Cricket: England v South Africa

View from the Pavilion End: Where do England go from here?

Loss of the world number one status will prompt reflection about team's future

View from the Pavilion End:  Where do England go from here?

Well it may not have been Lord's 1963 or Edgbaston 2005 but it will certainly do to be going on with.
Against many expectations England's batsmen fought phenomenally hard to level their three-match Test series against South Africa.

The tourists' 52-run margin of victory reflected their superiority while a glance at the full scorecard will show that five England batsmen made substantial efforts to ensure that their team kept their grip on the mace which is held by the world's leading Test team.

It wasn't quite enough to prevent South Africa winning the series 2-0 but neither was it a bad way to end a week in which hard-nosed collective effort has been praised at the expense of maverick individual achievement.
And yet the glory of the contest at Lord's and the tenacity of Andrew Strauss's batsmen should not obscure an uncomfortable truth: England's tenure at the top of the tree wasn't particularly nice while it lasted.

Since being ranked the No1 Test side in the world, England have floundered against Pakistan, fought for parity in Sri Lanka and beaten an under-strength West Indies in an English spring. Now they have lost top spot to South Africa, it's probably a good time to assess where the England team goes from here.
Not very far and not too quickly might be a wise, if rather conservative, answer. Beginning with one of yesterday's themes, it's important to understand that England are not a poor side; they are just not as good as South Africa at the moment.

It's perfectly possible to argue that in English conditions they would beat everyone bar the Proteas at the moment. Moreover, getting to number one took a lot of effort over three or four years; the players who were lauded to the heavens against Australia eighteen months ago and India last summer have not suddenly become a bunch of donkeys.
So what changes might one suggest to the current Test team? Firstly, Kevin Pietersen, a subject worthy of a dozen selection meetings, three papers on psychology and a book on management.

Let's stick to this, however, with an an acknowledgment that it does not explore all the issues: if England's former No5 can be reintegrated into the Test team without tearing it apart, the case for his inclusion is very strong.

After his innings at Colombo and Headingley no one can really argue that Pietersen is not a batsman of genius; England have no other batsmen in that category, so it would be a wizard wheeze to have him in the line-up.
Pietersen seems to have acknowledged his error, although it could be argued that was merely a ruse to get back into the side. It might be necessary for one or two other members of the England team to accept that they were not without error either.
What of Andrew Strauss? The England captain is nearing the end of his international career and his recent form against the most testing attacks is not good.

At some point another opener should be groomed and one of the most obvious candidates is Yorkshire's Joe Root. England tour India this autumn and New Zealand in 2013 before the Kiwis themselves visit this country next spring. Even if Strauss intends to captain England against Australia next summer, Root should be in one of the winter touring parties, maybe both.
Two other young players to impress for the England Lions against Australia A in the two unofficial Test matches played this summer were Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes.

Bairstow's performances, added to the Tweet 'n' Piet affair, earned him the opportunity he has so gloriously taken in this match. Surely he can cancel whatever arrangements he might have made for the close season.

Woakes, too, is not far away from graduating to the five-day arena. Stuart Broad's bowling is not at its impressive best and his innings here only illustrated his capacity to play significant cameos. By contrast, Warwickshire's Woakes is fast becoming a proper batsman and he is snapping at Broad's heels.
As to the rest, it will be horses for courses. Four spinners may be needed in India while more seamers wil be required in New Zealand, where surely the many skills of Graham Onions might be useful.
For now, though, it is probably right to acknowledge the quality of Graeme Smith's South Africans. It will take a fine side to remove them from the summit of world cricket.