Bam! England 0-2 South Africa; as comprehensive a thumping as England have taken since the 2006/07 Ashes Down Under. Oh, apart from the 3-0 in the UAE, which obviously doesn’t count.
One of the hallmarks of the South African success was the depth and experience they had at the bottom of the order. Mark Boucher having to ‘bail’ from the tour after his unfortunate sight-threatening injury might well have been the key moment of the tour – not only did it bring the South African squad together as a unit, but De Villiers kept more than adequately too. In the few times England broke through the daunting top order, Jacques Rudolph and Jean-Paul Duminy provided a steadier flow of runs than it is likely Boucher would have.
It is the role of Duminy and Rudolph in particular which made SA look simply so formidable. There were no ‘easy’ wickets to be had in the top 7; both providing useful and mature contributions when called upon. Duminy, at 28, already has 10000 first class runs to his name, to which 31 year old Rudolph can add another 6000, including spells at Surrey and Yorkshire. As well as Jonny Bairstow played, by contrast he has less than a quarter of that total.
Elsewhere, watching India writhe awkwardly in replacing Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman, all retiring around the same time, it strikes me that all of the replacements lined up have tended to be younger chaps fresh from school. Whilst one or two of them are obvious talents (Rahane and Kohli stand out), thrusting them all into the mix simultaneously has seen disastrous results – particularly overseas. Another obvious example of an older pro doing good is Mike Hussey, who didn’t make his Test debut until he was 30. Now at 37, he remains one of Australia’s best batsmen (admittedly not hard) and they will face their own predicament when he and Ponting decide to call it a day.
Which leads me to this: the next time England have a vacancy in the top 7, I shall be at the vanguard of the calls for Robert Key to step up. A doughty type with a marvellous back-footed biff through the covers, the undeniably plump fellow has quite fantastic hands at first slip, which is something the England captain can no longer boast. The world number one ranking would be back at NW8 before you could say –