SA vs England Series Review

The tour is over, the players have briefly returned to their loved ones, the dust has settled and apparently the locals have even found some of the balls lost by Justin Kemp. Time to look back at the past nine weeks’ cricket. Even now, it seems extraordinary that anyone should think it a good idea to cram five tests and seven one day internationals into two calendar months. That isn’t to say that the cricket has been less than watchable. On the contrary, it’s hard to recall a series produce so many swings of fortune and so many exciting finishes. But I can’t avoid the conclusion that we had great matches due to the weaknesses of the two sides rather than because of their strengths. Partially, that is because too many of the better players under-performed, and that, to some extent, reflects the ludicrous schedule.

That being said, the one-day series was more exciting than the organisers had any right to expect. There is always a danger in tagging seven ODI’s at the tail end of a tour that the tourists will perform with more than half a mind on the flight home, and those of us who remembered England’s 6-1 capitulation in similar circumstances nine years ago feared the worst. Sure enough, for England, key performers like Trescothick and Strauss contributed little and, apart from Gough (who really did make those of us who had written him off look very silly indeed), the attack usually lacked penetration or control. SA, benefiting from Smith and Gibbs taking turns to score masterful centuries, Pollock’s extraordinary economy, and either Kemp or Boucher providing end-of-innings ballistics, were much the better side. Put like that, it was a wonder that most of the games finished as close as they did. Of course, the reason for the excitement is no secret. Apart from providing a wonderful pantomime villain to wind up the home fans, Pietersen produced a series of magnificent innings that did more than save an ill-judged series from dying an early death due to terminal one-sidedness. Unless a lot of serious judges are mistaken, we have seen the arrival of a significant player on the international scene. No doubt he will continue to ruffle a few feathers over the next few years, not least in his own dressing room, but that need not be a bad thing. If he and Flintoff bat together for any length of time, you can see England passing 350 with some regularity: which they will probably need to do if they don’t sort out the bowling in the very near future. For SA, the one-day future is looking brighter than they had led us to believe, with Smith making his maiden hundreds in this form of the game, Gibbs looking outstanding in the middle order and Kemp threatening to be a sensation at the 2007 World Cup.

However, for all the entertainment provided by Pietersen. Kemp et al, the real excitement took place in the tests. This was a series that could have finished anything from 5-0 to the hosts to 4-1 to England, had either side been able to hold on to their advantages. Three of the five games gave us nail-biting finishes, and the fifth day at The Wanderers was cricket as thrilling as you could want to see it. There was much talk of “momentum” but, in reality, the sides were so closely matched and so inconsistent that no such thing existed. England arrived under-prepared and over-confident, with the result that much of their batting looked half-baked. With their key bowler from 2004 completely out of sorts, they were there for the taking, and would have lost without Strauss’ truckload of runs, Hoggard’s ability to remove Smith cheaply and Flintoff regularly taking important wickets.

SA didn’t help their cause by starting the series with at least three players who were plainly not good enough for test cricket, but they were also unlucky with injuries. The unavailability of Gibbs at Port Elizabeth, Langeveldt after Cape Town and Nel until Centurion Park were crucial. However, despite the defeat, the series ended positively for the Proteas. De Villiers looks a real find, and Gibbs’ unexpected versatility means they no longer have to carry a Dippenaar, a Van Jaarsfeld or an Amla at number 5. Assuming that Smith and Rudolph rediscover their form, they shouldn’t be short of runs and, if Nel can stay fit, their bowling is looking none too shabby. No doubt selection will continue to be an issue, given the unique circumstances of this country. To this observer, Ray Jennings’ recent comments that the side would have won the series if he had been given a free hand in selection were disingenuous. It’s hard to see exactly whom he had in mind from the line-up that collapsed spectacularly to hand England the game at the Wanderers. Beyond that, his known preference for Steyn ahead of Langeveldt at the start of he series, despite the latter’s performance for South Africa ‘A’ against the tourists, was instrumental in England’s winning start. Perhaps Jennings would be better served focusing on the conservatism of one of his senior players. Kallis was by some distance SA’s best batsman, but in his final innings of the series, having spent the first half of it ensuring that they wouldn’t lose the match, he then spent the second half of it ensuring that they wouldn’t have enough time to win it. Trescothick isn’t in the same class as Kallis, but his blistering unbeaten 180 on the final morning at The Wanderers was an object lesson in how to seize the moment.

To be fair to the SA coach, his generous praise of Hoggard immediately after the fourth test was probably more typical of the man. It was also well judged, as the Yorkshire quick had been tireless throughout the series and, after his match winning seven-for at The Wanderers, thoroughly deserving for Jennings’ eloquent tribute. Having come close to being written off a couple of years ago, Hoggard now looks the real deal. He wasn’t England’s only hero, of course. Not many of us expected Strauss to score anything like the volume of runs that he contributed. Flintoff was consistently dangerous with the ball and, with 23 wickets, has now established himself as a genuine test bowler. Giles did as much as much as could be expected of a finger spinner in SA, often taking key wickets and regularly contributing important runs. However, despite winning, they finished the test series with more questions than they had started with. With neither Butcher nor Key inspiring confidence, who should bat at three this summer? Is Flintoff a good enough batsman to play at six against Australia, or should he play as one of four bowlers? Who should keep wicket? And, perhaps most important of all, what should be done about Harmison?

England’s most successful bowler in 2004 has now been ineffective in seven of his last nine tests, and I could list half a dozen England quicks who would dearly love to have had that degree of patience from the selectors at various times over the past 30 years. However, given what Harmison has produced in the past, not many would seriously argue that he shouldn’t be persevered with. He remains a potential match winner, and any strategy to upset the Australians will require a significant contribution from the Durham pace man. Theories attempting to explain his loss of form this winter have focused on a lack of match practice before the tour, his subsequent lack of confidence and his self-processed homesickness. To be honest, I struggle with this line of thought. Hoggard and Flintoff had no more time in the middle before the start of the series, but performed infinitely better. Whilst some have applauded Harmison’s honesty in the infamous Heathrow interview where he bemoaned the need to be away from home, others felt it was just the latest example of him feeling sorry for himself instead of thanking his lucky stars for his God-given ability and making the most of it. This, remember, is the same player who publicly complained about not receiving a central contract sixteen months ago, so perhaps one or two of us can be forgiven for wondering why he isn’t happier with the consequences of now having one. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, possibly the biggest task facing Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan is how to get the best out of the player who should be the spearhead of England’s attack. Perhaps, if his confidence really is shot, Harmison should just encouraged to spend time every day watching his DVD of last winter’s Caribbean tour between now and the start of the season. If he is still convinced that life has dealt him a raw deal, then he should also find time to visit some of the local workingmen’s clubs in his beloved North East and spend time with some of the long term unemployed who have no prospect of finding work in that part of the country. Does that make me unduly unsympathetic? Maybe. But twelve months ago, we were being told that Harmison was the new Curtly Ambrose. I really couldn’t handle the disappointment of him being the new Andy Caddick.


Marcus Trescothick
Tests – 448 runs at 44.8
ODI’s – 98 runs at 16.3 (SR 76.6), and 0 wickets for 102 runs (ER 5.67)

Andrew Strauss
Tests – 656 runs at 72.9
ODI’s – 90 runs at 15.0 (SR 77.6)

Mark Butcher
Tests – 97 runs at 24.3

Robert Key
Tests – 153 runs at 25.5

Michael Vaughan
Tests – 246 runs at 30.8, and 1 wicket at 29.0
ODI’s – 257 runs at 39.3 (SR 61.1), and 1 wicket at 67.0 (ER 4.79)

Graham Thorpe
Tests – 287 runs at 35.9

Kevin Pietersen
ODI’s – 454 runs at 151.3 (SR 105.6)

Vikram Solanki
ODI’s – 104 runs at 34.7 (SR 63.4)

Paul Collingwood
ODI’s – 87 runs at 17.4 (SR 83.7), and 3 wickets at 84.7 (ER 4.88)

Ian Bell
ODI’s 26 runs at 13.0 (SR 81.3)

Andrew Flintoff
Tests – 227 runs at 28.4, and 23 wickets at 25.0

Geraint Jones
Tests – 215 runs at 26.9
ODI’s – 137 runs at 22.8 (SR 69.5)

Ashley Giles
Tests – 11 wickets at 40.8, and 188 runs at 26.9
ODI’s – 7 wickets at 39.7 (ER 4.41), and 79 runs at 19.8 (SR 82.3)

Simon Jones
Tests – 15 wickets at 26.7, and 64 runs at 16.0

Matthew Hoggard
Tests – 26 wickets at 25.5, and 20 runs at 4.0
ODI’s – 5 wickets at 43.4 (ER 5.71), and did not bat

Stephen Harmison
Tests – 9 wickets at 73.2, and 96 runs at 24.0
ODI’s – 2 wickets at 60.0 (ER 6.00), and 4 runs at 2.0 (SR 40.0)

James Anderson
Tests – 2 wickets at 74.5, and did not bat

Darren Gough
ODI’s – 11 wickets at 21.9 (ER 4.14), and 13 runs not dismissed (SR 46.4)

Kabir Ali
ODI’s – 13 wickets at 26.2 (ER 5.44), and 52 runs at 17.3 (SR 115.6)

Alex Wharf
ODI’s – 5 wickets at 19.8 (ER 5.21), and 3 runs not dismissed (SR 75.0)


Graeme Smith
Tests – 269 runs at 29.9, and 2 wickets at 60.5
ODI’s – 310 runs at 51.7 (SR 74.7), and 0 wickets for 36 runs (ER 6.00)

Hershelle Gibbs
Tests – 356 runs at 44.5
ODI’s – 356 runs at 50.9 (SR 83.4)

Abraham de Villiers
Tests – 362 runs at 40.2
ODI’s – 47 runs at 11.8 (SR 54.0)

Jacques Rudolph
Tests – – 304 runs at 30.4

Jacques Kallis
Tests – 625 runs at 69.4, and 4 wickets at 75.8
ODI’s – 227 runs at 32.4 (SR 69.4), and 3 wickets at 61.7 (ER 6.34)

Boeta Dippenaar
Tests – 207 runs at 34.5

Hashim Amla
Tests – 36 runs at 9.0

Martin van Jaarsfeld
Tests – 50 runs at 25.0

Adam Bacher
ODI’s – 19 runs at 9.5 (SR 35.8)

Ashwell Prince
ODI’s – 176 runs at 58.7 (SR 77.5)

Justin Kemp
ODI’s – 206 runs at 29.4 (SR 115.1), and 0 wickets for 70 runs (ER 7.00)

Zander de Bruyn
Tests – 25 runs at 12.5, and 0 wickets for 31 runs

Andrew Hall
Tests – 43 runs at 10.8, and 3 wickets at 58.7
ODI’s – 4 wickets at 25.5 (ER 5.14), and 33 runs at 16.5 (SR 66.0)

Shaun Pollock
Tests – 21 wickets at 24.0, and 120 runs at 17.1
ODI’s – 8 wickets at 27.9 (ER 3.72), and 66 runs at 16.5 (SR 79.5)

Thami Tsolekile
Tests – 22 runs at 11.0

Mark Boucher
Tests – 95 runs at 23.8
ODI’s – 133 runs at 22.2 (SR 85.3)

Makhaya Ntini
Tests – 25 wickets at 25.1, and 89 runs at 14.8
ODI’s – 11 wickets at 25.4 (ER 4.92), and 10 runs at 10.0 (SR 76.9)

Dale Steyn
Tests – 8 wickets at 52.0, and 25 runs at 12.5

Nicky Boje
Tests – 6 wickets at 71.7, and 180 runs at 25.7
ODI’s – 5 wickets at 35.8 (ER 4.80), and 64 runs at 32.0 (SR 103.2)

Charl Langeveldt
Tests – 5 wickets at 19.2, and 5 runs not dismissed

Andre Nel
Tests – 6 wickets at 17.5, and 1 run not dismissed
ODI’s – 9 wickets at 30.2 (ER 5.33), and 3 runs not dismissed (SR 30.0)

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