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Long live the King


So that’s it. After a year of uneasily wearing the crown, England have lost its status of being the number one Test team to South Africa. Much though it pains me as an Englishman to say it, the Saffers were the better team and deserved to win. We can’t really complain about that.
On the field, England was outplayed – albeit only comprehensively so in the first Test, after which they were always playing catch-up. The difference between the two sides could be seen in England’s poor fielding – nine dropped catches in three Tests is poor by anyone’s standards and England really need to look at their fielding. Jimmy Anderson’s dropping of AB de Villiers, who went on to share a crucial 95-run stand with Hashim Amla in South Africa’s second innings at Lord’s, was an example of how the best do not give second chances.
Now that Andrew Strauss has led England to a home series defeat, questions that were muted in April are now being asked out loud. A key question relates to his and Andy Flower’s tactical conservatism in terms of not just using four front-line bowlers but sticking to that after the innings defeat at the Oval.
Although the four-bowler approach worked last year against Australia and India, it clearly did not against South Africa, who themselves used five front-line bowlers without any obvious detriment to their (admittedly superior) batting line-up – and while we’re on that subject, it’s worth noting that AB de Villiers’ assumption of wicket-keeping duties does not appear to have rocked the boat as much as some people, myself included, thought it might.
In the bowling department, the shortcomings of the four-man approach were exacerbated by the fact that Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad looked out of form, while the dropping of Graeme Swann for the second Test was just odd. 
A fifth bowler could be accommodated by moving wicket-keeper Matt Prior to six – which in itself would be logical as England’s man of the series has actually batted at six before (in 2009, the last time Strauss used five bowlers).With the emergence of Johnny Bairstow as a promising batsman at Test level, this would give England a KP-less top six that, on paper at least, looks okay.
As for the Pietersen debacle, that’s another article in itself. 
Where does this leave Strauss? Well, a combination of tactical failure and poor form with the bat means that the knives are out but he’s not in danger yet. Note my use of the word ‘yet’. His next task will be to lead England in India and as spin bowling is a well-known weakness of his we can expect further questions to be asked of his batting. I still predict that he’ll be in charge for the Ashes next year, but if England have another rotten winter that may change.
One final point, about the last day at Lord’s: Although the situation looked pretty hopeless, I was very impressed that England were prepared to go for the win rather than play for the draw, which made for one of the most thrilling days of cricket I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing – especially the Prior-Swann partnership which, for just a fleeting moment, gave us England fans a glimmer of hope and reminded us why we love cricket. 
I really don’t see how the five-match ODI series and the three Twenty20 games that follow can be more exciting.

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