Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Reflections on England vs. South Africa at Headingley

  1. South Africa just don't do it the easy way. Since winning two remarkable tests against Australia in December 2008, the Proteas haven't won back-to-back tests against any major test nation. For all their remarkable talent, until they develop consistency and ruthlessness, South Africa will be pretenders rather than contenders for greatness.
  2. Do South Africa perform best when they start slow? At the Oval they had a horrible start and recovered really well to dominate the match. Maybe at Headingley their start was too good. When Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen put on 120, South Africa looked well on course for a total of 500. After the fall of the first wicket, there was a mini collapse, and for the rest of the innings South Africa didn't look too dominant.
  3. Despite his technical shortcomings, Alviro Petersen has now established himself as the opener of the South African team alongside Graeme Smith. An average of 43.88 after 15 tests, which include centuries in India, England and New Zealand proves that Petersen has the determination and fortitude to stay focused and make the most of his talent.
  4. That being said, how costly was Alistair Cook's drop off Petersen on 29? In overcast conditions and Anderson getting some prodigious swing, England could have had a serious crack at the South African middle order. It could possibly have changed the complexion of the match.
  5. Dropping Graeme Swann in favour of Steven Finn was always going to be a risk that could backfire spectacularly. It did fail, but rather than Finn, it is surely Tim Bresnan who now comes under serious consideration to be dropped. While his work-rate and attitude cannot be faulted, Bresnan's reduced pace is quite simply not posing any threat to South Africa's strong batting order.
  6. When Stuart Broad is on fire, he can be unplayable at times. Broad bowls best when he pitches it up at pace, and his in dipper is as good as any in international cricket now. However the one aspect that really differentiates Broad from the rest of the attack is his ability to utilize bounce as a surprise element to unsettle batsmen even when they are set. Many of his dismissals in both innings were a result of classic strategy, whereby batsmen were set up to play on the back foot expecting bounce, only to be trapped plumb on the crease to inswingers coming off a good length.
  7. For all of Alviro Petersen's application, it was Kevin Pietersen's aggression that resulted in the most memorable innings of the match. With the South African bowling attack on top, and England more than 200 runs behind, Pietersen's counter-attack knocked the stuffing out of South Africa's bowlers. Dale Steyn in particular was treated with contempt normally reserved for twenty20 medium pacers. The rate at which he scored left Smith clueless and wrested the advantage away from the Proteas.
  8. After watching that innings, one has to ask can England really do without Pietersen in the one-day and twenty20 formats? The tragedy could possibly be getting darker, as rumours abound that Pietersen might quit test cricket altogether. A huge loss for cricket fans all over the world and a real waste of a remarkable talent.
  9. In today's age of placid pitches, and all sorts of protection for batsmen, are consistent bouncers a genuine wicket-taking ploy? For that matter, are they even a tool of intimidation? Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel truly are lethal strike bowlers. However, both of them are guilty of losing the plot when batsmen get the better of them. Once Pietersen was set, Steyn and Morkel reverted to bowling short from around the wicket in the vain hope that Pietersen would get a top edge. In stead, England's run rate accelerated and all the initiative that South Africa had was lost.
  10. Kudos to James Taylor on his debut. The 22-year old showed more application and focus in his first test innings than Eoin Morgan, Jonny Bairstown and Ravi Bopara combined in their numerous chances at the Test level. Despite playing against some of the best bowlers in the world with England facing down the barrel, Taylor stuck around determinedly and his fantastic defence was the perfect foil for Pietersen's flair.
  11. Nine tests is surely too short a period to make a definitive judgement on a bowler's career. However, the early signs are not too promising for Imran Tahir. Hyped up as the final piece of the jigsaw in the bowling attack, Tahir has yet to dominate a test match. There are no signs of improvement from his first test, and with a penchant for bowling a full toss or three every over and an over-reliance on his googly, sadly Tahir reminds one of the similarly inconsistent and expensive Danish Kaneria.
  12. Jacques Rudolph acquitted himself well as an opener in the second innings of the match when England were bowling with their tails up. In fact, Rudolph seemed to be extremely comfortable in both innings, with the only blot for him being that he was dismissed by Kevin Pietersen twice.
  13. Pietersen's spinners on the last day must surely have made Strauss rue the absence of Graeme Swann. While he got Hashim Amla's wicket with an innocuous delivery, Pietersen also spun some balls alarmingly and his dismissals of both Smith and Rudolph were classic spinners wickets.
  14. Credit to Graeme Smith for an enterprising declaration, and equal credit to Andrew Strauss for deciding to go after the target by sending Pietersen in to open the innings. Strauss could have done more by sending Ian Bell, Matt Prior and James Taylor ahead of Jonathan Trott and himself, but it was always going to be a really difficult chase regardless of the batting order. Smith and Strauss should be lauded for making the last day interesting despite the certainty of a draw. 
  15. Many have commented on the huge gaps between the tests in a short series. South Africa though, must be grateful for the ten day rest. With Petersen, Smith and Kallis all carrying niggles, the recuperation period should ensure that South Africa are ready to take on England at Lords with a full and fit compliment of players. 

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