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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz