Expect England to say 'same again' but Bopara may be in last-chance saloon

After The Oval debacle, the second Test is now the most important of this team's life

In the bad old days, the sort of defeat that England suffered this week would have supplied a double whammy. First, there would have been calls for blood-letting of immense proportions, which the selectors would then have been only too ready to administer.

What fun it would have been. Journeymen from the shires and young men with a promising aspect would have been summoned to rescue the nation. At least two changes in the team could have been guaranteed and up to five not entirely out of the question.

Those who doubt the old-time liking for wielding the axe in the back should recall the 1989 series against Australia, when drubbing followed drubbing and 29 players were fielded in the series. Or the 1995 series against West Indies, when matters were much more even but England still needed 21 men.

Instead of which, South Africa's victory in the first Test by an innings and 12 runs at The Oval after making an unprecedented total of 637 for 2 is likely to lead to precisely no change whatsoever in England's cast when it is announced tomorrow. The 13 who turned up in London are likely to be invited to make the journey to Leeds for the second, lip-smacking match in the Investec series, with the 11 who mucked up so cataclysmically likely, if not certainly, to be awarded one more cap each.

England have made no excuses about their ineffectual display in the series opener, nor have they tried to conceal the grandeur of their opponents. After losing the first day when onlookers feared for their lives for the rest of the summer, South Africa were relentless. There are concerns now only for one team.

While the selectors will stick with the players who have taken England so far, it is of course a policy that now has a limited shelf life. Were this lot to fail again they really would have to do what selectors are paid to do and select.

The next two matches could define this England team for ever and it is conceivable that it will take only one. As it is, the selectors may have spent several angst-ridden hours wondering whether they got it right.

Whatever has been said, the batting has been a concern all year. Outsmarted by spin in four matches in Asia, it now found itself undermined twice by a beautifully balanced attack whose members recovered from a moderate first day to deliver on all their well-honed research.

Their lines of approach were invariably correct, no better demonstrated than the serious short ball working-over received by Kevin Pietersen from Morne Morkel in the second innings. He has usually found a way of dealing with this throughout his career but it is fair to assume that Pietersen can expect much more of the same with precious little room for front-foot driving from now on.

But Pietersen and, to some extent for now, the rest can look after themselves. It is on Ravi Bopara that attention has been and will be focused. The feeling is that Bopara, twice dismissed to poor shots, has a maximum of four innings to make something of his Test career. James Taylor, of Nottinghamshire, has been waiting around long enough and Bopara is in his fourth guise as an England batsman.

If Bopara will hang on, one of the fast bowlers may not be so lucky. This would not be fair. True, they ran out of ideas last week but it should not always be the bowlers who take the blame, as seems to have become common practice.

There is a clear desire among almost everybody to select Steve Finn in the starting line-up. If the 13 which went to The Oval is again picked, that decision will be left to Andy Flower, the coach, and Andrew Strauss, the captain, as the selectors on the ground.

Bresnan did not have much going for him in the first Test but it would be extremely tough for him to be the only one to pay the price – and on his home ground too. A case could be made for overlooking Stuart Broad, who was the least effective of the seaming trio as South Africa's innings wore on and on. But that moment has not arrived yet.

Nor has that for sweeping change. It is unthinkable that England could be cast aside so remorselessly again but this is the most significant Test of this team's life.

Probable squad

For second Test against South Africa, starting on Thursday at Headingley


Age; Tests

A J Strauss (capt) 35; 98

J M Anderson 29; 71

R S Bopara 27; 13

I R Bell 30; 78

T T Bresnan 27; 15

S C J Broad 26; 48

A N Cook 27; 81

S T Finn 23; 14

G Onions 29; 9

K P Pietersen 32; 87

M J Prior (wkt) 30; 56

G P Swann 33; 45

I J L Trott 31; 32

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home