TELFORD VICE, Johannesburg
THAT SA have been taken to test cricket school by England for the past month is old news. But going to school means learning. So, what have SA gleaned from their opponents, who won the series 2-1?
1. It takes a team
If you did not know the results of the matches, could not access the scorecards and were reliant solely on the series stats to try and find out how England clinched the honours, you would be puzzled.
Leading runscorer? Hashim Amla. Leading wicket-taker? Kagiso Rabada. The cliche is true: the really is no “I” in “team”.
England attacked their challenge as a unit. SA depended on too few players.
When James Anderson was ruled out for Kingsmead, Moeen Ali took eight wickets in the match. When England crashed to 167/4 and then 223/5 at Newlands, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow put on 399 for the sixth wicket.
When Dale Steyn’s contribution was cut short through injury, SA’s attack – but for Morne Morkel – looked lost until Rabada shot the lights out at Centurion in a game that didn’t matter. When nine out of SA’s XI did the hard yards to get to 20 in their first innings at the Wanderers, no-one went on to 50.
2. History strikes twice, but not always in the same place
“England have four frontline seamers and a spinner,” SA coach Russell Domingo said. “SA don’t have that luxury anymore. They’ve got Ben Stokes, who gets hundreds and five-wicket hauls. Jacques Kallis used to do that.
“Their allround bowling strength is a massive factor – bowlers win you games. That’s been the difference in the series.
“They bat to No. 13. They have a seriously skilled bowling unit. They got an experienced captain who’s nearly got 10 000 runs. They’ve got what SA had a few years ago.”
3. Oh captain, our captain … Whatshisname?
Yes, Hashim Amla took a brave decision to resign bang in the middle of the series. Yes, AB de Villiers is probably the best choice to replace him – at least for now.
But this revolving door scenario meant SA’s captain had about as big an impact on the direction the series took as, say, the deputy minister of chewing gum affairs has on fisheries and forestry.
Few teams are successful without strong leaders. That goes double for SA, who are hardwired to follow a giant.
Alastair Cook, cricket most successful opener after Sunil Gavaskar, had a forgettable series with the bat, averaging 23.00, but he knew how to get the most out of his men.
4. Specialists are special
This will seem unfair, because England also used an experimental opening batsman. But they could hide Alex Hales and his 136 runs at an average of 17.00 because of point No. 1 above.
For the same reason, SA’s lack of a specialist opener to partner Dean Elgar stuck out like a single-speed bicycle on a freeway.
It seems the only South Africans who didn’t think Stephen Cook – or Heino Kuhn, for that matter – would be a better fit for the job than the struggling Stiaan van Zyl were the selectors. En kyk hoe lyk hulle nou.
5. Trust in flair
We won’t see another Kallis for who knows how long. But that doesn’t mean we should stop believing in flair.
England are not known for their creativity, but they out-created SA by trusting in players like Stokes and Bairstow and even Hales – none of whom fit their roles as snugly as traditionalists would prefer – to do their thang.
SA, by contrast, looked like they were grasping at the straws of how things have been done for decades.