View from the Vauxhall End: The importance of late order runs
One of Duncan Fletcher's legacies to England is the emphasis on having a team of 11 men who can bat
Two of Duncan Fletcher's bequests to the England cricket team interweave beautifully and are increasingly setting the agenda for the pretenders to England's Number One ranking in Test cricket - central contracts and late order runs.
Fletcher did not allow the word “tailender” into his lexicon, insisting that 11 men had the chance to bat and 11 men would take that chance. With central contracts allowing Team England's players time to rest, recuperate and practise, there was no excuse for rabbits and, soon, there were no bunnies left under the helmet emblazoned with the three lions.
The value of bowlers' working on their second skill was evident again in England's first innings. Having lost three wickets in the first hour, as South Africa's much vaunted attack found the lines and lengths to exploit helpful conditions, England were 284-6 and in danger of surrendering their position of strength, so carefully built on Day One.
Not so long ago, England supporters might have settled for an all-out score of 320 after a prolonged period of tedious farming of the strike by the one batsman left. Not any more.
Matt Prior, good enough for most Test team's top six, but in at seven for England, continued to play normally, counter-attacking with the verve and confidence that has marked his game since his recall to the colours.
At the other end, his partners played the kinds of innings with which they are most comfortable. Tim Bresnan was technically correct, playing himself in, before a rare lapse in concentration led to him trying to hit yet another Imran Tahir long hop too hard and being bowled off the inside edge.
Stuart Broad was determined to play his strokes, unwrapping his sumptuous back foot cover drive reminiscent of Garry Sobers, before Vernon Philander trimmed his off bail. Graeme Swann got the inevitable short stuff, but biffed three fours and Jimmy Anderson was strangled down the leg-side by Morne Morkel's extra pace.
None of England's four bowlers will be pleased with their scores (8, 16, 15* and 2 respectively) but, as Glenn McGrath knew when working on his batting, the runs coming at the other end count too.
With Prior in wonderful form and South African rustiness racking up the extras, England were able to add 101 runs for the last four wickets, pushing them up to 385, giving those same players who contributed with the bat a very decent score at which to bowl. This output from the lower order has become so much a part of England's game plan that it seems barely worthy of remark these days.
But it is worthy of notice and other sides are following suit. Australia's young quicks can all bat a bit and Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus have improved their batting almost beyond recognition.
South Africa, possibly mindful of a late-order that once boasted Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and Pat Symcox, Test centurions all, asked AB de Villiers to take Mark Boucher's gloves, allowing JP Duminy to come into the side at seven, wary of a late order that had Dale Steyn disputing the number eight spot with Vernon Philander.
Gary Kirsten, like all coaches these days, knows that scoreboard pressure is a key weapon in the pursuit of 20 wickets. The runs have to go on the board. And he also knows that nobody asks who scored them.