It has not taken long, three Test matches to be precise, for Michael Vaughan to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and blame the shortcomings of his England side on the domestic game. Michael Atherton and Nasser Hussain were quick to criticise county cricket during their time in charge and after yesterday's embarrassing 191-run defeat by South Africa in the fourth Test, Vaughan also condemned the role it plays in producing international cricketers.
Looking at the eventual size of England's defeat it is hard to believe that this was a Test match in which England had four golden opportunities to win the game. Through fear and the failure to handle the pressure that comes with being in such a situation, England deservedly find themselves 2-1 down in this five-match series with one Test to play at The Oval.
"We are not producing enough players who are mentally tough enough to play Test match cricket," Vaughan said after his side's humbling experience. "You need guys turning up at these matches who are mentally tough and have great attitudes. I am not too sure that our system is allowing this to happen. Situations have arisen in games before and we have not been ruthless enough to take the opportunities.
"If you look back over the years English players have had this laid back kind of attitude. We play so much county cricket that it can get boring. I am not the guy to change things but things do need to be looked at."
County cricket is far from perfect and there are many ways in which it can improve, but blaming it for the fact that bowlers cannot pitch the ball consistently in the right area, or that batsmen keep flirting at balls outside off-stump, is both harsh and wrong. It is also ironic that the majority of his side are centrally contracted and do not play county cricket on a regular basis. Indeed they were as culpable as any for this sorry display.
Whether his paymaster is the England and Wales Cricket Board or Hampshire, each player is responsible for his career and where it ends up. Some players are naturally more gifted than others, but how well they do ultimately comes down to the motivation from within and their desire to be the best.
In an ideal world a county season would consist of 14 four-day games rather than 16, but even so it still gives players with ambition the chance to make it. If this was not the case, other countries would not be as keen to allow their players to play in it. They obviously do not see it as a vehicle which could have a detrimental affect on a cricketer's development.
Good players cannot be produced through pressing a button, it takes hard work. Bowlers only become as consistent as Glenn McGrath, Curtley Ambrose and Shaun Pollock through bowling over after over. The desire to be great made them work hard so that by the time they were called up by their countries they had a grooved action that would not let them down when the pressure was on.
Whether the best way for English bowlers to achieve this is through playing in a county match between Tests or practising is up for debate, but something needs to be done. Absolutely nothing is gained from sitting on your backside for a week and playing on a Playstation.
Sadly, county cricket has far too many cricketers in it who just play at the game. They look good in their flash cars and designer gear and talk a good game, but how many really want to go down as one of England's greats?
There is nothing wrong with people earning a decent wage, and England's centrally contracted players deserve to be well paid, even though it should be more match-fee orientated rather than the lump sum they receive whether they play or not. But there are too many county cricketers whose wage far exceeds their commitment to the job or hunger for success.
Hussain has an obsession with success, and anyone who has witnessed the intensity of his disappointment at getting out could believe the reports that he had broken the big toe on his left foot when kicking the dressing-room wall after being out here. He says the damage was done when he was hit on the foot while batting; what is certain is that he will struggle to be fit for the final Test.
Nobody could question the desire of Graeme Smith's side as they polished England off in just 11.4 overs. At any other ground than here nobody would have been expecting anything other than a comfortable South African win, but more than 8,000 people turned up hoping to witness a miracle.
With Mark Butcher, whose unbeaten 173 against Australia in 2001 is part of the legend, still at the crease, hopes were high. It took only two balls for the dream to be shattered. After clipping the first ball of the day for four, Butcher edged a beauty from Jacques Kallis to Andrew Hall at first slip where a comfortable catch was taken.
In Kallis's next over the swing bowler dismissed Andrew Flintoff with a delivery that bounced and left him off this unreliable pitch, the ball after he brought up his fifty. Though Flintoff looked dejected he has again been England's most inspirational figure. At a time when Vaughan needs good men around him it would be a wise decision to make the Lancashire all-rounder England's official vice-captain.
Through dismissing Martin Bicknell and Kabir Ali, Kallis returned career best figures of 6 for 54 and the outstanding match analysis of of 9 for 92, but it was fitting that Gary Kirsten took the winning catch. For it was the 11 hours and 10 minutes that this dogged left-hander spent at the crease and the 190 runs he scored which won this game for South Africa.
Kirsten, like most outside the England dressing room, agreed the this game changed the moment Butcher and Marcus Trescothick came off for bad light on Friday evening.
"I believe the little break we had for bad light was the crucial moment of the Test match," the man of the match said. "It gave us the opportunity to get re-focused.
"This has not been a good ground for us in the past, but the lesson is that even if you fail a lot you can still come back and achieve success."
South Africa won the toss
ENGLAND - Seconnd innings
M E Trescothick c Gibbs b Ntini 4
M P Vaughan c Gibbs b Kallis 21
M A Butcher c Hall b Kallis 61
N Hussain lbw b Kallis 6
E T Smith c Smith b Hall 7
A J Stewart c Boucher b Ntini 7
A Flintoff c Hall b Kallis 50
M P Bicknell c Boucher b Kallis 15
Kabir Ali c Kirsten b Kallis 9
R J Kirtley c Kirsten b Hall 11
J M Anderson not out 0
Extras (lb9, w2, nb7) 18
Total (269min, 61.4 overs) 209
Fall: 1-11 (Trescothick), 2-44 (Vaughan), 3-62 (Hussain), 4-81 (Smith), 5-95 (Stewart), 6-169 (Butcher), 7-182 (Flintoff), 8-189 (Bicknell), 9-206 (Kabir Ali), 10-209 (Kirtley).
Bowling: Ntini 11-2-40-2 (nb4) (7-2-22-1 4-0-18-1); Hall 21.4-3-64-2 (w1) (6-0-13-0 5-0-13-1 10.4-3-38-1); Pretorius 9-3-27-0 (6-1-18-0 3-2-9-0); Kallis 17-4-54-6 (9-2-20-2 8-2-34-4); Zondeki 3-0-15-0 (nb3, w1) (one spell).
Progress: Fourth day: tea 39-1 (Vaughan 20, Butcher 7) 12 overs. 50: 76 mins, 17.4 overs. 100: 156 mins, 35.1 overs. 150: 205 mins, 46.1 overs. Close 165-5 (Butcher 57, Flintoff 45) 50 overs. Fifth day: 200: 258 mins, 59 overs. Innings closed 11.34am.
Butcher 50: 154 mins, 107 balls, 5 fours. Flintoff 50: 80 mins, 61 balls, 8 fours.
SOUTH AFRICA WON BY 191 RUNS
Umpires: B F Bowden and S J A Taufel
TV Replay Umpire: P Willey
Match Referee: R S Madugalle
Man of the match: G KirstenReuse content