Even in a hole, real winners keep digging

A team do not go bad in the course of one Test match but they can pick up a pretty serious infection. That has to be the worry about the all-conquering England of 2004, who have arrived in the new year dishevelled and, it seems, rather sorry for themselves.

A team do not go bad in the course of one Test match but they can pick up a pretty serious infection. That has to be the worry about the all-conquering England of 2004, who have arrived in the new year dishevelled and, it seems, rather sorry for themselves.

Defeat is not the problem. South Africa, even one sliding down the world league table, are never going to be pushovers on their own soil, especially that of Cape Town, and any team who have fighters of the talent of Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock retain the capacity to come back in a formidable way.

No, the worry is not the loss of the winning sequence but the way it was surrendered. There are many ways of losing, but it is hard to imagine that England could have found a more discouraging one. In the crash- landing a lot of old baggage came tumbling out of the hold.

Most disconcerting of all is the sudden discovery that England have a tough itinerary, a rush of Test matches and little time to relax and play themselves back into form or a better frame of mind in some up-country game. Perhaps it was a completely wrong impression, but isn't this the way the modern Test cricketer wants it - all swift business without that time dragging them thousands of miles away from loved ones and home comforts?

Two points leap out of the debris of the slaughter of the English in Cape Town. One is that we didn't hear a peep about the draining schedule when the South Africans were destroyed in Port Elizabeth and pushed to the edge of defeat in Durban. No, all we heard then was how Michael Vaughan's team were getting ever closer to putting some genuine pressure on the world champions Australia before they arrive here in the summer.

The other worry is that apart from five days of wretched performance, England produced some of the most resigned and negative thinking ever seen on a cricket field.

Andrew Flintoff, a glory of England's renaissance, was ordered into a bowling line which would have been dismissed by his great predecessor, Ian Botham, as nothing so much as an outright insult to his ability to claim the wicket of a world-class opponent.

The big fear must be that England, their self-belief fattened on superficially impressive victories against New Zealand and the shattered West Indians, have made only a phantom leap into the highest class. Reaction to stiffening South African resistance at least points to this disturbing possibility.

England were outplayed and out-thought in every phase of the Cape Town action. The South African captain, Graeme Smith, did receive some cutting criticism from England's battery of former captains when his batsmen refused to take suicidal risks against bowling rooted in despair, but he had the reasonable response that his lead was approaching 500 with two days stretching out ahead.

Vaughan, whose own batting is in free fall, correctly points out that England still have everything to play for at 1-1. He says that the last two Tests will see a ferocious restatement of the form and the commitment which made last year such a sustained march away from some of the worst of the nation's cricket history. For the moment he can surely be taken at his word; the light produced by his captaincy may be a little less brilliant after Cape Town, but it is hardly extinguished.

The England coach, Duncan Fletcher, was making similar noises in the Cape dusk but his mood, not surprisingly, was more sombre than at any time last year. Perhaps amid England's drooping body language, he was reminded of the reflections which darkened his brow the last time the Australians were in England. After Steve Waugh's men had retained possession of the Ashes at Trent Bridge, quite imperiously, he was asked what it was about his conquerors that most impressed him.

Now Fletcher's response echoes loudly in the wake of England's defeat and the latest piece of annihilation by the world champions against Pakistan at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Said the coach: "Australia are a fine team, probably the greatest I've ever seen, full of experience and talent and success, but the thing that strikes me most is their enthusiasm, their togetherness, their absolute refusal to become jaded."

Fletcher said how impressive it was to see players such as Steve Waugh and Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist at the ground so full of life and freshness hours before the start of play. "When you are near them you feel the buzz of their anticipation," he said.

It is maybe a point Fletcher might want to make on the journey up to Johannesburg. Winners don't talk about tough schedules, about running out of gas. They keep digging down... and they keep winning.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
News
i100(More than you think)
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Arts and Entertainment
John Hurt will voice Prince Bolkonsky in Radio 4's War and Peace
radioRadio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
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

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?