It was supposed to be the most competitive, exciting series in England since 2005. It was supposed to keep cricket in the papers while the Olympics was beset with problems and struggled with a cynical country. And England were supposed to win.
That went well, didn’t it?
Needing to win to save the series, as well as the coveted ICC Bestest Team in the World Mace thing, England have decided to go back to the policy which brought them so much success before this year; ensuring at least one ginger is present in the starting XI each week. Following in the footsteps of Eoin Morgan, Paul Collingwood and Peter Martin comes Jonny Bairstow, who has either miraculously cured his short ball issue in the few weeks he’s been out of the side or is going to get very few runs indeed. The other option would be to play five bowlers, but our policy of refusing to talk about the make up of the attack because it’s the same argument everyone’s been having for over a year now and it’s mind-numbingly tedious still applies.
Cricket-wise there isn’t actually a great deal to say; England were the only team who could win at Headingley in the last couple of days and, in cleverly giving themselves practice at competing with a weakened team in that game, they are well-placed to challenge here as well. The most important thing is the fielding – specifically catching – which must improve. The sheer number of simple chances which have gone down this summer is indicative of a general fall in standards across the board, and they need to hold everything if they are to scrape their way out of jail at Lord’s. That particular cause may have been helped had they not thrown their specialist gully fielder out onto the street, but if that’s where England miss him most they’ll have had a pretty good game.
South Africa have had an excellent tour and this week was perhaps their crowning moment; in going all Leonardo di Caprio on England, planting an idea deep in their mind and watching on in glee as they began tearing themselves apart they made sure there were no stories wondering whether the stage is set for some choking of the most fantastic kind. We thought we best step into the breach. The wind is all blowing in the tourists’ favour; England are behind, the Oval hammering has played merry hell with their selection policy and they haven’t taken 20 wickets in either match. Overwhelming favourites is usually a tag which spells disaster for a South African side.
The only other point of mild interest heading into the final Test – their impending catastrophic batting collapse aside – is that it will be Graeme Smith’s 94th as captain, which is a record. Whilst the realisation that the general public has had to sit through so many hours of his leadership, not to mention his batting, is a harrowing one, the one small crumb of comfort is there can’t be long left now. We have scaled our Everest.
Before the last Test we predicted England to win by an innings. They didn’t quite manage it. This time they really will.
England in disarray combined with South Africa odds on everywhere to romp home can only mean one thing: