Lord's chase an exhibit of classic English diffidence

The English cricket team have also appeared to lack self belief in the past and, weighed down too much by expectations, seemed unable to focus on the moment © Getty Images

By Madan Mohan

 

England lost the Lord’s Test and the series to South Africa by a narrower margin than expected at the start of Day Five. The spirited lower order resistance may well have provided some consolation and also the realisation that they had come so close to a seemingly insurmountable total on a lively pitch. Indeed, England lost the match in their heads far too early in the chase to make a fist of it. That they did and got up to 52 runs adrift of the target was a miracle.

 

While interacting with the media in the run-up to the chase, England insisted they believed they could win. Their top order jitters suggested otherwise. England’s mighty top order played a crucial hand in their ascent to the No.1 ranking in Test cricket, blunting and wearing opposition bowling attacks into submission. But on Monday, they froze at the sight of an imposing target. You just had to see the look on Ian Bell’s face to know he wanted out.  Skipper Andrew Strauss bizarrely opted to leave a delivery and be dismissed lbw.

 

Jonathan Trott and the rest of the batsmen all the way to Graeme Swann made a valiant effort and gave South Africa a real scare. But it really shouldn’t have been up to them. More often than not, huge fourth innings totals are chased by teams that don’t lose too many wickets en route. The highest chase at Lord’s (342) was achieved by West Indies in 1984 and they lost a solitary wicket for the total of 344. 

 

Sure, Strauss & Co were playing no ordinary pie chuckers. They had to face a bowling attack that has surely established itself as the best in Test cricket today. Negotiating Vernon Philander in particular, who rediscovered his new ball magic at the worst possible time for England, was an ordeal but England ought to have been up to it. They had to be to live up to the boast of No.1 and they failed comprehensively on that count.

 

Even on Day Five, Trott initially looked more intent on defending his way out of any momentum. It was young Johnny Bairstow who sowed the seeds of a fight back. Ironic that the man who was prematurely written off and ridiculed by Kevin Pietersen’s legions of fanboys showed the kind of guts England needed more of to match South Africa. But, inexplicably, England were tentative and timid for the better part of the chase, even though a draw would not have squared the series in any case. 

 

Not that it is on the whole particularly surprising. Rather, it’s standard issue as far as many English sporting endeavours go. Tennis player Andy Murray projected similar diffidence and hesitation on the big stage for a long time and it took the ruthless former champion Ivan Lendl to mould him into an Olympic champion. 

 

The English cricket team have also appeared to lack self belief in the past and, weighed down too much by expectations, seemed unable to focus on the moment. One would have thought the No.1 ranking had helped them cross the bridge. But on Monday, faced with an imperative to attack, England baulked and let the match slip away.   

 

It was all too familiar, too English (notwithstanding the presence of a few Proteans in their own squad!). There is no shame for any team in losing to this wonderful South African squad. But if England do not believe they can win come what may, they would have already lost the battle. And so they have.  

 

(Madan Mohan is a 26-year old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy athttp://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)