Valuable lessons for Vaughan's team as individuals build England success

Angus Fraser
Thursday 27 January 2005 01:00
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Michael Vaughan's indomitable side were entitled to party long into the night after their 2-1 series victory in South Africa. Winning here is a major achievement, and England's players had every right to celebrate their success in style.

To many this performance - Australia are the only other side to have won in South Africa since their readmission to international cricket in 1991 - is proof that England are now ready to regain the Ashes during the summer of 2005.

But in truth England have not played very well during this five-Test series. To win when you are not functioning to your full potential is a good sign but England, who still have seven one-day internationals to play, will return home in 18 days' time looking more vulnerable than they did before they arrived in this continent eight weeks ago.

There were several outstanding contributions from key individuals during the last six weeks but it was these, rather than a good all-round team effort, which earned England their success. And during periods of play when Andrew Strauss, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Flintoff and Matthew Hoggard failed to perform, England looked pretty ragged.

Poor selection, along with a lack of belief, prevented South Africa exploiting these lapses and these were the principle reasons why England were allowed to get back into Test matches they had no right to be involved in.

Strauss confirmed that he is a player of the highest class and deserved to win the Man-of-the-Series award. Many questioned whether the opener would be able to maintain the wonderful form he showed during the summer of 2004. But after scoring three centuries and 656 runs in the series - the eighth highest by an England batsman abroad - Strauss is now regarded as one of the leading batsmen in the world.

Australia's fast bowlers, Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, will attempt to expose a slight weakness in the left-hander's technique during the summer by angling the ball across him from close to the stumps. But they also know that Strauss will punish them if they do not get it right.

Marcus Trescothick had his most productive tour to date, scoring two centuries and averaging 45. Strauss and Graham Thorpe were the only other England batsmen to reach three figures, exposing the South Africans' problems with bowling at left-handers.

Yet England's right-handers struggled against the accuracy of Shaun Pollock and the hostility of Makhaya Ntini. During 33 innings in the series Robert Key, Vaughan, Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones - England's numbers three, four, six and seven - scored only 841 runs at an average of 28.

Australia's pacemen will provide these four players with the same problems as Pollock and Ntini but McGrath, Gillespie and Michael Kasprowicz also bowl a lot better at left-handers.

Key probably did enough in the final three Test matches to merit selection against Bangladesh at the start of the summer, but the Kent opener needs to score runs if he is to resist the challenge of Ian Bell, and possibly Kevin Pietersen.

The bowling was dominated by Hoggard and Flintoff, who shared 49 wickets and claimed at least one scalp in every South African innings. England have been wanting Hoggard to be their "Mr Dependable" for three or four years and in the last 12 months he has begun to fill this role.

The swing bowler struck with the new ball on most occasions and bowled superbly at Graeme Smith, the South African captain. The powerful left-hander pulverised Vaughan's attack on South Africa's 2003 tour of England and a lot was expected of him in this series. But he failed to cope with Hoggard, whose in-swing dismissed him on four occasions.

But the highlight of the Yorkshireman's tour came on a sunny afternoon at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. England made a speculative declaration on the final morning of the fourth Test and asked South Africa to bat out the last 68 overs of the game.

In South Africa's first innings England's bowling had been awful and the draw looked inevitable. But Hoggard had other ideas, and he proceeded to produce one of the finest displays seen by an England swing bowler. The 28-year-old claimed the first six South African wickets before returning to finish the match off with eight overs and three balls remaining.

Flintoff took three wickets less than Hoggard in the series but his input was just a valuable. The Lancashire all-rounder spent most of the series being patched up by the England physiotherapist and he showed enormous heart with the ball in his hand. But this is something we have come to expect from Flintoff. There is nothing the 27-year-old would not do for the team and in the final Test he produced possibly the finest bowling display of his career.

The overs have taken their toll, though, and every England supporter will be hoping that Flintoff recovers fully from the heel operation he is about to have and is ready to take on the Australians in July.

If England are to regain the Ashes they will need Stephen Harmison back at his best. The fast-bowler has had a miserable tour and was a victim of the ridiculous schedule.

The England management refuses to accept any fault but the team's preparation for this tour, and an itinerary of five back to back Test matches, was unacceptable. Spectators and television viewers deserve to see players performing at their best but this is virtually impossible when a side has only one warm-up game before a Test series and no chance of addressing problems once it starts.

Harmison finished the series limping with a suspected calf strain and at loggerheads with the England hierarchy. The 26-year-old would like to return to England with his best mate Flintoff, but Vaughan and Duncan Fletcher want him to stay. The next week, like the previous six, could be very interesting.

MEMORABLE MOMENTS OF A MAGICAL TEST TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA

By Angus Fraser

BEST BOWLING SPELL

Matthew Hoggard's 7 for 61 at the Wanderers in Johannesburg. A great display of swing bowling.

BEST INNINGS

Jacques Kallis's 162 in Durban. Technically it was perfect. Marcus Trescothick's 180 in Johannesburg was not far behind.

BEST SHOT

Trescothick's swipe at Kallis in Johannesburg. It ended up on the grass bank 20 yards over deep mid-wicket.

BEST CATCH

The diving one-handed catch A B de Villiers took to dismiss Trescothick in Durban.

HUMBLE PIE

Geoffrey Boycott spent most of the first Test in Port Elizabeth slating the bowling of Simon Jones on BBC's Radio 5. And even when Jones began taking wickets in the second innings he refused to back down. Eventually, the former England opener said that the South Africans were deliberately getting out to Jones to keep him in the side.

WASTE OF A DAY OFF

On a rare day off Andrew Flintoff chose to go game fishing in Cape Town. But the swell did not agree with the Lancastrian's delicate stomach and he spent the entire trip throwing up over the side of the boat.

MAN FOR MAN HOW ENGLAND'S PLAYERS PERFORMED

MICHAEL VAUGHAN

6 out of 10

To guide your team to a series win in South Africa is a major achievement but the England captain only contributed with the bat in one Test match.

MARCUS TRESCOTHICK

8 out of 10

Two magnificent hundreds in Durban and Johannesburg allowed the opener to have his best tour yet. Caught well at first slip too.

ANDREW STRAUSS

9 out of 10

England's star performer (pictured right). The opener top scored in six of his side's 10 innings. Is he a great in the making or a very good player in form? Australia will show.

MARK BUTCHER

4 out of 10

A defiant 79 in the first Test suggested that he may keep the young thrusters at bay. But a wrist injury ended his tour and there may be no way back.

ROBERT KEY

5 out of 10

Modern tours are not designed for back up players but Key performed admirably considering his lack of cricket. Played two good innings but the soft dimissals remain.

GRAHAM THORPE

6 out of 10

Never appeared in form but scrapped well in Durban and Centurion. The 35-year-old is beginning to look old in the field. Will he survive the summer?

ANDREW FLINTOFF

7 out of 10

A mixed tour. Immense with the ball but generally disappointing with the bat. It is crucial England get him fully fit for the Ashes this summer.

GERAINT JONES

5 out of 10

England's wicketkeeper played a couple of decent innings but he needs to score more runs. The waywardness of the bowlers tested him but he dropped three important catches. Needs to sharpen up.

ASHLEY GILES

6 out of 10

Claimed a couple of important wickets and scored valuable runs batting at No 8. The spinner did not have a lot to do but what he did, he did well.

MATTHEW HOGGARD

8 out of 10

The swing bowler won this series for England with his 7 for 61 at the Wanderers. But he also took wickets in every other innings. This is the Hoggard we want to see.

SIMON JONES

7 out of 10

The Glamorgan fast bowler had a good tour. Jones was underused at times by Vaughan and did not bowl with great pace but he showed greater control than before. The 26-year-old needs to combine both.

STEPHEN HARMISON

3 out of 10

The major disappointment of this tour. Never found a rhythm but kept running in. England will need him firing if they are to have any chance of winning the Ashes.

JAMES ANDERSON

3 out of 10

Poor Jimmy. The Lancashire seamer had not bowled in a match for six weeks before being picked in the fourth Test, where he got smashed. He needs to return to county cricket and bowl. Only then will he regain form and confidence.

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