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England suffer alarming batting collapse as South Africa square series with 340-run win in Second Test

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 5 days ago tom collomosse
Jonny Bairstow leaves the field after losing his wicket for 16 runs © Athony Devlin/AFP/Getty Jonny Bairstow leaves the field after losing his wicket for 16 runs

At least Moeen Ali predicted it. Asked whether he was capable of batting sensibly on Monday and avoiding silly mistakes, the England all-rounder’s reply was revealing.

“There have been times in the past where we’ve been playing for a draw and I’ve played a big shot, but I think this time I’ll try and take it one ball at a time,” he said.

“I don’t want to say I’ve learnt my lesson because I might go and do the same thing! Hopefully I can get my head down.”

Shortly before drinks in the afternoon session, Moeen had 27 and two balls earlier, he had been given out caught behind but was saved on review. With England five wickets down, and more than four-and-a-half sessions left in the match, it was surely time to knuckle down and frustrate the South Africa attack. Moeen did not think so.

Instead, he swept left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj to Heino Kuhn at square-leg. South Africa captain Faf Du Plessis had positioned Kuhn precisely for the shot. It is safe to say Moeen has not “learned his lesson”.

Alastair Cook is caught behind off the bowling of South Africa's Chris Morris for 42 runs © Anthony Devlin/AFP/Getty Alastair Cook is caught behind off the bowling of South Africa's Chris Morris for 42 runs

South Africa claimed a 340-run victory to level the Investec Series at 1-1, with two to play. England were bowled out for 133 in 44.2 overs. In the first innings, they were dismissed for 205 in 51.5 overs. It is simply not good enough.

England’s form since 2015, when Trevor Bayliss became coach, suggests they may well win the Third Test at The Kia Oval, which starts on July 27. A good performance often follows a bad one, and vice-versa. But where is the improvement? Where is the evidence they are able to cut out the errors?

The top order have questions to answer, particularly Keaton Jennings and Gary Ballance. Jennings was the first wicket to fall on day four, bowled between bat and pad by Vernon Philander for three. Jennings made a duck in the first innings, making his aggregate the lowest for an England player in a home Test since Mark Ramprakash, now England’s batting coach, made two and nought against West Indies at Lord’s in 2000.

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Ballance – the man captain Joe Root wanted in his team – failed again. Philander got him, too, lbw on review. That brought Root to the crease but he was undone by a brilliant yorker from Chris Morris. The captain had gone for eight and, just before lunch, it was his predecessor’s turn.

England needed Alastair Cook to play a long innings. He had reached 42 when he shaped to pull Morris’ bouncer then tried to back out of the shot, only for the ball to flick his glove. Quinton De Kock took a marvellous catch down the leg side.

Lunch should have been a time to reassess, collect their thoughts. After all, England had Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes at the crease, who shared a 399-run partnership against South Africa at Cape Town in January 2016. Surely they could fight back? They could not. The game was done by 3pm.

Bairstow drilled the ninth ball after lunch, delivered by Maharaj, straight to mid-on, and was gone for 16. Moeen flashed his irrelevant 27. Ben Stokes tried to dig in but he, too, fell into the trap, offering a simple return catch to Philander.

Stuart Broad was not about to reverse the trend of recklessness and slog-swept Maharaj to deep backward square-leg. Then returning skipper Du Plessis brought back Duanne Olivier, and the seamer – who had struggled in the match – removed Mark Wood and Jimmy Anderson with his first two deliveries from the Radcliffe Road End. England slunk off the field and have much to contemplate.

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