(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
By Simon Sweetman
Is there a pattern developing here? England v South Africa, three Tests all won by a mile, but it’s 2-1. It reminds one of England v Australia here in 2015 – Tests won by wide margins but nor by the same side.
Let’s look a bit closer.
The first Test of 2015 was in Cardiff and Australia needed 412 to win with two full days to play. They didn’t make it to the fifth, being all out for 242 but they had fallen to 122-6 and though Mitchell Johnson made 77 it was no more than defiance.
At Lord’s Australia won by 405 runs. They did not enforce the follow-on and a second innings declaration left England needing 509. Again they did not make it to the fifth day. The innings started just before lunch on the fourth day but the innings lasted only 37 overs, all out for 103.
At Edgbaston, England won by eight wickets on the third day, Australia having been bowled out for 136 on the first day by Jimmy Anderson, and never in the game thereafter.
At Trent Bridge, England won by an innings and 78 runs. Stuart Broad’s 8-15, bowling Australia out for 60 on the first morning, ensured the match, which was over before lunch on the third day.
And at the Oval, Australia won by an innings and 46 runs. After England replied to Australia’s 481 with 149, the game was up. It finished shortly after lunch on the fourth day.
And this year? England won the first Test by 211 runs. South Africa all out for 119 – game over after they fell to 28-4. It was over on the fourth day.
The second saw South Africa win by 340 runs – England, notionally chasing 474, all out for 133, again on the fourth day.
So once again, at the Oval, the margin is wide, England winning by 239 runs. In reality, South Africa’s fate was sealed long before the end when they were 52-4. This time, though, there was resistance, even if it was ultimately futile.
Now the theory has been advanced that the problem is that modern batsmen are so corrupted by one day cricket they can no longer craft long innings against the tide of the match. That theory could be strengthened by this match. Dean Elgar has played only six ODIs, Temba Bavuma only one. They remain red ball batsmen.
Practice batting, they say, until it becomes instinctive. That’s the wrong word and “habitual” might be better. Modern batsmen then have to acquire three different sets of habits, and need to select the right one to the right time.
That may be too much for most, and it may be that the long game is suffering.
*This article originally featured in TCP on Friday, 4 August 2017.