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4th Test v South Africa in Pretoria

England has just lost the 4th Test in Pretoria by a country mile. As usual, the commentators avoid the obvious conclusion, which is that it was a win the toss, win the match pitch.

Understandably there is jubilation in the South African camp and they have indeed uncovered two rare talents in Rambada and Bavuma. But to suggest that this can be a sure sign of recovery in their team may be premature.

Rambada apart, their bowling resources remain stretched. Anno Domini has caught up with Steyn and Morkell is not the force he was. Both are nudging 34 years of age. Nobody has mentioned what has happened to the superb Philander but, there again, he is no Spring chicken.

Going back to the match, once they had nearly 500 runs on the board in the first innings, the result was never in doubt. Lending substance to the notion of very easy pitch conditions is the fact that there were TWO maiden hundreds – an extremely rare occurrence.

I can pay the diminutive Bavuma no greater compliment than to compare him with the great Tendulkar. Look how still he remains as the ball is bowled. His bat is geometrically vertical in defence. When he drives there is a good stride forward but he forces off the back foot and pulls the short ball with equal aplomb. I will be surprised if he does not continue in the same vein for a while to come.

Rambada is an interesting case because his action is not particularly impressive. But what happens the other end certainly is. Despite a quite gentle run-up (none of the rushing in which is so much part of Steyn’s armoury) and despite not much of a “gather”, he rotates his body smoothly and powerfully giving him plenty of pace. He was as much the best South African bowler as was Finn for England before his injury.

England’s upper order remains a real problem. It is extraordinary that no opening partner for Cook has been able to establish himself in all the years since Strauss retired. Compton has the right attitude but his technique will still get him into trouble.

He stands bolt upright with his bat raised when facing the quicker bowlers – not against the spinners – so now has to bend forward to allow room for the bat to come down straight. While this alteration is taking place the bat wavers off a true line.

Throughout our batting line up, there is a ridiculous habit that has creaped in i.e. making a practise stroke after every ball. The only signal that it sends to me is that they are trying to learn the job as they go along. Then there is the abiding problem of not getting the front or back foot across close to the line of the ball. Which is almost impossible to do from a square – rather than sideways- position.

We can only thank heaven for the marvellous example set by Joe Root who is largely blameless in these two respects. Perhaps he should be the batting coach. Mind you, how I would love to have half an hour with some of them in the nets. I doubt I would do them any harm.


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