Before 2012 dawned, England had lost four Tests since Andy Flower took permanent charge and each time they responded with a thumping win of their own in the next outing. It is that spirit, rather than that of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Galle with which they must approach Headingley this week. The Oval was a crushing blow to a side already fragile after a tough first half of the year but it need not be a fatal one. South Africa are notorious for failing to finish teams off while England flourish as underdogs so, despite what some might have you believe, all is not yet lost.
Having said that, England are under real pressure in a home series for the first time under Flower’s leadership and really have to respond, which is a different challenge to anything this side has faced before. Despite being utterly abysmal for four days last time out, they still haven’t really given us anything new to talk about. James Taylor has come in for Ravi Bopara, who presumably attacked the local Mirrors R Us with a grenade launcher in a previous life, which adds some interest to the selection discussion, but otherwise we’re left talking about Tim Bresnan, Steven Finn and Graeme Onions again. Frankly, we’re becoming ever more aggressively opposed to having to do that, so we aren’t going to.
The biggest concern around the side going into this Test is the fitness of Graeme Swann, who’s the latest to be hit with the mysterious ‘elbow injury’ which seems to be sweeping through the England team like an epidemic. England need him to be both fully fit and at the peak of his powers; if they wanted 0/lots in 50 overs they’d give Ian Salisbury a call. Or see if it was too late to poach Imran Tahir.
The ‘problem’ with such a comprehensive win in the first Test is that South Africa didn’t actually learn anything from it. They went into the series with question marks over Alviro Petersen, JP Duminy and how AB de Villiers would cope with his new role, all of which still remain. It is staggeringly unlikely England will be as bad again, and it would really take something for the tourists to repeat their own performance, so it still feels like their lower-order is vulnerable. England just need to actually get them in this time.
Otherwise it is simply a case of staying in the present and maintaining their performance. Second Tests have been South Africa’s Kryptonite in recent years and, at 1-0 up in a three-game series, they have an opportunity to finish England in Leeds. As a wise man once might’ve said: With great opportunity comes great potential for choking.
England to win by an innings.