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England need an answer against South Africa, quickly

PUBLISHED: 14:43 26 July 2012

Well we weren't expecting that, were we? England's innings defeat against South Africa in the first Test at The Oval may have come as a shock to many but when thought through carefully, I don't believe it was.

The gap between the two sides was quite obviously close even before a ball was bowled, but we were completely outplayed by a side who were comfortably more disciplined in the key areas of Test match cricket.

This is not the first time England have suffered at the beginning of a Test series and the absolute faith I have in Andy Flower and his team means we will now regroup and perform much better at Headingley, otherwise our stay at the top of the world rankings will come to an abrupt end.

After the first three sessions, England were outgunned for the remaining 11 sessions and we now have to find our mojo again before the next Test match in eight days’ time.

We all talked about the battle of the pace attacks but the South Africans were way ahead of us in this department in terms of intensity and overall quality. I thought Jimmy Anderson bowled OK, but I’m sure Geoff Miller and his fellow selectors will be looking at injecting some of Steven Finn’s pace into the attack next time round.

It was, of course, a very bland pitch and England, after reaching 267 for three on the first day, never took advantage of that good start. Having said that, was it England’s poor performance or rather, as I see it and worryingly for England, the devastatingly better performance of their opponents?

England were as good as they were allowed to be and just maybe we have all ridden on the crest of England’s wave for some time and forgotten what a quality side South Africa actually are. As you may remember, Graeme Smith and South Africa’s victories in England in 2003 and 2008 were partly responsible for the demise of the last two England captains and, while I don’t think we will see a resignation from Andrew Strauss this summer, Smith has certainly loosened the axe that may one day fall.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the tourists’ batting, too – wow! For an England bowling attack which has dominated most sides for the past two years to take just two wickets was quite staggering.

Hashim Amla looked immovable during most of his stay at the crease and he, along with Smith and Jacques Kallis, had obviously done their homework on playing against Graeme Swann. While it was not great viewing for an Englishman, it was pure theatre to a connoisseur of the game.

Hats off to those guys, because that was batting at its classical best.

We need to find an answer quickly as to how we’re going to take 20 wickets in the next Test match or we will be two down with one to play.

• MALLARDS HIT HARD BY SUMMER WASHOUTS

Yet again, even though we had a dry weekend, the remnants from heavy midweek rain resulted in more games being cancelled in the local leagues.

For the third week running, either top guns Norwich or Fakenham had their game rained off in the Norfolk Alliance Premier Division.

Fakenham have now had two of their last three matches abandoned and that may prove very costly for them at the end of the season.

One club who have found it particularly frustrating this year is Vauxhall Mallards who have now had a staggering six matches out of 14 cancelled due to our good old British summer.

It really is impossible to mount any sort of serious challenge when you are confined to shopping with the wife on a Saturday afternoon rather than donning the whites!

Let’s hope the good weather we are having this week continues for the foreseeable future and that the column ‘NR’ in our league tables remains unaltered until the end of the season. We are certainly long overdue!

Meanwhile, there will be no East Anglian Premier League team in this year’s Carter Cup final, after Norwich’s eight-wicket victory over Swardeston in the semi-final at Postwick.

The Norfolk Alliance Premier Division leaders will now face Sprowston or Garboldisham in the August 12 showpiece at Manor Park.

That might just make the final a more attractive proposition for the neutrals, because it has become a little bit predictable with Vauxhall Mallards and Swardeston winning nine of the past 10 finals between them.

Norwich, to be honest, are an EAPL team in all but name and they have been able to take their Premier Division form into the cup competition, beating two EAPL sides in Great Witchingham and Swardeston en route to the final.

They will be favourites whoever they face in the final but that won’t bother their opponents, especially if fellow Premier Division side Sprowston get through.

• CRICKET FOR THE OLYMPICS? HOWZAT!

It’s a shame that when the Olympic Games begin in London this week, there is no place in the schedule for cricket.

There was a one-sided cricket match between Great Britain and France that took place during the summer Olympics in 1900 and was later granted medal status, but our sport has not graced the Games since then.

It does not seem beyond the bounds of possibility that a Twenty20 version of the game could have been incorporated into the fortnight, even if, like the football competition, it had an age limit and did not involve all the top international players; maybe even just the top amateur and recreational players.

Traditional rivalries would be affected because three of the home nations would have to play as Great Britain, while the West Indies would have to play as separate teams, but there are enough ICC countries playing the game to ensure that it need not be restricted to the current Test-playing nations.

Cricket was included in the Commonwealth Games in 1998 as a 50-over competition, when a South Africa team that included Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock beat an Australia side including the Waugh brothers, Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist in the final. With a gold medal at the end of it, it could be worth a try at the Olympics, say, in 2020, wherever it may be! 

• FAREWELL TO A POPULAR COACH

Cricket lost a great character with the death at the weekend of former Yorkshire and England bowler Don Wilson.

Our playing careers did not overlap but Don was a popular figure, both as a very successful slow left-arm bowler, tall and slim, who played in Yorkshire’s multiple County Championship-winning side of the 1960s and appeared in six Tests for England, and in later years as the MCC’s head coach at Lord’s, where he helped develop the careers of a whole string of top players. He was what we call an “old school” type coach, who would be tough when he needed to be but had a good rapport with young players and believed in bringing them through the right way. His charges knew exactly what was expected of them, and his work was then carried on in the same vein following his retirement by another ex-player similar in character, Clive Radley. There were times when Don lived life in the fast lane and he was often the life and soul of the party, but there was always a warm welcome whenever we saw him at Lord’s and he will be greatly missed, both at Lord’s and in his native county.

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