England will remain loyal to Bell
Tourists likely to reject option of fifth bowler in favour of misfiring No 6 for second Test today
England have not won a Test match in Durban for 45 years. On the other hand, nor have they lost one since 1928. The smart money, therefore, says that the match which starts at Kingsmead today will be a draw, as have been nine of the 14 between the sides at the ground before it, including the three since South Africa returned to the international fold 17 years ago.
The weather has frequently intervened and even when the teams played a timeless Test in 1939, time actually ran out. On the final possible day – the 10th, no less – it rained at tea, after which England had to bolt for Cape Town to catch their boat home.
There is, once more, rain around. Durban has been accustomed to it lately and the locals are decidedly fed up about it. The scheduled one-day match earlier last month was abandoned after it had poured down for a week. And when it was not pouring down there was a sea fret which would have meant bad light.
Both sides will be searching frantically for a silver lining, no easy task for either. South Africa remain delighted that they ran the tourists so close in Centurion last Sunday, but may also rue a missed opportunity.
Equally England will be relieved to have got out with a draw but worried about how they got into such a mess in the first place. At 0-0, the teams remain divided by a wisp of fresh air but the balance has shifted once more to South Africa.
To win this series, it was always the case that England would have to play out of their skins. To do that, it means they would have to be happy in them in the first place, and although they ended the first Test in heroic style, nine wickets down and clinging on for dear life, this does not seem to be so.
The big trouble for the tourists is that none of the options open to them is exactly comfortable. It was the case when they were pondering before Centurion and it is the case now. There is a suspicion that they changed their minds in the last few days before the opening Test and that they had not nailed down their preferred balance until the toss was almost on them.
Certainly, the official line before and after reaching Centurion was that three possible options were possible. If this is, in one way, admirably open-minded it does not bespeak of the firm policy that might be presumed essential to win a Test series of this magnitude against the opposition.
England will probably be minded to stick with the team with which they began on the grounds that it did not lose and therefore deserves another shot. It was impossible to see where 20 wickets were coming from then and it has not become any clearer now.
The case for a four-man attack is obvious: it allows you to play six batsmen. But all England's main successes of the past few years have come with five authentic bowlers – the Ashes 2005 and 2009, victory in South Africa in 2005. Only against Pakistan at home in 2006 did four bowlers do the trick when the batsmen all did their stuff.
Five of the top six that summer were the players likely to play today, the only difference being that Jonathan Trott has come in for Marcus Trescothick. This is not only a marvellous advertisement for continuity but also a slight indictment of the standards of English batsmanship. This lot are good but not that good.
The number six batsman in the side that summer is worth remembering. He was fighting for his place and probably his career but he scored centuries in three successive matches, two of which England won. His name was Ian Bell, who has had opprobrium poured on him from all heights for the manner of his dismissals in Centurion.
He was so ill-judged leaving a ball in the first innings only to be bowled and getting out in the second because of an old and still seemingly ineradicable fault outside off stump – that it was easy to wonder where his career had gone wrong. But Bell demonstrated in 2006 that he has something. There are questions to be posed about his maturity and his lack of genuine authority and whether he will ever acquire those attributes but his skill is not in doubt.
Bell's vicissitudes have tended to obscure the real difficulty for England. No matter how many runs they score can any combination of four bowlers take 20 of South Africa's wickets on these pitches with the Kookaburra ball? England under Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss have rightly prided themselves on being honest – or at least, unlike so many sportsmen, of not kidding themselves.
The conclusion might be that they should contemplate a change of policy. But they then have the complementary concern that Matt Prior, who would return to number six, looked every bit as out of form as Bell last week.
South Africa have Dale Steyn back and Jacques Kallis back as a bowler and a batting order in which five of the top seven made fifties in the first Test. As one of the other two was Graeme Smith, who always comes back with more, England's plight is clear.
The tourists' efforts in keeping the series at 0-0 were ultimately praiseworthy. But the feeling is that South Africa have more chance of ending their poor run against England in Durban than the other way round.
Second Test: Three ways to tackle South Africa
*The side could be unchanged with Ian Bell continuing at six, meaning a four-man bowling attack in which every member could expect to be tired by the end. It would or at least should guarantee serviceable totals, although England would still have to bat with considerably more gumption than last week.
*England could decide that scoreboard pressure created by weight of runs will not by itself be enough, so they need to include an extra bowler. In that case Matt Prior could move to bat at six again, where he has looked comfortable before without acquiring any real durability. Luke Wright or Stuart Broad might then bat below him at seven.
*But Liam Plunkett has also come into the reckoning despite not having played a game for England on tour. He has a reputation for bowling wicket-taking balls – among some dross – and can hold a bat. In that case England would have a batting line-up with Prior, probably a number seven at six, and Broad, Graeme Swann, and Plunkett, effectively three number eights at seven, eight and nine. Which might be the way to go. But none of the above options is exactly foolproof.
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