Six things we learned from England v South Africa

England’s top order is still fragile…

The hosts came into the series with questions marks over positions two, three and five, and despite winning 3-1 those question marks are still very much there. Keaton Jennings was fortunate to average 15.87 having been dropped on numerous occasions and will surely be replaced for the next Test. Mark Stoneman is thought to be next in line having had an excellent summer so far with Surrey. Neither Tom Westley nor Gary Ballance have done enough to nail down the number three spot, though Westley will surely start the upcoming series against the West Indies.

Jonny Bairstow played the first two Tests at five and ended it at seven, where his Test average is noticeably better. Dawid Malan managed only 35 runs in four innings, but with Ballance still returning from injury it’s likely he will get another go. The usual suspects had the highest batting averages – Root, Bairstow, Stokes, Ali and Cook, showing how England continue to rely on these five to score the majority of the teams runs. If England wish to seriously challenge Australia this winter they need to sort out at least two of the aforementioned question marks during the West Indies series.

…as is South Africa’s 

South Africa have many of the same problems – only one reliable opener, confusion over the balance of the side and batting order, and over-reliance on certain individuals. Heino Kuhn looked out of his depth, averaging a mere 14.12 over the series. Quinton de Kock started the series impressively at seven, was shunted up to four where he struggled, and by the last Test he was down at six and looking out of sorts.

JP Duminy may finally have been dropped for good but there are still questions over the balance of the side, with Theunis de Bruyn unable to impress. Dean Elgar was the only South African to score a hundred in the series – captain du Plessis, Amla and Bavuma scored seven fifties between them but were unable to convert. Changes are to be expected for the next Test at home to Bangladesh in September.

Moeen Ali is definitely NOT England’s number two spinner

It feels a long time ago that Liam Dawson was bizarrely selected as England’s lead spinner for the first two Tests. Coach Trevor Bayliss publicly stated that Moeen was England’s second spinner – possibly to take the pressure off him, but even so it was a strange comment to make when Mo is so clearly the best spinner England have right now.

He proved that beyond any doubt in this series, becoming the first spinner from any country to score at least 250 runs (252 runs at 36) and take at least 25 wickets (25 wickets at 15.64) in a four-match Test series. He took full advantage of the Lord’s bunsen burner and took vital wickets in the other matches, as well as making crucial half-centuries at Lord’s and Old Trafford. He was considered a key player before the start of the series, now he is indispensable and England need to look after him ahead of this winter’s Ashes.

Six bowlers is overkill

Another confusing aspect of the Liam Dawson selection was that he was chosen in place of a batsmen, leaving England looking light in the top order and giving new captain Joe Root a headache as he looked to balance his bowling attack. The fitness concerns of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes may have been a factor in the decision, but with these three fit and firing there’s no need for more than five frontline bowlers.

Mark Wood struggled as the third seamer during the first two Tests before succumbing to injury. Step forward Toby Roland-Jones, who took a fiver on debut and a total of ten wickets across the two games, while also showing he doesn’t need cloudy conditions to be effective. His batting was also useful and he looks nailed on to board the plane to Australia. Anderson and Broad were their usual talismanic selves and need to be fit to lead the attack this winter. Speaking of which…

James Anderson is still at the top of his game

There was some talk in the media leading into the series that this could be Anderson’s last English summer. If that proves to be the case then he’ll be bowing out on a high, having taken 20 wickets at an average of 14 this series. He offered superb control as ever and most importantly has kept himself fit, after suffering from injuries both last summer and earlier in the current season.

He is still very much the leader of the attack and is likely to reach 500 Test wickets if he plays all three matches against the West Indies. His opening bowling partner Broad only took 11 wickets but still bowled some excellent spells and offered excellent control, going for less than three an over. If the West Indies series goes to form there’s a chance that at least one of them will be rested at some point.

The recent one-sided Tests series were not an anomaly

The margins of victory in this series were all significant: 211 runs, 340 runs, 239 runs and 177 runs. It was a similar story last summer – the closest match saw Pakistan beat England by 75 runs – and all five Ashes Tests in 2015 were one-sided. Another feature of these four series is that only one match has been won by the team batting last. The pattern of the team batting second being unable to respond to scoreboard pressure is now well-established and is slightly worrying going forward, as Test cricket battles for public attention.

Such a lack of close matches is undoubtedly bad for Test cricket and there’s no sign that the situation will improve, as white-ball cricket’s influence grows ever stronger. The shorter matches are also bad for host grounds, with fourth day tickets becoming an ever-increasing risk for the fan. Hopefully West Indies will spring a surprise and give us some tight, tense matches over the coming weeks.

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