Angus Fraser: Swann the key in battle of Cape Town

Inside Cricket

With the heady cocktail of adrenalin, excitement and relief pumping through his veins, a captain can be guilty of making over-the-top statements in the immediate aftermath of a memorable victory, but Andrew Strauss was right to state that England's performance in the second Test against South Africa was as good as any he had played in since the 2005 Ashes.

It was a magnificent and almost faultless display, with each player contributing. What made the feat even more impressive was that it came only five days after a somewhat confused and ponderous performance against South Africa in the first Test at Centurion. Much was made of England's escape at Centurion but it was not "great". It was nowhere near as satisfying and emotionally pivotal as that in Cardiff during the 2009 Ashes.

Huge credit for the turnaround must go to Strauss and Andy Flower, England's Team Director, for holding their nerve. There were many, including myself, who felt England should make changes in Durban, with Ian Bell being the player to make way for an extra bowler. Strauss and Flower would have been fully aware of the strong views being expressed about Bell's position by pundits and supporters but, in another sign of strength of character and growing confidence, the pair held firm and backed their instinct. Once again it proved to be right.

Bell, not for the first time, silenced his critics with a delightful 140, but he was not the only under-pressure batsman to shine. Alastair Cook underlined what a resourceful and mentally strong cricketer he is with a combative 118. Of the two innings Cook's was the most important because it blunted South Africa when they were at their freshest and most dangerous.

England defeated South Africa because they outplayed them at their own game. South Africa are not a particularly sexy side to follow. They rarely win matches through inspired performances; they win by playing tough, extremely disciplined and skillful attritional cricket.

It was England's bowlers who set the tone for Strauss's side on the first morning of the Test when South Africa, having won the toss, conceded two early wickets and crawled along at barely two runs an over. Ultimately it was Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad who took the plaudits after sharing 15 wickets, but the efforts of James Anderson and Graham Onions should not be -forgotten. In extremely oppressive conditions the pair provided control and support when it was needed. Onions took only one wicket in the Test but he was England's best bowler in the first innings.

After wearing South Africa's batsmen down England then set about doing the same to the hosts' bowlers, which they succeeded in. Much can be made of a team's body language and South Africa's was atrocious by the time England's batsmen had finished with them.

Body language is important because when it is bad it exposes a poor, distracted, disinterested and beyond caring state of mind. Such a mindset cannot be changed in the 10 minutes between innings and it therefore came as no surprise to see South Africa capitulate to 50-6 in their second innings against a rampant England attack. It was a case of "well played England, job done".

One of the quandaries of the series to date has been the inability of the South African batsmen to cope with Swann. South Africa rarely offers great assistance to orthodox spinners yet Swann has not only given his captain control, he has also taken five more wickets than anyone else in the series.

What makes this situation even more perplexing is that South Africa have Duncan Fletcher, the former England coach, in their ranks. One of Fletcher's greatest assets with England was his ability to coach batsmen to overcome spin bowling. His work helped England complete memorable series victories over Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Australia.

If South Africa are to get back into this series their batsman have to get the better of Swann and hit the spinner out of the attack. It will be a risky tactic because Swann is extremely good but the move would put greater pressure and workload on England's seamers. Strauss would then have to bowl Anderson, Onions and Broad in longer spells, which would potentially reduce their potency.

Last summer's Ashes highlighted how quickly momentum in a series can change and England cannot afford to sit back and reflect on a job well done. With Strauss and Flower in charge they are unlikely to, as England's understated reaction to last summer's Ashes win highlights.

The third Test, which begins in Cape Town on Sunday, will be another major challenge for England because South Africa have a magnificent record at the venue. In the 20 Tests that have been played at Newlands since South Africa's readmission to Test cricket they have won 14 and lost just three, all to the great recent Australian side. England's post-readmission record is appalling. They have been heavily beaten at the ground on three occasions.

If England can overcome South Africa in Cape Town and win the series, there would be genuine reasons to believe that Strauss's side can go on to achieve what Michael Vaughan's failed to – become the best Test side in the world.

Suggested Topics
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'