South African tour:

England face ultimate fitness Test

Vaughan's rigorous regime could be the key as third match in quick succession stretches both sides

Thirteen matches, 11 wins, two draws, no defeats. And no New Year Honours either for the England cricket team to mark the most successful passage in their Test history. Not an Order of the Bath in sight, not a sausage. They told us so. No sooner do you sell the television rights to satellite than the game becomes marginalised.

So the world's No 2 ranked side go gongless into Cape Town today, presumably hoping to nudge the Birthday Honours selectors. There are plenty of reasons for supposing that Michael Vaughan's team can begin 2005 in the Third Test against South Africa as they played throughout 2004, most of them embodied in Durban last week.

The progress of the Second Test amply demonstrated that England have become a team, operating on mutual trust and respect. This is not invariably the case in this most peculiar of team sports, but it is always difficult to know what begets what. Is it the team ethic that leads to victories, or the victories that create the team ethic? Vaughan appears to have stumbled across whatever it is, and while only defeat - or a run of defeats - will reveal whether the team spirit still holds good, that quality stood England in great stead at Kingsmead. After two days they were staring down the barrel as well as scraping it, but after five they were two balls away from a stunning victory.

The issue of psychological momentum was addressed by the captains at Newlands yesterday. Graeme Smith, of South Africa, whose heart is usually thudding away in full view on his sleeve, said: "I'm not a big one for the psychology of things between Test matches, but it's important to grab hold of the momentum early in a game. It will be crucial to start well."

Vaughan, whose phlegmatic nature ensures that he uses his sleeve only for covering his arm, was unbothered by the result. True, not to have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat was disappointing, but the big picture showed that if England had been offered a draw on the second evening they would have bitten Smith's arm off, heart and all. "It was disap-pointing not to have won, but we just got on the plane to Cape Town," Vaughan said.

Stamina, good old physical fitness, will come into the equation as much as psychology. Under Vaughan, England have made a considerable virtue of being fit and staying fit. Not everybody worships at the altar of gymnasiums, but compare the Andrew Flintoff now with the Andrew Flintoff of four years ago. Similarly, Stephen Harmison was transformed partly because of his surging fitness.

This is the third Test match that the sides have played since 17 December. There were four days' rest between the First and Second, just two between the Second and Third. Neither side has any complaints about the itinerary because it is the way of modern tours. But it is also why Vaughan was cute enough to insist on more training. England will be unchanged, although South Africa were yesterday considering tinkering, partly through the need to rest a player or two, partly on the suspicion that they still do not know who makes up their best side.

The swing bowler Charl Langeveldt may make his debut at 30 in place of the 21-year-old speed merchant Dale Steyn. Langeveldt, who bowled lethally for South Africa A against England in a warm-up match, would undoubtedly offer control, but penetration at this level may be more elusive. It is also conceivable, but unlikely, that the all-rounder Andrew Hall will replace the batsman Hashim Amla. The latter could consider that rough justice after just one match, although he did play one Test in India.

The home side, however, are desperately searching for a balance that will enable them to take 20 wickets. To that end, they are privately talking about breaking up the opening bowling partnership of Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock after 26 matches. Only 10 pairings have ever shared the new ball more often, and Ntini and Pollock are on the tail of quite a few.

The concern is simple: they are not taking enough wickets up front. Pollock still has enviable accuracy, but his parsimony no longer amounts to an attacking weapon. His 43 wickets in 2004 (the same number as Flintoff) cost almost 30 runs apiece. He is not making the early batsmen play often enough against the new ball, and being allowed to leave at the beginning of an innings is meat and drink for openers.

But Ntini and Pollock are by a considerable distance their side's best bowlers, and the risk in letting somebody else use the new ball must be too great. England have the superior attack, and when Harmison starts firing that superiority will be enhanced. Harmison's lack of consistent potency remains a mild worry, but the manner in which he propelled two brutes in succession, which rammed respectively into Pollock's left and right hands, should have dispelled any concern that the force has deserted him.

He and Matthew Hoggard have opened the bowling in 14 matches, not a combination you would necessarily have thought of two years ago. They look settled for the duration now, although Vaughan was at pains to point out yesterday that the fringe players in the squad have not been forgotten. He mentioned that James Anderson has been going well in practice, and that it was healthy to have so many batsmen competing for places (in particular one place, that of Mark Butcher). Butcher is under pressure in this match, but he is so popular a cricketer that he will be accompanied to the crease by a plethora of goodwill.

As for the lack of gong recognition, the only explanation would seem to be that the powers that be are waiting for this England side to finish their business (ie win the Ashes) before conferring awards, rather as Lord Of The Rings was kept waiting for Oscars until the trilogy was complete. For the moment, England are durable enough to ensure that it will not be honours even with South Africa come Thursday.

News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence