The selection of Darren Pattinson at Headingly was hard to understand and unsettled the England team. That's in the past now and England find themselves 1-0 down in a series that is as tough and competitive as it promised to be.
The national selectors have returned to their senses this week and made some intelligent decisions. Steve Harmison deserved his re-call after a strong return to county cricket. His omission from the team is understandable considering Ryan Sidebottom’s return.
England have opted to fall back on the "six batsmen, four bowlers" strategy. This is a positive move, especially in a test match in which England need to restore pride after a very average performance last week.
203 in the first innings was never going to be enough to compete with South Africa and it put the tired bowlers under immense pressure. England need to ensure they'll score runs in excess of the 400 necessary to keep them in the game, so a front six looks like a better prospect. A lower middle order of the returning Collingwood, Flintoff, and Ambrose seems a stronger and more balanced unit.
There is no doubt that Michael Vaughan is under pressure with the bat, yet he’s been in this position before.
Vaughan is a class act. He is going through a dip in form, but will come back as he always does. Remember that he "had hit rock bottom" in the 2005 Ashes before stroking a silky 166 in the third test, showing that he is England’s best "classical" batsman.
If England are to win the Ashes next summer, they need Vaughan at the helm. His experience and innovative fields will be key.
And who else is there to take over? Strauss is also going through an up-and-down patch, Collingwood is also searching for form and, for the moment test captaincy would distract Pietersen from his main job.
With the Ball
As for the bowling, there have been some concerns about how ready Flintoff is to take the burden in a four-man attack. The combination of Sidebottom, Anderson, Flintoff, and Panesar is an exciting one and if they fire it will cause problems offering plenty of variety and bite.
Crucial to England’s chances is the pitch. If it’s a slow turner, as expected, Monty Panesar will play a key role, and could well be the difference between the sides. Don’t forget that Collingwood’s contributions on a slow wicket could be more than useful, too.
As for South Africa, confidence will be high after the win last week, but the loss of Dale Steyn is a blow. Andre Nel is an experienced campaigner but Steyn had a valuable hold over the England captain, and his swing at pace will be missed.
Finally, the omission of Stuart Broad, in my view, is sensible. Bowling wise he looked tired and drained at Headingly after the long sessions in the field at Lords. He is still young and will become a more skillful and hostile bowler.
One would think that with his impressive batting he will eventually be a natural replacement for Collingwood as a batting all-rounder at No. 6. He is a great prospect and the selectors are right to protect him. The break will do him no harm.
I tip England to find some form on a ground where they have traditionally done well.
Those are my thoughts. What are yours? Do you see England coming back to draw, or even win this series? How will the four-man bowling attack fare?
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