ANY remaining euphoria associated with being the world’s top Test team seeped away this week when England ceded that status to South Africa. A first home series defeat since 2008 followed two difficult tours and adds to the pressure on Andrew Strauss to raise their game again. What lies ahead, however, is a frankly difficult build-up to next summer’s Ashes, including a tricky winter tour to India – hardly a happy previous hunting ground.
England will admit they deserved to lose the series, and their title, to South Africa, a similarly talented and experienced side but who performed better throughout. Of course, England played the decisive third and final Test without Kevin Pietersen, dropped over his text message indiscretions, among other issues. But would his presence have saved the match, given only 51 runs split the teams? No. The difference was in the bowling attacks, and England’s wasn’t sharp enough. That’s not to say the episode didn’t affect the team, however. Strauss, and to an extent Alastair Cook, must have been hugely distracted by the ongoing row.
One factor in England’s decline has been the effectiveness of Graeme Swann, whose spin the opposition seem to have learned how to face better. Another thing they lack is a batting all-rounder, like Jacques Kallis. Perhaps Stuart Broad could be improved and bumped up the order.
Either way, India will pose another stern challenge and England could find themselves fighting even to hold onto second place in the rankings.
Andy Lloyd is a former England Test cricketer who captained Warwickshire.