England's status as the world's top Test side is moving rapidly from being an albatross round their neck to a joke. If they lose to South Africa in the second Test, which starts on Thursday, those troubles at least will be over, because they will no longer be No 1. As Graeme Swann, part of the battered XI from the first Test, said yesterday on whether the side had been affected by their status: "For some people it may be a massive thing, it may have changed their way of thinking going into the game. But I don't think as a unit it has affected us.
"But I can't deny the fact that since we've been No 1 we've got a dismal record. Whether that goes hand in hand with being No 1 I don't really know, you need someone more qualified with the workings of the human mind.
"We're not doing anything differently. Perhaps that's it, perhaps we're not evolving quickly enough. Perhaps teams are hunting us down more, seeing us as a real threat now rather than maybe underestimating us before, I don't know."
It is difficult to be optimistic about England's chances this week, though folly to dismiss them. They are aware that this match and the one after it will dictate their real stock in the world. Swann said of The Oval defeat: "It was like an old kick up the arse. It was a sort of public humiliation by the end of it, fielding that long and then getting skittled afterwards."
Swann had his least successful match with figures of 0 for 151, though rebuffed the notion he was debilitated by an injury to his right elbow, which required a cortisone injection. It may need a second operation. "That is my worst fear at the minute," he said.
Swann thinks England can come back, though maybe based on hope not expectation. "I am an eternal optimist and I think if we viewed last week in black and white then we're screwed and we have got no chance. But I don't see it like that, I see it as we can't possibly play as badly again." South Africa may have something to say about that as well.Reuse content