Cricket Twenty20: England v South Africa

View from the Lumley End: England stuck in the slow lane

England look short of confidence with only days to go before the T20 World Cup

View  from the Lumley End: England stuck in the slow lane

In the first T20 against South Africa, England did not look in any shape to compete for the T20 World Cup starting on September 18.

In many ways the game at the Riverside was good preparation for the sub-continental pitches they will play on in Sri Lanka. The Riverside served up a slow pitch offering sharp turn and some low bounce.  

So, it wasn’t easy for England to bat first and force the pace. The batsmen needed to get used to the pace before they flung the bat. But England failed miserably to think on their feet and their batting imploded, just like at Trent Bridge earlier in the week.

A series of uninspiring cameos produced a below-par total and South Africa cantered home. Yet again, following the excitement of the Test series, these teams produced a one-sided contest in the ODI format.

South Africa, justifying their number one ranking in T20 cricket, were focused and bowled superbly. Their astute captain, AB De Villiers, chopped and changed his bowlers around, not allowing the batsmen to settle and exposing individual weaknesses.

Dale Steyn bowled magnificently at full pelt, faster than in the Test series because he could bowl in one-over bursts. His figures of 1-13 in four overs earned him the man-of-the-match award.

Steyn cruelly dismantled Ravi Bopara’s technique, further denting his fragile confidence. When Bopara arrived first wicket down, AB de Villiers brought in a slip and the batsman - his feet lodged in cement - edged Steyn straight to him. It looked like a replay of Bopara's last dismissal at Trent Bridge, but it was merely a facsimile. It would have been comic but it was too pathetic.

Aside from Steyn’s thunderbolts, England were shackled by the spinners, Robin Peterson and Johan Botha, who picked up two wickets apiece and between them bowled a hatful of “maiden balls”, as John Arlott used to describe dot balls when the situation demanded fast scoring.

We should not be surprised by England’s naïve and skittish batting for this is an inexperienced side and too many of the team are uncertain of their places.

Patel is yo-yo-ing in and out, depending on conditions, which doesn’t allow him to feel he belongs, or gain any momentum with his performances. And several of the younger batsmen are still feeling their way. The 23-year-old Hales was playing his sixth T20, the 22-year-old Bairstow his eighth and the 22-year-old Buttler his ninth.

Hales and Bairstow have had some success, but Buttler is averaging seven so far and has not yet justified England’s faith. At county level, he is a fast scorer, though not a prolific run-maker in the T20 format.

A lot has changed since England won the T20 World Cup in 2010. Lest we forget, Kevin Pietersen was man of the tournament and averaged 62. Morgan was England’s next best in 2010 with a 36 average.

But a lot of England’s winning team have retired, or been discarded. Captain Paul Collingwood has gone, as has Ryan Sidebottom. Luke Wright was not picked here and Lumb and Yardy have fallen out of favour.

Swann and Broad were the outstanding bowlers for England in 2010 and are still present and England have found another regular T20 bowler in Steven Finn, who bowled fast and accurately at the Riverside and is close to being the first name on the team sheet at the moment.   

But with Bopara out of sorts, Pietersen out of the team, and Buttler unsure of his place, as well as several other players lacking experience, England’s side doesn’t have a settled look about it just a few days ahead of the World Cup.