Cricket: England out of ideas and openers

Next week England depart for Sri Lanka to defend their World Twenty20 title. To have any chance of success they need to improve dramatically on yesterday’s defeat against South Africa which was so comprehensive it is hard to find any aspect of it to be positive about.

From the moment Alex Hales was run-out by Jacques Kallis, a foolish dismissal, the England innings stuttered along like a malfunctioning car until a late burst by Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad pushed it towards mediocre. The average T20 score at Chester-le-Street is 153. England managed 119 and were fortunate to do so. Dale Steyn was impressive, swift, accurate and very difficult to score off. He is the premier fast bowler in the world so that is acceptable.

What was not was the stranglehold that Robin Peterson and Johan Botha put on the innings with eight overs of spin. Neither is a prodigious turner of the ball, nor do they impart so many revolutions on it that it dips late and alarmingly. What they do offer is nagging accuracy but their combined figures of 4-46 make them out to be a mixture of Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan.

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The tyros of England’s middle order – Eoin Morgan, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler – were completely neutered. They lacked coherent plans and failed to generate any momentum by sensible rotation of strike mixed with judicious hitting. They need to develop a strategy to score or else every team they meet in Sri Lanka, where the pitches are more conducive to spin, will select three spinners.

The problem is the absence of Kevin Pietersen. Without him the England order looks very fragile, a situation not helped by the insistence on continuing with Ravi Bopara at first drop.

His personal problems have clearly affected his confidence and he walked to the wicket much in the manner of a man on his way to the gallows. The South Africans were delighted, Steyn charged in, AB de Villiers brought in a slip and inevitably Bopara edged.

The next two matches are very important. They must get some runs and put this South African batting line-up under pressure. They also lost early wickets and another 30 runs would have made the game interesting. But they knew all they had to do after the loss of early wickets was bat calmly to win the match.

They did. They are a settled side and happy. England are neither and it is starting to show on the pitch.