at Philander. Naughty Jos. His keeping is way below Test standard and his batting is hopeless. In short, there’s not much going for him. Let him stick to white ball so that the gradual reconstruction of the Test side can continue.

    Back in the real world, It’s wonderful to see a fit Wood giving the Saffers some serious grief.

    • I agree entirely re: Buttler’s test captaincy credentials, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t considered a FEC by the people who matter. There have often been whispers about Buttler’s captaincy potential, and he’s been vice captain in white ball formats. He’s A well liked member of the team and fits the squeaking clean and well spoken Image the ECB have always loved. He’s a bit like Cook light ;-)


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