England's stroke-makers must rein it in or No 1 status is gone
By Geoffrey Boycott | The Daily Telegraph
26th July 2012 02:05 PM
This was murder in the sun. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis put the Oval pitch into perspective. They batted with superb technique, picked the length carefully and finished us by batting England out of the game.
From then on it was a rearguard action but England batted nothing like the world champions they are supposed to be.
I understand it is difficult for stroke-players or attacking batsmen to change their game completely when they are trying to save a match. It takes a certain type of individual to bat for long periods and not score runs.
Bill Lawry could do it. Michael Atherton and myself could do it as well but surely our top class batsmen have to make an effort to adapt to the situation of the game.
When defence is paramount and not giving your wicket away is crucial then surely top players have to rein in their stroke-playing. If they can’t, or won’t, then they are playing for themselves and not the team.
Batting in these situations you have to look forward to the challenge: to enjoy the chance to bat all day, relish it like eating a good dinner or savouring a gorgeous glass of wine.
Patience is needed allied to concentration. Don’t play at any ball you don’t have to, and you wear the bowlers down until they bowl you an easy ball to score off. Shot selection is crucial.
I realise we are all human and we all make mistakes. When you have been fielding for two days your brain gets tired, legs get heavy and with fresh bowlers running in at you your mind is scrambled leading to silly shots.
It started with Andrew Strauss. Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott received good balls but the captain’s dismissal was horrible. He is the leader and has to set the tone for everybody.
He survived the South Africa seamers but then got in a mess against the leg-spinner, Imran Tahir, bowling around the wicket into the bowlers’ footholes. He tried to drive one to cover but an inside edge to midwicket. He then failed to pick the googly, tried to drive it to midwicket and it shot off to cover. One jumped out of the rough and nearly hit him in the face so he panicked. He went to lap sweep out of the rough, missed it and was daft enough to try it again but top-edged it to short fine leg. The fielder didn’t have to move. He could have caught it in his mouth.
Kevin Pietersen got sucked into a bouncer contest with Morne Morkel. His hubris got the better of him. He hooked two, and then luckily top edged one over the wicketkeeper. He nicked one to second slip and was dropped. He was too busy trying to score runs and get on top of the bowler that he forgot about his defence and missed a straight one.
Ravi Bopara did his best for 22 runs but again tried to force a ball off the back foot. He tried to hit it too hard but did not even have to play it.
Matt Prior played a lovely, sensible innings but then he got carried away sweeping against the leg-spinner out of the rough and top edged it to slip.
He did not even have to play the ball. It pitched outside leg stump. You can’t be out lbw when that happens. All he had to do was stand in front of the stumps like a sentry on point duty and he couldn’t have been out. It would have frustrated Tahir like hell. Prior went off shaking his head. Doesn’t help. Too late.
England are not bad players. But we played badly. It will probably be the same squad for the next Test at Headingley but we need better batting and better bowling or the series will be gone and the number one status with it.
Don’t just blame the England bowlers for our poor showing. I know they only took two wickets in the South Africa innings but this was a flat, slowish, easy batting track.
Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan will know they were below par in accuracy and energy. James Anderson gave it his best shot but there was no swing or seam after the first few overs when he took his only wicket.
Graeme Swann bowled OK but he came up against two top-class batsmen in Amla and Kallis who have textbook techniques, experience and skill to play him out of the game. They are two of the best batsmen in the world. They have discipline, concentration, patience but above all else, make very few mistakes.
England, on the other hand, contributed to their own downfall. On the first evening they were 267 for three with one batsman, Alastair Cook, unbeaten on a century. That is as good a position as you could hope for to make 500 runs. If you make 500 you may not win the Test, but you sure as hell can’t lose it.
Even though South Africa scored their 637, if we had made 500 there would not have been enough time for them to force the win.
England let them back into the game. From 271 for three we lost seven wickets for 114 runs. But the worst thing was we did not make them work hard for wickets or bowl us out. We helped them do it with a succession of bad shots.
I met Ed Miliband on Saturday. It turned out the leader of the Labour Party is a fan of mine. He knew his stuff. He said he was there when I made my hundredth hundred in the Headingley Test in 1977. He also said he saw my final first-class innings at Lord's, and knew I was dismissed by Middlesex's Angus Fraser.
We have invited him to the Headingley Test. He can come along and have a relaxing day watching England against South Africa.
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