Alastair Cook’s lean start to the series continued when he was caught down the leg side © Getty Images
Alastair Cook admitted that missed chances cost England dear in the second Test against South Africa in Cape Town.
England missed, depending on what you think constitutes a chance, between five and 10 opportunities during South Africa’s first innings total of 627 for 7 declared. On a flat wicket and against a strong batting line-up, it ruined any hope England had of pushing for victory and instead left them grateful for fading light and rain that intervened during the final session with them still slightly uncomfortably placed.
The original explanation for England’s fielding errors – that visibility at the ground was more difficult because of the grass banks, trees and, in places, red umbrellas that line this pretty ground – looked pretty empty as South Africa’s fielders – Chris Morris, in particular – clung on to a couple of exceptional catches.
But, while accepting that England’s batting on the final day had been “disappointing,” Cook described himself as “pretty happy” with the performance of his side.
“The chances we missed cost us this Test,” Cook said. “It was the difference between the sides.
“You saw Chris Morris take two fantastic chances for South Africa and the game would have looked very different if we had been able to take the chances we were offered.
“Some were very difficult – maybe 10% – others, we’d expect to take. You can’t put down seven or eight chances, so we’ll work hard in training after a couple of days off. No-one plays a perfect game and no-one expects to drop a catch.
“Credit to South Africa: we threw everything at them and they batted very well under pressure. But when you score 630 by the time you are halfway through day two, you are pushing to win. We were the team pushing for most of the match, so it would have been really disappointing not to bat out the final day.”
Cook brushed off England’s last day blip – they succumbed to 116 for 6 at one stage – as an attempt to “make it exciting” for the large crowd that came even though the day promised little at the start, he did also concede that it was “not a particularly enjoyable day as captain.”
“The conditions did change and they bowled well,” Cook said. “It would have been nice if we had just lost two or three wickets, so it was a bit of a disappointing day. But when only one side can win, the pressure is all on the other side.”
Indeed, in a match where they conceded 627 with the ball and scored 629 in the first innings, it was England’s bowling – consistent, controlled and intelligent – that impressed more than their batting in Cape Town.
England’s batting struggles were masked, in the first innings, by the excellence of Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow. But nobody in the top five made more than 60 in either innings and a South African attack which could be boosted by the return of Dale Steyn in the next Test will have been encouraged by some fragility outside the off stump from the England top order.
From an England perspective, though, the match will surely be remembered most for Stokes’ explosive double-century, the fastest 250 in Test history. Exceptional though the innings may have been, though, Cook does not think it was necessarily a one-off.
“It was unbelievable batting,” Cook said. “It was controlled batting of the highest quality. It was frighteningly good. Not many in the world have the ability to do that, so it’s great that he’s in our side.
“It won’t happen every time he goes out to bat, but I firmly believe it was not a once in a lifetime innings. He is a gem. Over the last 12 months we’ve seen how he has developed and now the world knows how good he is.”
Most of the England will now have a few days off. While a couple are taking the opportunity to go on safari and a couple are involved in commercial opportunities, most will have the opportunity to relax and recover on the beaches around Cape Town. They fly to Johannesburg on January 10 and will not train again until January 11.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo