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Reflections on a gripping series

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Adam Mountford | 15:37 UK time, Monday, 18 January 2010

In the end, England were not able to produce a third great escape to win the Test series here in South Africa. But had they held on for a couple of extra hours at the Wanderers on Sunday they might have just managed to do it.

Johannesburg was hit by a huge thunderstorm in the afternoon which would have washed out any play after tea - and on Monday the city was hit by heavy rain and dark cloud which may have made conditions impossible on what would have been the scheduled final day.

Whether it would have been right for England to win the series is obviously highly debatable although this morning's newspapers here in South Africa leave you in little doubt about what they think.

Wayne Parnell picks up the key wicket of Kevin Pietersen on the final morning

Stuart Hess, writing in the Johannesburg Star, states: "There are those who believe that England deserved to get something out of the Test series. They'd be wrong. The outcome was not a true reflection of the standard these two sides displayed, for South Africa were much the better team. England were resilient throughout, showed a lot of character, but even their own captain recognised they were the inferior team."

Despite England's rather disappointing capitulation yesterday morning it has overall been a gripping Test series. As England clung on to nail-biting draws at Centurion and Newlands we got a great picture through your e-mails and texts of how you were nervously listening to Test Match Special.

It was almost too much for TMS new boy Michael Vaughan at Newlands who turned to Jonathan Agnew during the final over to say "I'm sorry Aggers, I just can't watch this". Jonathan quickly replied: "I'm sorry you've got to. Remember how many times you put us through this sort of thing when you were captain."

One of my favourite stories of people listening to the series came from Steve in Oxford who e-mailed us when England were taking important wickets one afternoon. He told us: "I am currently invigilating an exam and just jumped for joy at that wicket, disturbed everyone, but I don't care! A few more and I might never be doing this job again!"

At Cape Town we were joined by Duncan Fletcher, who I think surprised many by displaying a great sense of humour which was rather kept under wraps during his tenure as England coach.

"Fletch" did, however, discover the danger of taking the mickey out of someone on air. After mentioning ex-England physio Dean Conway's penchant for cakes he was disturbed to receive a text straight away from the Welshman with a few choice phrases which thankfully Duncan did not divulge on air!

As for Vaughan he has been able to offer some fascinating insight into the current players and it has been incredible how many times he managed to predict what was going to happen. However Michael did also manage to quickly master the infamous commentators curse. It got so bad at Centurion that listeners were begging me not to allow him back on the radio because he was taking so many wickets!

Alastair Cook

It has been a series not without controversy, especially surrounding the Decision Review System, described on Saturday by ECB chairman Giles Clarke on TMS as a "shambles".

From a commentary point of view it can be a real shame that the dramatic moment of a wicket being taken is slightly lost with the often prolonged process of a decision going to review. On the other hand, if more decisions are made correctly then that is good for the game and I suspect we will all get used to extra delays.

TMS listeners believe the crowd at games has to be included in the process. They sit in complete ignorance not knowing what has been asked for and why a decision is overturned or not. This is simply not good enough for people who have paid a lot of money to go to games to be excluded from one of the key parts of play. The ICC must act to sort this out.

We shall see how the review system goes down in Bangladesh, where England are next in action following a brief visit to the United Arab Emirates.

It will also be fascinating to see how Alastair Cook gets on as England captain and it will be interesting to find out how good Yorkshire bowler Ajmal Shahzad is. Both Michael Vaughan and Geoff Boycott have been singing his praises over the last few weeks.

I feel a bit sorry for another Yorkshire player Adil Rashid, who after bowling in the nets all over the world in the past few years is not included on a tour where he may have had a real chance of playing in a Test.

The resting of Andrew Strauss will of course be controversial with several former England captains already saying he should be leading the team on the tour - although our own Geoff Boycott and Michael Vaughan have backed the decision.

Boycott told us that the focus has to be on the Ashes next year rather than Bangladesh whilst Vaughan said in his question-and-answer piece for BBC Sport "just because I didn't get a break as England captain doesn't mean that it was right."

Our own radio coverage of the Bangladesh tour is still being finalised. Keep checking and we'll bring you news as soon as we have it.

Finally, thanks for listening to our coverage of this South Africa tour and thanks for all your e-mails and texts. And sorry if at times it was not the most relaxing listen for you, but that's what happens when you follow the fortunes of the England cricket team!


  • Comment number 1.

    During the Ashes there was a lot of talk of England not being the better team than Australia, in regards to wickets taken and runs scored etc, and the same is now being said in relation to this series. I don't really understand the argument though. Sport has never been about proving who is better than who in regards to isolated skills. It's a case of who wins and who loses. A series of controlled laboratory experiments could tell you which team was actually the best at bowling, batting, fielding etc if you really wanted to know.

    In test match cricket you are set an objective to win the game. If you can't complete that objective, you don't win.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the series, and the Ashes, because it proved how multi-faceted and subtextual Test cricket really is. The pitch changes day to day, the weather hourly, the condition of the ball constantly and you have to deal with these factors in the context of the entire match/series to be successful.

    South Africa could have won the series 3-1, but they didn't. Just like England could have scored 600 first innings runs in every game, but they didn't.

  • Comment number 2.

    Certainly a test series to remember for both the right and wrong reasons.

    The Cape Town fight back warmed the hearts of all those who love test cricket. That five days cricket can come down to one batsman (or No.11) facing the final ball of the match. I wanted to leave work early because of the snow - 1 1/2 later I struggled home cold but happy!

    Thanks to the BBC but one comment is that the web updates need to be quicker in these situations to save us all migrating to other cricket websites even if does add to the tension!

    Certainly the referral system has the potential to improve the spectators viewing but all tests need all the tech. Something that it seems is beyond many test nations.

    We look forward to the BBC coverage from Bangladesh and at least more of a first string team than I expected...

  • Comment number 3.

    Only a few tests ago, comments were flying about as to Cook's future in test cricket, let alone his potential as captain. The South African tour has proved nothing either way: a couple of good innings (we all know he has the ability for that), but again, failures each side of that - where's the consistency? If he has a poor series as a batsman against Bangladesh, what then?
    As regards England, overall, their fighting spirit has improved over the last couple of years - thanks largely to Graeme Swann, Matt Prior and Stuart Broad in the lower middle order. Lack of potency with the seam bowlers is still an issue, and like others, I can't think that the 'resting' of Graham Onions at that particular point was a sensible thing. He should be persevered with for at least a full year: despite his lack of wickets, he never looked like an ineffectual bowler, and who knows how many of the wickets he contributed to through his pressurizing of the batsmen?

  • Comment number 4.

    again, cannot put all information in this format. try this for source -

    also what do people think of A. Flintoff talking about playing county cricket after retiring from Tests.?

  • Comment number 5.

    I think the comment above that sport is not about winning on points (except boxing). I certainly don't think South Africa were the better team until this test. England were cruising to a draw before the blip at the end of the Cape Town test.

    It is about time that people thought a little more carefully about averages. Over a long period of time they might show a person's ability or class but over the short term they are flawed. Look at Onion's average for this series - one cannot fault how he bowled. Often a good bowler will fail to get the wicket and a bad ball claims one because it is a release from pressure.

    Likewise batting. Smith had a relatively poor time until he made hay on the 4th day at Cape Town. What about Prince and Duminy's abject performances? Steyn and Morkel didn't really turn up until late on.

    During the Ashes much was made of not scoring centuries by England, yet the same thing happened for Australia when they beat WI in the winter.

    Much has been dismissed about the reviews, but if SA had lost Smith they may have collapsed and the De Villiers incident was when England had them on the ropes.

    Don't dismiss the mind games by SA either: Undermining Trott, the ball tampering issue - all carefully released just at the right time.

  • Comment number 6.

    I'm glad you mentioned the weather. In the context of the game not enough importance was attached to it by England. I cannot believe former captains would have fallen into the trap of believing that a draw was not desirable at the Wanderers to win the Series. What has happened to tactics and strategy?
    I'm afraid the gung-ho attitude of the coach, not any different from that advocated by Moores, has forfeited a win in the context that it is always more honourable to fight to win the game. Can you imagine SA taking that attitude if they had been in front? A different type of pitch would have been prepared for sure.
    Instead we were outthought and outmanoeuvred to battle on a pitch not to our liking and not designed to suit our bowlers and batsmen. Instead Strauss picked up the gauntlet like some hubristic medieval knight or even some latter day colonel leading his troops into an honourable charge into the valley of destruction.
    He chose to bat almost as a badge of honour. So it is not surprising that he was out first ball. Even to the last, after that near collapse in the first innings, and after SA had posted a substantial lead, the coach apparently was urging England to attack in order to overtake SA and put them in again. Did he not look to the heavens? He could have advised them to build instead a substantial innings, to take their time to defend and to score when needed.
    We only have to look back to Lords in 2008 to see SA just do that in 2 days. We may not have lasted 2 days but we didn't need to.
    SA were always trying to hurry us along. Attacking the ball on that wicket is only going to get you out unless you are very lucky like Paul Collingwood on 7.
    Misled. But the coach and captain don't get the blame. It's the troops of course following orders.
    The media have questioned the recklessness of the batting but were also sucked into the idea of winning the Test before the game even though we were warned that a 'result pitch' was ordered.
    An absolutely basic military error. But will we learn from it? I think not. I can't imagine what Brearley would have thought of it.

  • Comment number 7.

    Excellent series - and greatly enhanced by Vaughan's superb commentary. He certainly gave the impression that he was thoroughly enjoying himself .... long may he continue!

    SA were not the superior team in the last analysis because they couldn't close off matches which they really should have won. Most definitely their batting was a great deal better than England's, but the drawn series reflects that England were a bit more resilient than they'd been given credit for. It's a bit of a minor miracle to me that England could draw this series when most media pundits expected them to be totally blasted away. Hats off to Paul Collingwood in particular - he's worth his weight in gold.

  • Comment number 8.

    That guy who was listening to TMS while he was meant to be invigilating should be sacked.

  • Comment number 9.

    Why al the moaning ? England won the 1 day series ( ok rain affected) and shared the test series. I know they escaped but thats the stats. I am amused cause the type of reporting in the British press are laughable ( dont worry its the same if not worse here in SA) and some more balanced views should be published. Overall SA played good but not good enough to beat England . One day you praised the guys and the next day is the other way around. Why ? Its like here where they report that Morne Morkel is the new Joel Garner!!!!!!!!!!!!! And thats after 1 good performance

  • Comment number 10.

    I agree completely, why don't they show the fans in the ground the same TV replays as we see at home and the third umpire is looking at? There are way too many empty seats at the vast majority of Test matches, they should be doing everything possible to encourage people to attend. Clouding the replays in mystery is a disservice to fans who make the effort to go to matches.

  • Comment number 11.

    I do still think the umpires should have the say about when the referral system is used. As long as it isn't Darryl Harper, who in my view should have been involved in his last test match in Johannesburg. He seems the only umpire not to be able to get his head around the system.

    Well done to TMS for some great coverage from South Africa, some really good lunch time features as well as the usual high quality commentary. Michael Vaughan is doing a fine job already. I think the England team can be pretty pleased as well. They are clearly a team in development, and to be getting some decent results whilst still developing as a team is a good sign for the future I think. They still need a good number 3 and a strike bowler, but the building blocks are there at the moment.

  • Comment number 12.

    What about the Jo'Burg Test resorting to noisy Twenty20 and One Day music between overs and when every boundary was hit? I was sat in the stadium having to endure this rubbish for 4 days and I can tell you that if this intrusion to the game becomes more widespread I fear Test Cricket will lose more spectators. Not just older supporters like myself; one young Springbok fan summed it up admirably: "Too loud,too often, mindless". I am surprised that few ,if any, media commentators have remarked on this invasion of the game. Have they all become conditioned to this racket via 1 day games? Or are they wearing noise reduction earphones to drown out the din?

  • Comment number 13.

    That's an interesting comment about the rain after the test washing out any possible play and it hardens my view of England's performance in the final test.

    At the start of the game Andrew Strauss said that the team knew they could not save this test the way they had the last two and that a win was the only option. At the time I felt this was realistic if a bit negative, and that it was surprising for a Captain to rule out an option that would see his team claim a historic series win in SA.

    In the light of Strauss's decision not to tour I am now wondering if this was indicative of a tired captain and a tired team that allowed their self belief to be undermined. Everyone wants their team to make an honest win rather than scraping a draw, but still a team should have enough fighting spirit to want to win by any legal means.

    As I say the rain is new info to me, and possibly to lot of others. Do we need a poll? "Englands failed to hold on for the rain, did SA break England's fighting spirit?"

  • Comment number 14.

    Helo one and all from here in Adelaide, South Australia (but originally from Walworth, SE London)..I have read many comments on the review system in South Afric,, and frankly I am not impressed.Our review system here in Oz, uses everything available, and I am stunned that SA did not use Hot Spot at least. If the tv companies think it is too expensive, then ban them from televising the Cricket is what I say. I believe if technology is available, it should be used and shown to the viewing public on telly. I am not sure if it is actuallyv shown at the match itself, but believe it is fascinating sitting at home as they go through the 3 things to determine if the original decision is correct or not. However, I do have one criticism of hawkeye..I believe it should NOT be used in lbw's, as I believe it is flawed in those decisionas.That's me for the moment, hope I haven't bored too many with my contribution..Go, England, Go Go Go...

  • Comment number 15.

    In terms of reflection, if you had given Strauss and Flower the opportunity to draw the test series and win the ODIs at the start of the tour, I think they would have definately taken it.

    Overall the batting remains hugely inconsistent - if we lose a couple of quick wickets, especially early on in an innings we don't appear to be capable to bring it back - usually losing several more wickets in the process. And yes, the bowling does lack real pace.

    But on the flip side, you feel that the batters are the best in England and have age on their side to get better. With the bowling, there are not many raw pace merchants around in test cricke these days - possibly due to the 'age of the bat' and excessive amounts of international cricket.

    We are going in the right direction, but need to take another step up before Oz 2010.

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    Just a couple of observations. First, on referral, I don't like hawkeye as currently used. I'm a statistician and programmer and know how these things work. This is a prediction, with the error in the estimated track of the ball increasing with distance from the point of last impact. Yet, the error is never estimated, or shown. This uncertainty in the estimated track would often make the difference between a batsman being out and given the benefit of the doubt. Hotspot, on the other hand, is usually unequivocal evidence of where the ball struck and should be made compulsory in any referral system.

    Finally, on Strauss being "jaded" and not going to Bangladesh. I'm with Warne on this one. This is insulting to Bangladesh. If Strauss isn't up to the rigours of captaincy, or playing for that matter, he should make way for someone who is. And why make Cook captain? Arguably, he shouldn't be in the side. Collingwood is a more reliable team man and has experience of captaincy.


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