England under scrutiny as first Test approaches

Cricket

MARTIN JOHNSON

reports from Johannesburg

Johannesburg lies 6,000 feet above sea level, although whether the air in this city is any thinner than England's prospects of making a winning start to the Test series in neighbouring Pretoria on Thursday is a moot point.

After leaving the gas mark nine temperatures of Kimberley, it is no longer possible to boil a kettle on the pavement, but the top of the chairman's head would be a passable alternative. Raymond Illingworth is not a happy man, and spent most of last night saying so at a team meeting in the England hotel.

If a Test series equates to a horse race, England normally have only one leg inside their jodhpurs by the time the opposition is cantering towards the home stretch, and no one knows better than their captain how crucial it is to get away to a decent start.

Michael Atherton has previously been on four overseas tours with England, (Australia 1990/91 and 1994/95, India 1992, West Indies 1993) and on no occasion has he arrived at the venue for the third Test match with the scoreline reading anything other than 0-2.

In fact, when he made his debut against Australia in 1989, he came into the side with England losing 0-3 after four Tests. That was at Trent Bridge, when another current player making his debut was singled out for special praise by Ted Dexter after taking 1 for 166. Malcolm Devon, as he was known then, also got things back to front in Kimberley, and entertaining though his 48 not out might have been, his bowling lacks any spark.

Apart from Angus Fraser's impressive performance in South Africa A's second innings, it was pitiful to see - despite the extreme heat - a so- called international attack unable to bowl to its field, and keep the ball consistently on one side of the wicket.

On good batting pitches, this is as essential as top-order batsmen making sure they cash in after getting a start. England's, to a man, failed to do so, and the batting and bowling in Kimberley mirrored the lack of discipline which has betrayed so many recent England sides. When the going gets tough, England's toughest head for the hammock.

It is enough to make you wonder whether there is any point in England going on tour with batting and bowling coaches. John Edrich virtually had to be gelignited from the crease when he was playing Test cricket, yet during a moment of crisis last Saturday, Graham Thorpe's stumping gave the impression that he had not so much been paying attention to Edrich, as studying charging rhinos at a South African game park.

If it seems a little premature to start fretting before a single Test match delivery has been purveyed, it is because we have seen this script all too often before. If England require an incentive to get their act together, they need only look at the itinerary and try to imagine how much fun the match against Combined Universities at Pietermaritzburg is going to be if they have made a hash of the first three Tests.

Meantime, talking of fun, England are billeted in several square miles of armed fortress known as Sandton City. Complete with 24-hour armed security patrols, closed circuit TV, searchlights, intercoms, and everything bar moat and portcullis, it is a bit like something out of Mad Max.

This place has sprung up because there is nothing more mad than venturing into Johannesburg itself, especially after dark, and entire business complexes are being moved out to Sandton. There, inside one of the hotels, you only have to make a cup of tea in your room to remind yourself why this country is in such a state. Thoughtfully provided, possibly as a hangover from the old days to make the drink more socially acceptable, are sachets of something called "beverage whiteners."

Pakistan routed, page 27

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of Sales, London

£70 - 95K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Milton Keynes

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Bristol

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Head of Sales, Birmingham

£70 - 90K OTE £125K. Plus Car,Private Healthcare and Pension: Charter Selectio...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game