Outplayed English forced to take a risk
Nobody saw that one coming. I am referring to the emphatic way in which the Proteas despatched team England in the first test match at the Oval.
South Africa always had a chance of victory but even the Protea players themselves will marvel at the events that unfolded at the Oval. We all thought the first test would be close and that South Africa would get stronger as the series progressed. Their display however during this first test was as faultless a piece of test cricket as you will ever see.
Most of us were concerned with a possible lack of adequate preparation going into the first test but coach Gary Kirsten and the players were adamant that they were ready both physically and mentally. That proved an understatement. Team England was dismantled in ruthless fashion by a sensational display with both bat and ball by the South African players.
As we move closer to the second test in the coming days Kirsten will reflect on the 1994 tour of England that he was a part of that started in similar fashion with a massive victory at Lord's for the South African team. It was thought then that England had no way back. They played better in the second test and forced a draw and won the last test to share the series.
Complacency will be South Africa’s biggest enemy going into the second test. Fortunately South Africa have enough senior players who are still hungry enough for success to make sure this doesn’t happen. The management team will also be only too aware of this possibility and will do everything in their power to keep the South African players sharp and hungry for a series win.
It is difficult to see England turning the tables on the rampant South African team. In the first test match the England side was no match for South Africa in any of the disciplines of test cricket. They were significantly outplayed by the Proteas in all departments.
If a team wants to hang on to the number one ranking in test cricket they have to be able to fight back from adversity. During the first test some of England’s key players put up the white flag very early. When the going got tough they weren’t up for the fight. Whether that will change in time for the Headingley test match remains to be seen.
Although risky, England will be hoping for a lively surface at Headingley for the second test. They need to do something to bring the teams closer together. If the surface is another flat one, they will have great difficulty in bowling South Africa out twice. The England bowling attack lacked venom, aggression and class at the Oval. Unless they are provided with a pitch that does more for the bowlers this is unlikely to change.
The risk for England will be taking on the much-vaunted South African pace attack under those circumstances. It could backfire on them, but they will have to try. A draw is no good to them. They have to win to keep the series alive so they may as well take a risk.
Somehow I can’t see that happening. We saw enough at the Oval to realise that if both teams play to the best of their ability the Proteas have the edge. Let’s hope for more of the same.