SA ARE NOT THAT BAD
... and England not that good, so second Test should be a lot closer
NATURALLY the inclination after a 211run defeat is to wallow in the doldrums of fatalism.
Social media and even some former players were whispering after the Lord’s match that South Africa would lose this series against England 4-0. In truth, South Africa are not that bad, and in fact, neither are England that good.
As former England captain Michael Vaughan mentioned, had South Africa taken all their chances on day one, England wouldn’t have gotten near their first innings total of 458.
Coming into the series, there were plenty of flaws in South Africa’s batting and what was perhaps most alarming about the Lord’s match was the manner in which they capitulated in the second innings. It only lasted 36.4 overs and 151 minutes, and there was a real lack of fight or any kind of game plan with which to combat the England spinners.
There were so many flaws in that Proteas performance that it makes it hard to measure how good England are.
In Alastair Cook, Joe Root and Ben Stokes, they have a trio of genuine world class players. Moeen Ali has certainly improved as an allrounder, although so tentative were the SA batsmen against his off-spin on Sunday that it’s worthwhile delaying elevating him into the echelons of top tweakers in the modern game.
Stuart Broad and James Anderson remain two disciplined new-ball bowlers and Anderson is among the most skilful. But, despite those individual talents, to call this a great England side would be stretching it - as is saying they’ll win the series 4-0.
What they have is a very good team structure. Those all-rounders, including wicket-keeper batsman Jonny Bairstow, provide a lot of depth and versatility.
“The combination we had (in the first Test) could play on a lot of wickets,” said England coach Trevor Bayliss.
“We’re lucky that we have Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Ali who can bat five, six and seven. That allows us to have three other pace bowlers and another spinner.
“Somewhere along the line, we could throw in someone else in one of those positions, whether it is another batter, another pace bowler if we need one. It just gives us plenty of options.”
That is one of England’s main strengths, but it does not make them impossible to beat, and the South Africans need to understand that ahead of the second Test.
In Keaton Jennings, Gary Ballance, Liam Dawson and Mark Wood, there are areas South Africa need to exploit better to increase the pressure on England’s star players.
Too much went wrong at Lord’s and the mistakes made there must be eliminated. They will be emphasising that ad nauseam in training sessions over the next couple of days.
While the return of Faf du Plessis will lift spirits, there’s also been plenty of upheaval in the camp - for most of this tour, actually - and the tragedy that has befallen coach Russell Domingo’s family will be felt by the players too.
Some elements of that dire performance at Lord’s are, as Du Plessis said, easily fixable and they really don’t have to look back too far to recall the good times they’ve had in the Test format. Before Lord’s, the Proteas had won seven of 11, the single defeat in the day/ night dead rubber in Adelaide.
There are significant challenges that need to be addressed and the retention of Aiden Markram, on what’s being called a match-by-match basis, suggests he may be in line for a start at some stage. South Africa desperately need stability at the top of the order, and there may be a reluctance to throw a 22-year-old into the firing line - somewhat unexpectedly for him.
Heino Kuhn has earned his chance through good form back home over the last few seasons, and then in this country for the SA A team, and should probably be retained for the second Test.
There are a number of options that need considering with the make-up of the attack in the absence of the suspended Kagiso Rabada.
Du Plessis hinted at employing four seamers - thus adding Chris Morris and Duanne Olivier to the starting XI - at a venue that has always been good for the fast bowlers. Shane Warne is the only spinner in the top 10 wicket-takers at Trent Bridge.
Playing four quicks will either require dropping a batsmen - likely to be Theunis de Bruyn - or spinner Keshav Maharaj, but the latter option is unlikely as Du Plessis enjoys the control the left-arm spinner provides. SILVERWARE HAUL: Lebogang Manyama of Cape Town City won big at the PSL end of season ceremony as he captured the Absa Premiership Top Goal Scorer, Players’ Player of the Season and Footballer of the Season awards.