I don’t hold out much hope of England doing a South Africa and lasting more than two days for the loss of only a handful of wickets, but no doubt I’ll be there in front of the box again today hoping against hope that I’m being unduly pessimistic – and then looking for a small, furry mammal to abuse when I realise I’m not. (I won’t really, I love animals. Especially in a ciabatta).
The fact of the matter, however, is that even if England do pull off a miraculous act of escapology, it has to be admitted that in this Test match we have been totally outplayed (that’s OK, it can and does happen) and outthought (that’s not OK, and it shouldn’t happen).
The lack of intelligence displayed by England teams in many sports – not just cricket – continues to amaze me. And infuriate me.
No doubt those of more advanced years among us will put it down to the decaying system of education – for God’s sake we can’t even find people that can mark exams in a given timeframe, let alone answer them – the frowning upon of the competitive spark, a deficiency of discipline. And actually, they’d probably be right.
It’s all of these things and more.
What did England’s first innings tell you about the attitude in the dressing-room? To me, it yelled complacency. We didn’t learn the lesson of the second innings at Lord’s – that South Africa have got backbone, and absorb and digest their experiences and try to do better.
So not only did our batsmen, put in in conditions that suited the bowlers, throw away their wickets with gay abandon, we were so self-satisfied, so smugly dismissive of our opponents, that we thought we could drop a man from the middle order – admittedly one who was struggling for form – and put a wicketkeeper who can barely play a shot in front of the wicket, and is also struggling for form, in at No 6.
What was it Freddie Flintoff said in his masterful exhibition of understatement when he was interviewed by Nasser Hussain after the first day? “Yes, we’d have liked a few more runs, but…” A few more runs? Try another 150 just for starters.
Then we compounded the error – at who knows what cost to team morale, or certainly of the morale of those on the fringes of the side – of bringing in an untried and untested bowler simply because he’d got a few games under his belt for an Australian state side.
This is no particular criticism of Darren Pattinson – I mean, if someone offers you a Test cap out of the blue you’re hardly likely to turn it down, are you? – and his bowling is nowhere near the worst we’ve seen represent the three lions over the years, but it sent out all the wrong messages.
Now, come Tuesday, probably, and the realisation that we are 1-0 down in the series, what will our enlightened selectors do next? Pattinson might even merit a second chance but, should Sidebottom be fit, he won’t get it; he probably won’t even play for England again.
It is muddled selectorial thinking on a par with that in the 1988 series against the West Indies, when we went through a whole batting order of different captains and Peter May picked his godson Chris Cowdrey out of his conjuror’s hat and found he really was a rabbit after all.
Geoff Miller has only been in the job of chief selector for a matter of months, but already he has managed to fritter away a large margin of supporters’ goodwill. And I thought that would be difficult after the example of David Graveney.
It would be interesting to learn to what extent he was the prime mover in these decisions and how much – if any – opposition he brooked.
Firm leadership may be important, but not if it starts to show signs of a mad dictatorship.