The England cricket team, and more so their batting order has reached an unnatural stage, where they would contend themselves with avoiding a batting collapse for a month, let alone a year- something that is rare in cricket or is rather supposed to be. This isn’t the case for England however, as they have suffered regularly. Day two at the SuperSport Park in Centurion wasn’t any different, however, as they were reduced by seven wickets within the space of a measly 39 runs and conceded a heavy deficit in the first innings which severely puts the match beyond them.
However, with this most recent batting collapse, there might be more than meets the eye.
At the end of the day, batting collapses can be looked at it in two ways. The former is the braindead collapse where teams lose all semblance of rational textbook cricketing concepts and wildly swing their way to misery in the slightest of pressure situations. Here, England have become very good at and to take an example, you wouldn’t have to go very far. Them getting bundled out for 87 against Ireland in July is a prime example of this type of brain fade collapse.
However, there is also the collapse which is triggered by the opposition bowling unit being just that good and dominating that much more. This combined with unfamiliar conditions often puts teams back against the wall and despite being both types of collapses bearing the same result at the end of day, one’s certainly more honorable than the other.
In a world that has gotten too busy and where everything works at a frantic pass, judgments are passed pretty quickly, and more often than not, without being put some serious thought and time into. The need to tag and label every England collapse as the players’ recklessness and dereliction of duty reaches its tipping point on social media where ‘sack the players’ posts and tweets from keyboard warriors are pretty rife. And while England’s batsmen did leave room for the betterment and must own the responsibility after getting bundled out for less than 200 runs for the ninth time in 22 innings this year, they did not do too much wrong on the day.
Of the top seven, five got dismissed to pretty solid and deftly deceiving balls. This defense fails only in the case of Joe Root and Ben Stokes who can say to have gotten out cheaply after playing reckless and unnecessary loose shots, trying to chase wide deliveries. However, leaving the captain and vice-captain aside, the rest of the group was hard done by the sheer class in bowling on a show which is also true for the lower order. The ball that Vernon Philander used to get rid of Jofra Archer would have caused all kinds of problems to any top-order batsman in the world.
Test batsmen are supposed to be able to judge deliveries more than anything. They are supposed to keep out good balls, battle through tough periods. But also, sometimes they will nick it or miss it. England nicked and missed them today.
Rory Burns and Dom Sibley, who opened the innings for England had to weather a tough storm with the new ball as Kagiso Rabada’s insane pace, bounce and fierce aggression seemed to break their backs. Rabada was aided in his efforts by Vernon Philander who found a precise balance of movement and placement to make life difficult for Burns and co. England’s first two wickets fell to two exceptional instances of bowling as Burns couldn’t judge Philander’s ball and ended up loving it. Sibley was caught by the sheer venom and pace in Rabada’s ball and ended up being caught behind.
Things seemed normal and stable for a while as captain Joe Root added a half-century stand along with Joe Denly, following which Denly and Stokes tried to calm things down with some solid batting primarily defensive in nature. However, the new ball losing its shine and hardness also helped the cause. England had their eyes on a first-innings lead at 142 for 3. But things went uphill and topsy-turvy as they conceded a first-innings deficit of 103 runs inside just an hour.
Joe Denly, trying to play a forward defensive shot got taken out by Dwaine Pretorious who got just about enough seam on his ball to get the inside edge of Denly. It ended up kissing his inside edge and landing into the soft comfort of the keeper’s gloves behind the stumps. Jonny Bairstow could do little to usher confidence in the next over as he was bowled out for the 13th time in his last 33 innings. Again, it was hard to blame Bairstow as the length of the full-length delivery was hard to judge and it ended up keeping low and the lesser bounce made sure it hit the stumps instead of finding Bairstow’s willow.
Jos Buttler whose game is so dictated by restraint and order and is often about helping to clean up others’ messes couldn’t survive the Philander scare either. This delivery bounced higher than usual as well and fell to Quinton de Kock’s gloves. This turned out to be the theme for England’s batting which was drawn in by the bowlers to play poor and misjudged shots. The dismissals of Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer follow the same pattern where the bowler had the last laugh because of the quality of his spell.
This, in no way, means that the batsmen couldn’t have done better. If Root and Stokes managed to survive longer just when the England innings was starting to find its feet, they might as well have had the first-innings lead. If Bairstow had opted to play the forward shot instead of nicking and Joss Buttler stuck to playing it in line, maybe they would have edged closer to South Africa’s total from the first innings. A bit of fortune on their side and Denly and Sibley would’ve spent more time on the pitch. England’s performance on Day 2 was a case of imperfect batting, not reckless batting and the side can take some comfort in that fact.
The conditions at Centurion did not help them either. There was a lot of inconsistent bounce on the pitch, both up and down, and also provided a lot of movement to the bowlers which let them keep the batsmen on their toes for most of the Day. The South Africa team made the best use of the home advantage on a track that was anything but a flat featherbed. Fluent scoring seemed like a difficult and mammoth task on the pitch as every batsman struggled to adapt to the conditions.
This asks for more scrutiny on England’s decision to bowl first. Batting appeared easier to the Proteas the day before and skipper Faf du Plessis was also happy to open the batting.
South Africa’s bowling on the day also puts some perspective with England’s exploits with the ball which appeared to be wildly inconsistent, never asking for the batsmen to play enough and quite often, with large spells of short deliveries. Despite throwing everything into the second and third sessions, it was only Sam Curran that shone and if England loses the Test, some responsibility falls on the bowlers’ shoulders as well.
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