Cricket: England v South Africa

View from the Kirkstall Lane End: South Africa show frailties at last

If England can escape with a draw, they can reverse the decision to drop Graeme Swann and go to Lord's with a chance to maintain the number one ranking

View from the Kirkstall Lane End: South Africa show frailties at last

England had a glimpse of South African frailties in the evening of day two at Headingley session after seven days of pretty remorseless cricket from the visitors.

Having reached 419 all out, which almost puts an England win out of the equation, the over-excited South African seam bowlers performed abysmally with the new ball.

In helpful evening conditions, they failed to find the right “Headingley length” in the corridor of uncertainty and Strauss and Cook were rarely threatened.

In his opening spell, Morne Morkel, ever a mercurial and erratic performer, sprayed the ball around on both sides of the wicket. And Philander, who has a reputation for being a metronome, bowled the worst spell of his short, but spectacularly successful Test career.

Strauss and Cook moved without alarm to 48 for no wicket when bad light stopped play early. England will want to force a result, but with bad weather forecast for the weekend, it’s hard to see how they can win it.

A draw would be no disaster. It would give England the clear aim of winning the final Test match at Lord’s and retaining their number one ranking with a 1-1 series draw.

One thing is sure, whatever the result here in Leeds, Graeme Swann will return for the third Test at Lord’s. Broad, Finn and Bresnan are in a shoot-out for two places, with Finn currently trailing the other two.

Broad and Anderson bowled superbly in the first hour of play, beginning with six maidens. Anderson, in particular, continued to be unlucky. But South Africa dug in with the mental toughness thast has characterized their cricket in this series.

With every ball that passed the outside edge, England grew more frustrated. And midway through the morning, the inevitable loose deliveries that come when a side absorbs pressure for long enough, arrived.

Petersen cashed in, pulling three times in front of square to the fence. Most irritatingly for Strauss, he dabbed two successive boundaries to third man off Bresnan as soon as the England captain moved a fielder away from the position.

Those two strokes were an eloquent expression of Petersen’s cussed innings. His huge score of 182 was the difference between England being in a position to win the game, and the perilous state they find themselves in.

But the biggest wound on England’s psyche may have been inflicted not by Petersen but by the crowd when they barracked Andrew Strauss with cries of “Where’s Swanny?” after the part-time offspinner Kevin Pietersen took the wicket of Jacques Rudolph with his second delivery.

The ball turned sharply and Rudolph was stumped after a review. But Pietersen followed up this miracle with a series of full tosses which the elegant JP Duminy (48*) put away with ease.

Pietersen’s wicket put more emphasis on the dropping of Swann, which smacked of panic and muddled thinking in the face of a humiliating defeat.

Strauss and Andy Flower weighed everything up and applied their logical minds to their selectorial dilemmas: We needmore pace – so we must have Finn; we can’t drop Bresnan – as we need his runs as well as wickets; Anderson and Broad are undroppable; spinners struggle at Headingley. Hey presto. Drop Swann.

But this perfectly logical thought process came up with the wrong solution by dropping an integral part of the England winning formula whose value cannot be measured in figures alone.

If England get away with a draw, England can reverse the decision and Swann, somewhat irked, will have a point to prove. South Africa, conversely, will know that they have a habit of letting series leads slip.