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The weather has turned sunny, bright and warm. After a summer that began with record rainfall, the English capital put on her best look on Tuesday for the massive, seemingly endless stream of visitors here for the rather large sporting event starting at the end of the week.
The look of London on Tuesday morning stood in stark contrast to the glum look on England coach Andy Flower’s face as he paced up and down the England dressing room at the Oval late on Monday night. Flower, in his white golf shirt and dark pants, walked left and right, occasionally took a seat though not for very long.
His wore the look of frustrated man. A disappointed and very surprised man. His England side, so carefully constructed in the last two years had hours earlier taken a battering at the hands of South Africa and in the immediate aftermath of the defeat, a period of cooling down seemed necessary. He will apparently be joining his family in the south of France for a short holiday, which may be just what’s needed to forget the events of the first Test.
South Africa had long since left the venue for their hotel where the party no doubt continued late into the night. They left this morning for Worcester, to play a two-day tour match at New Road against Worcestershire starting on Friday. Graeme Smith will play no part as he only returns to the squad on Sunday after attending the birth of his and wife Morgan’s first child.
The nature of South Africa’s win still dominated news here on Tuesday.
Headlines like: “Dark Steyn”, “Steyn on the record” and “No1? The crown is slipping” and “Devastating defeat gives Strauss serious problems” blasted out at readers. Yes, there are still two matches to go and England have a very good record of bouncing back after poor starts, but this was a defeat the size of which the English didn’t see coming.
Andrew Strauss, who did all he could to put a lid on his anger at the post-match press conference on Monday evening, still believes his bowlers can take 20 wickets – they only took two at the Oval – and that the next 10 days before the Headingley Test provide the perfect time for some reflection.
For South Africa it’s important that complacency doesn’t set in. It shouldn’t and Gary Kirsten, who places such strong emphasis on mental preparation will ensure that is not the case.
“We will spend a lot of time focused on ourselves and what we need to do to win another Test match, we won’t take anything for granted in our preparation,” said the South African coach.
“We’ve got a long way to go, we want to be the best team in the world, this is just one part of the process.”
Part of the process Kirsten so often speaks of, is belief in teammates and a strong team ethos.
That was embodied by the way in which everyone celebrated Hashim Amla’s amazing triple century – all of the South African players were appreciative of the fact that such a feat was achieved by a teammate.
“People need to enjoy playing together and believe in each other and know that each guy can go out and make a big performance for the team,” Kirsten explained.
“We are trying to move the focus away from individual brilliance and bring individual brilliance into what we want to achieve as a team.
“You can’t hide the fact that someone has scored 300, which is an unbelievably brilliant individual performance but, as Hashim has already said, it’s all about us as a team and what we want to achieve as a team.”
In the Oval Test that team dynamic stretched across the board, not just to those like Amla, Smith, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn who had their names up in lights afterwards.
There was AB de Villiers behind the stumps, keeping for just the fourth time in a Test match, a week after one of the players he was closest to had to retire from international cricket due to a sickening injury. It wasn’t always tidy and he fumbled a few that kept low from the quicks and missed some that spun out of the rough from Imran Tahir, but he ended the match with seven catches.
“For a first outing in Test cricket in a very long time I thought he did exceptionally well,” said Kirsten.
Then there was Tahir, much derided in the build-up to the first Test. There was talk that England had asked for a slow dry track because they wanted to press home the advantage they had in the spin department – Swann ended with 0/151, Tahir’s match figures read 4/124 from 51 overs.
“He is the most enthusiastic cricketer I’ve ever met,” said Kirsten, who added that Tahir told him afterwards that the five days of the Oval Test had been the best five days of his life. “He is starting to understand Test match strategies and what he needs to do against certain batsmen.”
It is, as Kallis put it, an environment in which the players are enjoying each other’s company and that, following a build-up for England which included the messy affair of Kevin Pietersen’s negotiations with the England Cricket Board going sour, which must have cause some friction in the England dressing room, stands out as the major difference between the two teams after the first Test.
The second Test starts at Head-ingley on August 2. – The Star