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Nixon column: England must learn when to soak up pressure

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

By Paul Nixon

While the second Test couldn’t have gone much worse for England, and the team aren’t on the best of runs, I still think the players have the ability to get back on track in this series.

We won convincingly at Lord’s but remember that South Africa had a couple of wickets that were no balls and England could have easily been 80-5 at one stage then. That, of course, suggests that there are problems, but I think we need to give more credit to the visitors.

Their bowling attack is the best in the world, and that victory at Trent Bridge was without Kagiso Rabada remember! Keshav Maharaj bowled very well, and it was clever what he did. It’s something our spinners can learn from.

We are all right bowling spin when it turns, but we don’t do well when it doesn’t. We have to learn how to do that. Liam Dawson was attacked by Hashim Amla because he bowls middle stump line – great when it spins but you leave yourself vulnerable when it doesn’t.

These players are learning their skills in the County Championship, but they’re still learning at Test level, too. There’s no point making knee-jerk reactions about the Championship because that won’t help anything.

There’s a sense of naivety about why England keep doing what they do, but this tough period in which they’ve lost eight of their last 13 Tests will do them well in the longer run. You can only learn from those sticky patches.

The fields we set weren’t great. Amla never sweeps but we set him up for doing that. But you don’t need to change the field every ball in Test cricket, just like batting out a maiden isn’t illegal. You have to be prepared to sit in and have a bit of patience.

We didn’t even complete 100 overs of batting across the whole game and how we rolled over on that fourth day was disappointing. You need to have targets, in terms of time, when batting in a Test.

Ten dots after you’ve been out there for a few hours are irrelevant because the bad balls will come again. Just be patient. This aggression may stem from the ODI side but this is Test cricket. Guys need to get used to batting time and we must persist with some of these players.

Keaton Jennings has the ability to succeed so we should stick with him. The only change I would have made for the Oval would have been Mark Stoneman in for the injured Gary Ballance. He’s a good player of the short ball and a good driver. I’m sure he’ll get his chance soon but good luck to Tom Westley.

There’s plenty of criticism of Ballance but you have to respect the bowling. This South Africa attack would all get into any Test team. Vernon Philander has been outstanding and reminds me of Glenn McGrath in the way it’s almost impossible to score runs off him.

Some will mention South Africa are still without Dale Steyn, but I think it’s a long way back for him. And the Proteas’ attack doesn’t need him at the moment. This squad are working nicely. The balance throughout, with Faf du Plessis back, was spot on.

While there needs to be some patience with the England batting, you do still need to be positive, otherwise you get in a rut where you don’t even put the bad balls away. Your mind has to be free from negativity and doubt, but the biggest thing is players need to know when they have to soak up the pressure. Don’t go flashing the blade if the bowlers are moving it left and right.

The talent is there. South Africa bounced back from a thrashing and there’s no reason we can’t. It’s not about momentum, it’s about who performs best over those five days. Whatever has gone before is irrelevant.

*This article originally featured in TCP’s 21 July 2017 edition.

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