It has been difficult to judge which part of England's method has been most defective in the Second npower Test. The initial batting was woeful, the bowling was wretched and the catching became extinct.
In some ways these are glad tidings for the new captain, Michael Vaughan. There is only one way to go from here. When Vaughan and England had last played at Lord's only three weeks ago, they had pulverised these tourists in the NatWest Series final, and he might have assumed that the hardest bit of captaincy was not dropping the trophy over the dressing-room balcony. That is the other good news: that prospect will probably not be bothering him imminently.
By the time South Africa had declared their first innings at 682 for 6 shortly after tea yesterday they led by 509 runs. It is the largest deficit that England have conceded in all Test matches, as well as South Africa's highest total. If this makes it sound as though only one team were playing cricket out there, that is not a bad call.
Graeme Smith, South Africa's remarkable captain, will almost certainly find that the game has its revenge one day. But yesterday he took his score to 259 and his tally of runs for the rubber to 621 in three innings.
England, left with the best part of seven sessions to bat to save the match, had bowled slightly better than in the previous two days. In this case, that is saying something. Their fielding, however, was awful.
South Africa have taken every advantage that has been offered, and surely only their own lack of bowling resources - as well as a monumental effort by the home team - can prevent their taking a 1-0 lead in the series.
England might try to resist changes on the grounds that continuity is still king, there are no worthwhile options, and knee-jerk reactions never work. But for the second Test in succession they have been outplayed and outclassed.
Their cricket has been as lamentable as it is possible to imagine for a side playing at home against a touring team supposed to be an even match. England supporters, who have filled the ground on the first three days, can have been thankful therefore only that the opposition were not superior.
The tone was set by the ill-considered batting on the first day, which took no account of the conditions, the type of ball that was being delivered at any particular point, or the state of the game. It was careless to the point of negligence.
This was then complemented in every regard by the bowling and the fielding, both of which betrayed ineptitude and lack of confidence, a combination which can usually be relied on to inflict terminal damage on a team's aspirations. A few days ago, Vaughan might have thought he had inherited a team who required only patience and tinkering to improve.
Unfortunately, the performance in this match, allied to that at Edgbaston, indicates that he might have been given a dodgy second-hand car. On the surface, it looks shipshape and Bristol fashion, but when one part goes another falls off immediately.
There were insufficient chances created for England to spurn those that came along. But spurn them they did, as if they were cakes on Test Match Special, and another one would be along soon.
Three catches went begging yesterday, one at shoulder height to Ashley Giles in the first-slip position, one to Mark Butcher low at second slip, and one between Giles and the wicketkeeper Alec Stewart. Giles hardly fields at slip for Warwickshire, an observation that might have been thought pertinent when it was first made in May at the moment he put down one against Zimbabwe, but which those in the dressing rooms of power clearly thought insignificant. Butcher was transgressing for the second time in the match.
The unfortunate victim of two of the blunders, three in the innings in all, was Andrew Flintoff. It is to his credit that he shrugged his shoulders and got on with the job. But his face was wreathed in a bemused kind of ecstasy when at last he took a wicket - his first in Tests for a year - as Stewart took a regulation offering. It was as if Flintoff could not quite remember what this moment was like, but knew it was supposed to be pleasant.
In addition to the catches, Stewart missed a difficult stumping chance against Smith, as the South Africa captain sashayed down the track and the ball brushed his pads. It went on to strike Stewart in the eye, his gloves being some distance away. Anthony McGrath briefly took over his duties, which made him one of the few players to have both bowled and kept wicket on the same day of a Test.
This litany of avoidable errors meant that four of the first five batsmen in the South African order had been given lives, in Smith's case two and in Dippenaar's three. The most expensive was probably the first: Smith was dropped at cover point by Nasser Hussain when he was eight on Thursday afternoon. He made another 251.
Not much of this should demean the endeavours of South Africa and their unfeasibly young and accomplished captain. Together they sensed that England had fragilities, and exposed them.
Smith was relatively becalmed yesterday. For once, he did not look like a man who craved runs, as if he was a glutton on whom it had suddenly dawned that some abstinence might be in order. This clearly must be England's plan: tire him out by letting him bat for two days and then pounce.
He was bowled by Anderson in the fast bowler's first over of the day 10 minutes before lunch, having added 45 to his overnight score. His aggregate for the series is now 621. Only Wally Hammond (638 against Australia and New Zealand in 1937) and Don Bradman (625 against England in 1934) have made a greater total of runs in three consecutive innings.
A measure of Smith's achievement lies in another, hypothetical statistic: if he was dismissed for nought in each of seven possible innings he has remaining in the series, he would still have an average of 62. And England would probably have won, with Vaughan on the verge of a knighthood.
When Smith was eventually out, South Africa were 513 for three. They made another 169 runs for the loss of three more wickets and batted on until 15 minutes after tea. Dippenaar fell eight runs short of his third Test hundred, an effort notable for its diligence, though for neither style nor content. Mark Boucher's 68 from 51 balls was precisely what was required. How it must have got up England's pipe at that stage in the interminable proceedings.
All they wanted to do was go off and try to save the match, or go home, and here was South Africa's wicketkeeper prolonging the agony. That can have been the sole reason for Smith deciding not to declare at tea.
With such a commanding lead and more than two days at his disposal to bowl out England for the second time, he could afford the gesture. In short, England had to bat for 216 overs to save the game, which is 43 overs more than they made runs on the first day.
South Africa won toss
England - First innings
M E Trescothick b Ntini 6
M P Vaughan c sub (McKenzie) b Ntini 33
M A Butcher c Hall b Pollock 19
N Hussain b Hall 14
A McGrath c Kirsten b Hall 4
A J Stewart c Adams b Ntini 7
A Flintoff c Adams b Ntini 11
A F Giles c Pollock b Hall 7
D Gough c Adams b Pollock 34
S J Harmison b Ntini 0
J M Anderson not out 21
Extras (b5, lb3, w1, nb3, pens5) 17
Total (48.4 overs, 234 min) 173
Fall: 1-11 (Trescotchick), 2-35 (Butcher), 3-73 (Hussain), 4-77 (McGrath), 5-85 (Vaughan), 6-96 (Stewart), 7-109 (Giles), 8-112 (Flintoff), 9-118 (Harmison), 10-173 (Gough).
Bowling: Pollock 14.4-5-28-2 (nb1) (9-4-10-1 2-1-9-0 3.4-0-9-1), Ntini 17-3-75-5 (w1) (6-1-41-1 10-2-28-4 1-0-6-0), Pretorius 4-0-20-0 (nb2) (one spell), Hall 10-4-23-3 (4-1-6-2 6-3-17-1), Adams 3-0-19-0 (one spell).
Progress: First day: 50: 62 min, 12.5 overs. Lunch: 94-5 (Stewart 5, Flintoff 4) 25 overs. 100: 141 min, 28.4 overs. 150: 221 min, 45.3 overs. Innings closed 3.17pm.
South Africa - First innings
G C Smith b Anderson 259
H H Gibbs b Harmison 49
G Kirsten b McGrath 108
H H Dippenaar c Butcher b Giles 92
J A Rudolph c Stewart b Flintoff 26
M V Boucher b Anderson 68
S M Pollock not out 10
A J Hall not out 6
Extras (b25, lb21, w5, nb13) 64
Total (for 6 dec, 177 overs, 748 min) 682
Fall: 1-133 (Gibbs), 2-390 (Kirsten), 3-513 (Smith), 4-580 (Rudolph), 5-630 (Dippenaar), 6-672 (Boucher).
Did not bat: P R Adams, D Pretorius, M Ntini.
Bowling: Gough 28-3-127-0; Anderson 27-6-90-2; Harmison 22-3-103-1; Flintoff 40-10-115-1; Giles 43-5-142-1; Butcher 6-1-19-0; McGrath 11-0-40-1.
Progress: First day: 50: 57 min, 12.5 overs. 100: 117 min, 26.2 overs. 150: 178 min, 40.4 overs. Close 151-1 (Smith 80, Kirsten 9) 41 overs.
Second day: rain delayed start until 12 noon (min 87 overs). 200: 222 min, 50.1 overs. Lunch 216-1 (Smith 116, Kirsten 29) 59 overs. 250: 286 min, 67.2 overs. New ball taken after 80.2 overs at 285-1. 300: 345 min, 83 overs. Tea 337-1 (Smith 178, Kirsten 84) 90 overs. 350: 391 min, 93.5 overs. 400: 449 min, 107 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.46pm.
Smith 50: 100 min, 79 balls, 8 fours. 100: 207 min, 155 balls, 16 fours. 150: 345 min, 239 balls, 19 fours. 200: 424 min, 287 balls, 27 fours. Kirsten 50: 127 min, 108 balls, 7 fours. 100: 269 min, 229 balls, 14 fours.
England - Second innings
M E Trescothick c Adams b Ntini 23
M P Vaughan c Pollock b Hall 29
M A Butcher not out 33
N Hussain not out 36
Extras (b3, w1, nb4) 8
Total (for 2, 36 overs) 129
Fall: 1-52 (Vaughan), 2-60 (Trescothick)
To bat: A McGrath, AJ Stewart, A Flintoff, AF Giles, D Gough, SJ Harmison, JM Anderson.
Bowling: Pollock 7-2-9-0; Ntini 13-1-71-1; Hall 9-2-26-1; Adams 7-1-20-0.
Umpires: D Hair (Aus) and S Bucknor (WI). TV replay: P Willey (Eng). Match referee: R Madugalle (SL).Reuse content