Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Reflections on England vs. South Africa at Lord's

  1. For the first time in the series it genuinely felt like a proper contest between World No.1 and 2. Collapses, revivals, momentum shifts, moments of quality, individual brilliance, dropped catches, tense passages of play - all at the home of cricket, Lord's. Test cricket just doesn't get any better.
  2. After some brilliant opening partnerships for South Africa, the middle order was called on to perform after the Proteas were 54 for 4 on the opening day. Jacques Rudolph answered with a gritty 42, but the twin 61's by JP Duminy and Vernon Philander ensured that South Africa crossed 300 in the first innings, aided by the determined support provided by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. Considering the close margin of the result, the difference between getting bowled out for a score in the low 200's and scoring 300 was decisive.
  3. JP Duminy reminded everyone of the mettle and substance he showed in his debut series against Australia in 2008. The hard work and effort he has put in to rectifying his technique has helped him in testing conditions. The challenge for Duminy is now going to be switching seamlessly between the different formats of the game, without losing his effectiveness.
  4. James Anderson delivered his best performance of the series by taking 5 wickets in the match. However, the general feeling is that Anderson was short of the mark the whole series. While the South African batsmen showed him respect, Anderson didn't really beat the bat often, and his ability to think batsmen out deserted him against some of the best batsmen in the world.
  5. Steven Finn has now firmly established his place in the team. He was the best English fast bowler on display by a fair distance. His dismissals of Hashim Amla in both innings were special, while his controversial dismissals of Jacques Kallis in both innings were also off brutish balls. Through those 4 wickets, Finn showed the variety needed to succeed in Test cricket. He is the only English bowler who seems to able to sustain pace, and that trait might soon make him the leader of the attack.
  6. After a memorable spell at Headingley, Stuart Broad reverted back to the unconvincing effort he displayed at the Oval. Combined with his dismal run with the bat, Broad's all-round travails were a major reason for England's downfall in the series. Resting him for the ODI's might just be what's needed to recharge the batteries for the T20 captain heading into the World Cup.
  7. For a man who has scored against every opposition in almost all conditions, it's rather startling how Jonathan Trott seems to be clueless against Dale Steyn. Steyn had Trott's number throughout the series, and rather alarmingly for Trott, he played a role in his own downfall almost all the time with the some uncharacteristically loose shots. Sometimes mind games can ruffle the best of them.
  8. The last time Alistair Cook had been an early wicket so regularly was in the summer of 2010, when Mohammed's Asif and Amir continuously snared him by moving the ball around off-stump. Cook is a steady bet against most opening bowlers, however a bit of swing-induced magic by the truly exceptional exponents of the new cherry, such as Vernon Philander can make him appear to be a bit of sitting duck for the opposition.
  9. The same can be said for Andrew Strauss. The only difference between Cook and Strauss however, is that the captain seems vulnerable to fast bowlers regardless of their stature or their angle and corridor of delivery.
  10. Jonny Bairstow announced his arrival on the big stage. While comparisons with Kevin Pieterson are premature in the extreme, at least England made the right decision in selecting a player who prioritizes flair and unpredictability over technical rigidity. His inexperience led to him missing out on a century in the first innings, but his innings was instrumental in England recovering from 54 for 4. His completely different innings in the second innings, genuinely gave England the belief to go for the win, and the South Africans had their hearts in their mouths when Bairstow fearlessly attacked every bowler that Graeme Smith threw at him. His ability to dominate spin means Bairstow is going to be a vital middle order batsmen on the tour to India.
  11. It was fitting that the day after VVS Laxman announced his retirement, a stylist scored a century in trying circumstances at Lord's. As cricinfo's sanguine editor Sambit Bal explained so brilliantly, Amla's innings was a triumph of substance over style. Amla is a batsman who can deliver against the best bowlers in the most trying conditions. His performances in this series have now elevated Amla to the importance that is accorded to Jacques Kallis in the Proteas batting order.
  12. Did Ian Bell have a single defining moment in this series? In tandem with Bairstow he repaired England's first innings, but it remains a travesty that for a batsman of considerable style and technique, Bell has always fallen short in the truly difficult challenges against the best bowlers he has faced.
  13. Vernon Philander finally got just rewards for his brilliant bowling throughout the series. Some observers were starting to prematurely wonder if Philander's bowling was ideally suited to English conditions. It's often forgotten how cricket like other sports requires a fair bit of luck, and at Lord's, Philander finally managed to get the edges that were eluding him in the first two tests. His 5 wicket haul in the second innings was as good as any of his other five-fors in his nascent career. The 96 runs he scored in the match hinted at the role he could play for South Africa as a key all-rounder in the team, coming in to bat after the famed middle order.
  14. Matt Prior is the best wicketkeeper-batsman in Test cricket bar none. Prior's efforts in salvage operations or in taking the game away from the opposition with his busy stroke play in the latter stages of innings have been a key factor in England's ascent to the top. Prior was deservedly England's man of the series with some truly exceptional innings that displayed all his fighting qualities against the best seam attack in the world.
  15. It's been a long journey for Graeme Smith, but South Africa have finally reached no.1 in the rankings. As recent inhabitants of the coveted spot have shown, staying at the top is the biggest challenge. South Africa have an extremely balanced team, with the one drawback being the absence of a quality spinner. Imran Tahir once again failed to ignite any sort of spark on a pitch that should have helped him. Smith must hope that a home series against Pakistan who are notoriously poor players of spin, is the ideal platform for Tahir to get wickets and confidence. If not, South Africa just might have to look at other options to complete their bowling attack.