It should be five Tests, not three, to decide the world's best team

 

Anybody still think a substandard one-day series with Australia in June was a good idea?

The real sadness unfolding here at Lord's is not the loss of England's standing as the best team in the world, but that their demotion will have been decided over three Tests.

If it holds that a man can never have a surfeit of money or beauty in his parlour, then it follows he can never have enough cricket of this quality in his summer. Just three Tests between the top two sides in the world is self-evidently insufficient, a bit like pulling Ali and Frazier after six rounds in Madison Square Garden. Exactly: you would never dream of doing it.

While we leave open the possibility of a miracle of an ending today, we know that in South African company English romance is unlikely to flourish. Once South Africa wriggled off the spike that was 54 for 4 on the opening day, England's chances of victory in this match convinced only in abstraction.

You could see how they might get home, but never really felt that they actually would. It proved to be an immense arm-wrestle, with England having to recover from their own 54 for 4 nadir.

But against a side with marginally bigger biceps and a rock with human characteristics called Hashim Amla, the demand was always a tad too steep.

But at least England refused to bow to the inevitable yesterday and that spirit was a further blow to the prospects of Kevin Pietersen, whose stock received another downgrade with his duck for Surrey.

It just had to be golden and the product of left-arm spin, didn't it? If there is a positive twist for Pietersen in all of this, it is to be found perhaps in the incipient sense of sympathy brewing for a bloke impossibly down on his luck.

Pietersen as victim; who would have thought that a couple of weeks ago, when he was embellishing his legend at Headingley? Alas, there is no accounting for hubris and the vengeance of the fates.

England's immediate hopes for the remainder of this match now rest with the middle order vacated by Pietersen after openers Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss both fell lbw to Vernon Philander late in the day.

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