Michael Vaughan believed the four-Test series against South Africa would give England's selectors and fans a good indication of where he and his side sit in the cricketing world. At 6.26pm yesterday evening, when Neil McKenzie dropped a Darren Pattinson delivery at his feet and scampered a quick single to complete a comprehensive 10-wicket victory for South Africa, the England captain was given an early sign, and he is unlikely to enjoy the verdict.
Little went England's way in the second Test, with a couple of highly contentious first-day decisions – Alastair Cook's incorrect leg-side dismissal and Vaughan's cancelled catch – going against the hosts at pivotal moments. But, even so, the majority of England's problems were self-inflicted.
The surprise selection of Pattinson was a decision that would have confounded the England players as they attempted to build a relationship with a man few of them had ever met before. Selectors occasionally like making surprise choices but they should not amaze those playing; it has an unsettling influence.
Of greater sway was the performance of the players. South Africa were good but England simply did not play well enough. In the opening three days of the first Test at Lord's England outplayed Graeme Smith's side but a team has to play consistently good cricket against a high quality side if it is to come out on top. In the past six months New Zealand were not competent enough to expose such shortcomings but South Africa are, hence the one-sided nature of this Test.
Blame should be apportioned to both England's batsmen and bowlers. The former did not show the application required to keep out a good fast-bowling attack, with too many wickets being lost to wishy-washy drives, cuts and pushes outside off stump. In all, 15 of England's 20 wickets fell to catches behind the stumps. England's bowling lacked discipline too. On far too many occasions the quartet were too short, too wide, or both. More balls need to be bowled at the stumps if 20 South African wickets are to be taken in a Test, something England need to do if they are to level the series.
England are not out of it. Far from it. And Vaughan will draw comfort and confidence from the previous three home series they have played against South Africa. In 1994, 1998 and 2003 South Africa took an early lead but on each occasion England came back strongly. In 1994 and 2003 series were drawn, and famously in 2003, here at Headingley, at 2-1 triumph was completed. South Africa have the reputation of choking under pressure and Vaughan will be hoping such frailties return at Edgbaston and The Oval.
If England are to triumph they will need to make changes to their side. Stuart Broad batted beautifully to score an unbeaten 67 and make South Africa bat again but, as a bowler, he looks tired. Stephen Harmison could replace him in Birmingham. A fit-again Ryan Sidebottom will return for Pattinson and Tim Ambrose may have to make way for Matthew Prior, a better batsman and a more likely No 6.
For the initial 90 minutes of play yesterday the redoubtable pairing of Alastair Cook and James Anderson repelled everything the South Africans threw at them, giving hope to optimistic England fans that Vaughan's side could yet repeat the feat of their opponents a week earlier at Lord's, when they batted out the final two days for a draw. But those aspirations ended during a ruthless and absorbing 25-minute period of play.
South Africa's frustration resulted in Dale Steyn, the team's fastest bowler, aiming a spiteful bouncer at Anderson that struck him painfully on the right wrist. After three minutes of treatment the game resumed only for Anderson to duck in to the next delivery, bowled by the same man. The ball hit the batsman hard on the grille in front of his right cheek and worryingly he crumpled to the ground.
The England doctor and physiotherapist rushed to the middle but after six more minutes a dazed and extremely brave Anderson rose to his feet and informed the medics he wanted to carry on. A new helmet was called for and the remaining balls in the over were kept out. The blow, understandably, unsettled Anderson and it came as no surprise when Steyn trapped him lbw in his next over.
Enter Kevin Pietersen to thunderous applause from a small crowd, leg-glancing his first ball for four, driving the second to the long off boundary, and scampering a quick single to mid-on from the third. Pietersen sent the first ball of the next over, bowled by Jacques Kallis, crashing through the covers for four before edging his fifth, an away swinger he was trying to leave, through to the keeper.
Considering the match situation Pietersen's innings was an amazing vignette. In circumstances like this batsmen are encouraged to play their natural game but having seen Anderson show such bravery it seemed a rather wasteful display. Something had got Pietersen's beans bouncing and only he will know whether it was the sight of a team-mate being roughed up or a tin of the revitalising drink he endorses. Whatever, it worked to South Africa's advantage; the wicket made it the tourists' session. Ian Bell fell shortly after lunch when he cut a wide ball from Morne Morkel only to see AB de Villiers dive full length to his right to complete one of the finest catches this famous old ground can have seen.
Cook had shown huge restraint but was undone by reverse swing from Kallis, chipping a leading edge to Hashim Amla at short extra cover. With England's last specialist batsmen gone South Africa were looking for a quick kill but Tim Ambrose and Andrew Flintoff stood firm, playing uncharacteristically restrained innings. Ambrose was the more aggressive of the two, cutting and pulling Morkel for four. The partnership passed 50 but the pair's fun ended with the arrival of the second new ball.
Ambrose, on 36, went first, edging a cut at Steyn through to Mark Boucher, to give the South African keeper his ninth catch of the Test. The arrival of Broad brought Flintoff out of his bunker and Steyn was hacked for a couple of boundaries. But Fintoff slashed at Morkel, edging a fast catch to Kallis at second slip. Broad played several handsome shots before Steyn removed Monty Panesar's off stump and Morkel ended Pattinson's resistance in similar fashion.
How England sank to defeat
Anderson (34runs), lbw Steyn , England 109-3PIETERSEN (13), c Boucher, b Kallis, England 123-4,Bell (4), c de Villiers, b Morkel, England 140-5Cook (60), c Amla, b Kallis, England 152-6Ambrose (36), c Boucher, b Steyn, England 220-7Flintoff (38), c Kallis, b Morkel, England 238-8Panesar (10), b Steyn, England 266-9Pattinson (13), b Morkel, England 327 all out
South Africa won toss
England – First innings 203
South Africa – First innings 522 (De Villiers 174, Prince 149)
England – Second Innings
A N Cook c Amla b Kallis......... 60
282 min, 178 balls, 6 fours
J M Anderson lbw b Steyn......... 34
113 min, 80 balls, 4 fours, 1 five
K P Pietersen c Boucher b Kallis......... 13
5 min, 5 balls, 3 fours
I R Bell c de Villiers b Morkel......... 4
32 min, 28 balls
†T R Ambrose c Boucher b Steyn......... 36
137 min, 94 balls, 5 fours
A Flintoff c Kallis b Morkel......... 38
129 min, 95 balls, 5 fours
S C J Broad not out.....................67
89 min, 60 balls, 11 fours
M S Panesar b Steyn.....................10
24 min, 14 balls, 1 four
D J Pattinson b Morkel......... 13
49 min, 36 balls, 2 fours,
Extras (b 4, lb 11, w 2, nb 14)......... 31
Total (487 min, 107 overs)......... 327
Fall (cont): 3-109 (Anderson), 4-123 (Pietersen), 5-140 (Bell), 6-152 (Cook), 7-220 (Ambrose), 8-238 (Flintoff), 9-266 (Panesar), 10-327 (Pattinson).
Bowling: Steyn 28-7-97-3 (nb1) (8-2-20-0, 7-3-21-1, 2-2-0-0, 2-0-10-0, 9-0-46-2); Ntini 25-7-69-2 (nb5, w1) (5-1-13-1, 10-3-19-1, 5-3-2-0, 3-0-20-0, 2-0-15-0); Morkel 22-4-61-3 (nb8, w1) (10-2-18-0, 5-1-11-1, 2-0-10-0, 4-1-21-1, 1-0-1-1); Kallis 17-3-50-2 (3-0-9-0, 9-2-18-2, 1-0-2-0, 4-1-21-0); Harris 15-5-35-0 (5-0-19-0, 6-4-3-0, 2-0-5-0, 2-1-8-0).
Progress: Fourth day: (min 94 overs): 100 in 213 min, 45.1 overs. Lunch 130-4 (Cook 46, Bell 1 ) 49 overs. 150 in 271 min, 57.4 overs. Tea 182-6 (Ambrose 16, Flintoff 9) 77 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 186-6. 200 in 379 min, 82.5 overs. 200 in 379 min, 82.5 overs. 250 in 423 min, 91.5 overs. 300 in 466 min, 101.4 overs. Innings closed 6.11pm.
Cook 50: 240 min, 148 balls, 4 fours. Broad 50: 68 min, 41 balls, 8 fours.
South Africa – Second Innings
*G C Smith not out.....................3
5 min, 3 balls
N D McKenzie not out......... 6
5 min, 4 balls, 1 four
Total (for 0; 5 min, 1.1 overs)......... 9
Bowling: Broad 1-0-8-0, Pattinson 0.1-0-1-0.
Progress: Fourth day: Innings closed 6.26pm.
Result: South Africa won by 10 wkts and lead the four-match series 1-0.
Umpires: B F Bowden (NZ) and D J Harper (Aus).
TV replay umpire: R A Kettleborough.
Match referee: J J Crowe.
Man of the match: A G Prince (SA).
Ball of the day
There is no better sight for a fast bowler than a stump being uprooted and Dale Steyn achieved just that against Monty Panesar. Steyn will bowl better balls, but the dismissal highlighted South Africa's dominance.
Shot of the day
Stuart Broad is looking more like a genuine all-rounder. His unbeaten 67 contained several sumptuous shots but the best was a back-foot drive off Morne Morkel. Both of Broad's feet were off the ground when he played the shot.
Moment of the day
AB de Villiers completed his redemption with one of the ground's great catches. The ball was wide from Morne Morkel and the shot had four runs written all over it until De Villiers dived brilliantly to pluck the ball out of the air.