Thursday, February 22

England v South Africa: third Test, day five – live | England v South Africa 2022


Four months ago, it looked like England’s men had an awful summer ahead of them. Over the winter, their thrashing in Australia was the worst in a bad bunch over the last 20 years. In the Caribbean, after a mini-reboot, it was little better. Joe Root said enough. There was no coach, let alone assistants. Off the field, the chief executive was a lame duck (and would subsequently step down) and there hadn’t been a chair since the previous summer. No high-performance boss. No selectors. Every genuine fast bowler injured. No batter averaging 40 since Root’s debut a decade earlier.

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New Zealand were first up, who had hammered England when they were in town during the previous summer before going on to win the World Test Championship final, also in this country, against India. A couple of changes since they lifted that trophy but essentially the same team. Then India, to complete their strange series, returning with the same bowling lineup that ruined England routinely in 2021. Then South Africa, a Test team quietly on the rise under Dean Elgar with a fast bowling group who looked born to play on sporting surfaces. The whole thing was so grim.

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As the county season started, at the peak of all this flux and still a couple of months away from the Tests, I advanced the view that, given all of the above, the best move would be for Stuart Broad and James Anderson to take over as caretaker skippers of sorts. The argument ran that given they were likely to be smashed, don’t ruin the next captain and let this be one of the veterans’ parting gifts – help England get through without having their pants pulled down quite so embarrassingly.

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Well, we know what happens next. A series of inspired appointments, from Rob Key to Brendon McCullum to Ben Stokes, all in the space of a couple of weeks in May. Days leter, they started their staggering run of four successful chases in a row, all record-breaking in their own ways. And this morning here at The Oval, within about 20 minutes of resumption on this third/fifth morning, they will finish the season having won six of seven in emphatic fashion. There’s probably a book in it.

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So that’s where we’ll begin our conversation in the time that we have together on the final day of the Test summer. Of course, there’s shade as well as light – there’s an argument that this is the least competitive series, in terms of balance between bat and ball, we’ve ever witnessed between bigger nations. This isn’t good, nor is it that South Africa doesn’t return to England through the entirety of the next Future Tours Programme period. The fears for their medium-term Test future, acknowledging the extent to which they are about to be influenced/funded by IPL owners, isn’t without justification. Anyway, let’s crack on while we can. Drop me a line or a tweet.

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Key events

“I think the summer revolution has been interesting,” begins Ali Gordon. “Essentially, it’s the same squad. I can recall Root, while still captain, saying we’re not far away with this group of players. Turns out he was right. They just required managing in a different way. I never understood the decision to drop Anderson & Broad on the tour of the West Indies. That was a low point for me. Players looked miserable; the cricket ranged from antsy to ugly to embarrassing. I’m full of admiration for how Root has just cracked on with what he does best, batting. And whilst I’m still not convinced by our openers you can see tremendous progress. Add Jofra Archer to the squad, develop a world class spinner in Leach or (another) and this is a daunting squad. The future feels very exciting.”

Part of the fascination in all this to me is that, as you say, it’s broadly the same crew of cricketers. As Anderson has said a number of times though, it feels so different in the dressing room that it might as well be another sport. Given all he’s seen across two decades, that feels noteworthy. But I disagree on Jimmy/Broad and the West Indies. Or, rathter, privately I suspect they wouldn’t now mind how it all played out. That trip might’ve ended them. Instead, across the summer, Broad finishes up with 29 wickets at 27 and the old man of world cricket took 27 at 17.6. As you do, lads.

“Hi Adam, keep up the good work on the OBO!” I probably didn’t need to keep in the second half of that sentence but it’s the final day of school, what ya gonna do? Hello CJ on twitter, and thanks. “What do we feel is in the ‘in-tray’ for Baz and Ben? I’d like to think we should always be looking to improve; a bit of extra pace? the spinner? opening bat?

Having spent a month in Pakistan with Australia’s Test tour there earlier this year, I’ve seen up close the concrete surfaces that are certain to await them in Rawalpindi, Karachi and Multan. Due to its proximity to India, the lazy assumption is that pitches there will rag. From what I’ve seen, they don’t. You play multiple spinners to control tempo and play on batters’ patience. What’s lethal is movement with the old ball – reverse swing. To bowl that, as a rule, you need to be an absolute master (James Anderson) or enjoy express pace (someone like Mitchell Starc). It’s a grind.

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So in the very short term, given England’s next assignment, I think they need to get their selection bang-on for Pakistan with a high degree of difficulty given they aren’t going to have Jofra Archer or Olly Stone. There’s an outside chance Mark Wood gets through the T20 run well enough to play there but you couldn’t bank on it.

My smokey for that trip is Tom Helm. He gets generous movement with the old ball and looks (to the naked eye) a yard quicker than most of when you see in county cricket. He’ll have a chance to prove the latter point in Pakistan on the T20 trip.

Right, I’m in at The Oval now. Cloudly but lovely, it would be perfect for a chase of 200ish on the final day, which is how it looked at lunch on Sunday before South Africa lost 6/77 in the middle stanza. There are many stats from this series, which I’ll run through as we go, but the fact that there were only two innings over 200 throughout speaks to the extent the ball has dominated middling batting lineups.

“Good Evening from Brisbane,” writes Phil Withall. Hello to you. “The financial impact of the various T20 competitions cannot be ignored. A cricketers career is a finite thing, who could blame them for securing their financial future.”

There’s a lot to this and I don’t want to start in an overly effusive/chippy manner on here today. But consider the lot of Will Smeed. Will it ever be in his interests to accept a national contract, which will deny him the chance to earn life-changing sums of money without any restraint? I suspect not. So the real question becomes how the ECB (and how most boards) find a way to still tap into the talent coming through when it matters most, acknowledging they won’t be available often.

Remember that this has already started for South Africa with a number of their biggest stars, including Kagiso Rabada, picking the IPL over a home Test series against Bangladesh just a few months ago. This is the world we’re moving into.

Preamble

adam collins

Four months ago, it looked like England’s men had an awful summer ahead of them. Over the winter, their thrashing in Australia was the worst in a bad bunch over the last 20 years. In the Caribbean, after a mini-reboot, it was little better. Joe Root said enough. There was no coach, let alone assistants. Off the field, the chief executive was a lame duck (and would subsequently step down) and there hadn’t been a chair since the previous summer. Not high-performance boss. Not selectors. Every genuine fast bowler injured. No batter averaging 40 since Root’s debut a decade earlier.

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New Zealand were first up, who had hammered England when they were in town during the previous summer before going on to win the World Test Championship final, also in this country, against India. A couple of changes since they lifted that trophy but essentially the same team. Then India, to complete their strange series, returning with the same bowling lineup that ruined England routinely in 2021. Then South Africa, a Test team quietly on the rise under Dean Elgar with a fast bowling group who seemed born to play on sporting surfaces. The whole thing was so grim.

As the county season started, at the peak of all this flux and still a couple of months away from the Tests, I advanced the view that, given all of the above, the best move would be for Stuart Broad and James Anderson to take over as caretaker skippers of sorts. The argument ran that given they were likely to be smashed, don’t ruin the next captain and let this be one of the veterans’ parting gifts – help England get through without having their pants pulled down quite so embarrassingly.

Well, we know what happens next. A series of inspired appointments, from Rob Key to Brendon McCullum to Ben Stokes, all in the space of a couple of weeks in May. Days later, they started their staggering run of four successful chases in a row, all record-breaking in their own ways. And this morning here at The Oval, within about 20 minutes of resumption on this third/fifth morning, they will finish the season having won six of seven in emphatic fashion. There’s probably a book in it.

So that’s where we’ll begin our conversation in the time that we have together on the final day of the Test summer. Of course, there’s a shade as well as light – there’s an argument that this is the least competitive series, in terms of balance between bat and ball, we’ve ever witnessed between bigger nations. This isn’t good, nor is it that South Africa doesn’t return to England through the entirety of the next Future Tours Program period. The fears for their medium-term Test future, acknowledging the extent to which they are about to be influenced/funded by IPL owners, isn’t without justification. Anyway, let’s crack on while we can. Drop me a line or a tweet.




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