South Africa vs England second cricket Test: Pressure mounts on Proteas

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way! Oh what fun it is to see England win away!

Under pressure: Hashim Amla.
Under pressure: Hashim Amla. Photo: AP

As the Barmy Army gave Chittagong a miss in 2010, the last time England's supporters were able to sing these words after the opening Test of a series was in Port Elizabeth in December 2004.

The difference was that South -Africa's selectors then soon reinstated their keeper-cum-dynamo Mark Boucher and quickly got their team back on track, because they had a hard core of Graeme Smith, Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock, Dale Steyn and Boucher.

This time, following England's 241-run victory, South Africa are left with 11 players - three of them world-class, yes, but all riddled with doubt - rather than a team.

England had already exposed so many cracks in South Africa's edifice that it collapsed in 100 minutes on the final morning. It was England's second consecutive win at Kingsmead, and South Africa's third biggest home defeat by a run-margin since their readmission in 1992.


Better still for England's pace bowlers, they needed only a short spell each to take South Africa's last six wickets. The break of two days between Tests is the shortest Alastair Cook has known - although it used to be the norm in Australia over New Year - but his bowlers were thus able to spend the rest of the day recovering, instead of climbing stiffly on to the plane to Cape Town ahead of the second Test on Saturday.

Once AB de Villiers had been ripped out in the first over by Moeen Ali - compensation for that missed stumping on the fourth evening - there was no South African equipped to bat out the final day. How they could have done with doughty wicketkeeper BJ Watling, who averages 37 in Tests, and was born in Durban before emigrating to and representing New Zealand.

To stand in for the injured Steyn in Cape Town, the left-arm pace bowler Neil Wagner would make a good replacement, but he too represents New Zealand.

Whether it has been to England, Australia or New Zealand, South Africa have lost a lot of Test cricketers - and in their absence the standard of domestic cricket has sunk because the first-class sides cannot afford to bring in overseas stars.

Moeen bowled very steadily, for little more than two runs an over in the match, whereas his counterpart Dane Piedt conceded more than four. He is gradually acquiring more tricks: taking a split second longer, at the start of his run-up, to visualise exactly where he wants to land the ball; switching from over to round the wicket more often; and not being deterred by batsmen coming after him.

Moeen's seven wickets took his tally to 61 wickets in 20 Tests, a very acceptable rate for a batsman who bowls. If he keeps bringing the run-rate down from 3.5 an over, he might become a bowler who bats.

In the first Test in Antigua in March, the last time England had been in a similar position, Alastair Cook's declaration set West Indies 438 off 130 overs - and they held out. England's off-spinner was James Tredwell, who took one wicket in 40 overs, as Moeen was back home injured.

Yet Nick Compton should have been selected by the television commentators as the man of this match. Shortly after he walked in on day one, England were 12 for two, and Joe Root departed not long afterwards. The pitch was damp, the ball new, Steyn ferocious in intent if not pace. Had Compton gone as well, leaving James Taylor as the last specialist batsman, England could well have sunk and South Africa revived.

Compton did not round off his brilliant defence by stepping up through the gears and scoring a century, with all the psychological brownie points that entails, but this was only his 10th Test and he has a place to cement.

Instead Compton restricted his scoring shots to the very full and the very short ball, and thereby enabled England to fight a second day, when their seamers bowled the length in between. Stuart Broad had three wickets, pegging South Africa back to 100 for three in reply to England's 303, before Moeen struck for the first time.

South Africa's coach, Russell Domingo, offered the argument that only a two-day break will suit South Africa's batsmen more than a week of agonising self-doubt and tinkering of technique. Only he did not offer it with great conviction, as a master-strategist, but as a keen student of the game feeling his way at international level.

For De Villiers to get rid of the gloves, after being forced to keep for 200 overs in the first Test, and pass them over to Quinton de Kock, has to be South Africa's first sensible move. But no such easy solution exists for Steyn's ageing body and Amla's state of mind.

To meet the target - not a mandatory quota but a target - of four players of colour in the national team, that is easily done in Cape Town by replacing Steyn with Kagiso Rabada, who appeared to be a formidable young athlete when he fielded 12th man. De Kock, a strokeplaying left-hander as well as keeper, then replaces Temba Bavuma who was out of his depth - so much so that he fell victim to the first stumping by an England keeper for three years.

But Amla's lack of confidence remains. He began well as a captain but the honeymoon soon ceased. His last Test 50 was almost one year ago; South Africa have not won any of their last seven Tests under his leadership. Uneasy is this head that wears a crown, even if it has a most luxuriant beard.

The Telegraph, London