In a sharply candid assessment of England's status in Test cricket, their captain admitted yesterday that they were not good enough. It must have been a difficult verdict for Andrew Strauss to deliver following their innings and 74-run defeat by South Africa in the fourth Test, but he got no arguments.
A wonderful Test series, which served throughout as a powerful advertisement for the most durable and alluring form of the game, ended at 1-1, an outcome that South Africa thoroughly merited after their dominance of three of the four matches.
Until the end, England hung on grimly, displaying resilience and enough conviction to carry them through. But they were overwhelmed at the last by fast bowling of the highest order from Dale Steyn, the best bowler in the world, and his henchman, Morne Morkel. England were all out for 169 in their second innings on the stroke of lunch yesterday.
"We're not good enough at this stage, that's the simple answer," said Strauss.
"We have shown resilience and we have shown we can be a hard side to beat, which are important attributes to have, but we're not clinical enough and we're not consistent enough and that's been a trait of this team for quite some time now. We need to look at the reasons why that is. Are we adapting to match conditions well enough, are our game plans right for different bowlers? We need to keep improving but there is a lot to be excited about for the future."
England will name their squad today for their tour of Bangladesh next month. Strauss will not be able to implement any changes because he is almost certain to take a rest after a tough first year as captain. Alastair Cook will lead the side in his stead and it is possible that Paul Collingwood and Jimmy Anderson will also be rested.
From the first ball of the match which dismissed Strauss, England were outplayed at the Wanderers. They also allowed themselves to become needlessly embroiled in a fuss over the merits of the Decision Review System after Graeme Smith was given not out to a catch behind on 15 in South Africa's innings and went on to make 105. So upset were the tourists that they lodged a formal complaint with the International Cricket Council in which they asked, bizarrely, for their lost referral request to be reinstated. The ICC has promised a full investigation into the DRS, which, far from failing, was largely effective in the series.
It was certainly unconnected to England being outplayed. The match lasted 209.4 overs, only 91.4 were faced by England in two innings.
"They were three and a half pretty frustrating days for us," said Strauss. "When you lose four wickets in the first hour of a Test match it's always going to be hard to drag it back. South Africa never let us back in the game. Steyn and Morkel were excellent on this wicket and we were below par. We didn't play as well as we should have done and it is a disappointing end to the tour.
"You don't want to lose sight of the fact that it has been a very successful tour and we have made improvements over the 10 weeks we've been here. But we need to get better."
Smith, South Africa's captain, said: "We could easily be sitting here 3-1 up. We couldn't deliver the knockout blow in two of the matches but England showed great resilience. But we really dominated this game, and came out deserved winners."
In an aside at England's handling of the DRS row, Smith said: "We felt England spent so much time and energy on that stuff that it really allowed us to focus on our cricket." And how they did.