You cannot manufacture experience
It's the morning of the fifth day of the Centurion Test and I'm having breakfast in our pleasant guest house, there's blue sky and the sun is shining, all should be good in the world, but as I look to the table next to me, there are three England fans, (not Lofty or other Addis guys before anyone asks!) pouring scorn over the 'state' of the English cricket team. A dark cloud has gathered. Apparently, this England team can't bat, bowl or field and half the team should be dropped. Everything is wrong with English cricket.
Of course the fourth Test was hugely disappointing, and I suppose it shows how far we have come as a side that small sections of supporters are disappointed with a 2-1 series win away to the world's number one ranked side. The reality is we have a young, developing side, who still have a lot to learn. But, the best teams in history did not become the best teams at a flick of a switch, they endured some bumps along the way.
Let's not forget, since the start of last summer we have beaten Australia, who came into that Ashes series defeating teams in devastating style. We toured the UAE to play a Pakistan side who have one of the best 'home' records of any international side, bad light stopped us from winning the first Test and we were a handful of overs from saving the third Test - that series proved what a fine line exists between success and failure in Test cricket. And then to this tour to South Africa, against the number one ranked side in Test cricket, and a 2-1 away win. I'd have bitten someone's hand off to have those results after we returned from the tour of the West Indies. We have also had to play an incredible 17 Tests and a World Cup in the last 12 months, a scandalous schedule, and some players must be simply exhausted - not an excuse, just a fact.
Now of course we have a lot to learn and work on. When you have a series wrapped up, we have to fight even harder to keep the opposition on the canvass, we need to embarrass them and give them no chance of taking any positives out of a series. 3-1 would of been a fairer Ashes result, and likewise 2-0 would have been the fairer result here in South Africa. It must be frustrating for Bayliss and Cook, but the players WILL learn and while it can be disappointing for supporters lets ensure we don't lose our perspective. Remember, even the great Australia teams would regularly fall foul once a series was won. England would often win the dead rubbers of Ashes series - it wasn't until 2006 when Australia learnt not to take the foot off of the pedal and truly crush us.
There are of course other areas that still need addressing. Alex Hales hasn't nailed the opening slot and Compton and Taylor haven't really nailed the number three or five positions. The three gentlemen at breakfast were quite clear that all three should be dropped and the gloves should be removed from Bairstow. Personally, I'd keep all three, but switch their batting positions. I'd move Compton up to open with Cook. This would free Hales to come in at number three with a degree of freedom after the shine has been removed from the new ball. It's too early to discard Hales, yes he has technical issues to address, but he also has game changing potential. I thought he was dealt a tough hand coming into this tour, he should have been given the three Tests in the UAE to 'bed in' to Test cricket, rather than having to make a debut against Steyn and Morkel. Give him a chance in the position he has batted successfully for Nottinghamshire. Let's not discard a potential match winner too early. Remember our other opener Cook hasn't found this tour easy with the bat either. As for Taylor, although disappointing in the last couple of Tests he has enough credit in the bank to continue at five.
The last spot is the wicket keeping position. Bairstow is learning on the job, everyone knows he's not the finished article with the gloves, but he's only going to get better. Again let's not discard him too early. Yes he's dropped some catches, but at Johannesburg he also took seven catches in an innings as we won the game and his batting has been excellent on this tour. The experience of South Africa will do his wicket keeping the world of good.
This is a young, developing side, who appear to have a strong team spirit and play for each other, defeats will happen, and because of the attacking nature of our play, sometimes these will be horrible. But I for one am happy with how this young team is continuing to develop. So let's not remember this South Africa tour for Centurion, but for the wins at Durban and Johannesburg, Ben Stokes' brilliant 250, Stuart Broad's stunning bowling performance in Johannesburg, Joe Root's continued development as a world class middle order batsmen and Steven Finn's re-emergence as a hostile Test bowler.
We're heading in the right direction. We can bat, we can bowl and we can field, the ingredient we need more of is experience and unfortunately that's something you cannot buy or manufacture.
As an aside the three gentlemen were also disappointing there was no milk on the table for their coffee and the sausages were different to the previous few days, proving change isn't always for the better.