London — Mind the mental gap between England and SA in a Test series that is threatening to veer off the rails for the home side.
SA overcame the absence of Faf du Plessis at Lord’s‚ in happy circumstances‚ and of Kagiso Rabada and Russell Domingo at Trent Bridge‚ both in unhappy circumstances‚ to level matters with two matches to play.
The noise from outside made by Graeme Pollock‚ who has destroyed his greatness by exposing his racism‚ would not have permeated too far into the dressing room. But it would not have helped.
On top of that‚ SA had only four days between Lord’s and Trent Bridge to fix things. Fix them they did‚ following the 211-run hiding they suffered in the first Test with a 340-run thrashing of England in the second.
It was an impressive display of fortitude.
But‚ for now‚ Joe Root’s team are reeling from one ridiculousness to the next.
Apparently‚ in order to give of his best, off-spinner Moeen Ali needs to believe he has been picked as a batsman and is‚ therefore‚ not England’s best slow bowler. Good thing‚ then‚ that he made 87 in the first innings at Lord’s; that would have helped him explain away his match haul of 10/112.
Of course‚ to keep this charade going England need to pick another spinner as a decoy. Liam Dawson’s cover was not quite blown on a turning pitch at Lord’s‚ where he claimed 4/101. But he was left-arm ordinary at Trent Bridge‚ where his 1/68
in 18 overs paled alongside Moeen’s 4/99 in 24 overs.
SA will no doubt be quietly happy if England keep Dawson in the side.
Just as they are probably a touch disappointed that Gary Ballance has been ruled out for the third Test at The Oval on July27 with a broken finger.
Ballance has scored 75 runs in his four innings in the series‚ 34 of them in one trip to the crease‚ and has failed to impose himself on SA’s attack — as a successful No3 has to do.
England should have recognised Ballance’s fate for the mercy it is and picked a player more suited to the role.
Mark Stoneman has scored three half centuries in his last four first-class innings with an unbeaten one-day hundred.
He made two of those 50s opening the batting for the England Lions against SA A in Canterbury in June.
Keaton Jennings batted at No3 in that game and also passed 50 in both innings‚ but Stoneman looked significantly more comfortable in technical and temperament terms.
Jennings has opened in the Test series for scores of eight‚ 33‚ nought and three‚ and has been found as wanting as those figures suggest.
How about Stoneman opening and Jennings coming in at first drop against an older ball and bowlers not as fresh?
That would be too simple an idea for overthinking England‚ who seem determined to wreck what’s left of Jennings’s confidence by continuing to send him out to open.