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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 20 June 2018

Joe Root's England must guard against a replay of that 90s show

Savage fall out from South Africa defeat demands a response from under-performing support cast

England's Joe Root, right, and Ben Stokes, left, react as South Africa's Hashim Amla stands at his crease.
England's Joe Root, right, and Ben Stokes, left, react as South Africa's Hashim Amla stands at his crease.

Come on, England. It’s time to go full 1990s and wield the axe. Mark Ramprakash and Graeme Hick are well overdue recalls, anyway.

The way things are going, it feels as though we are seeing the makings of a brain-teasing Sporcle quiz (about 20 years hence), requiring to fill in the names of all the players who represented England in 2017. You know you will kick yourself for missing Liam Livingstone.

Evaluations of the side’s display in losing the second Test to South Africa by 340 runs have been savage. So much so that a sense of 90s revivalism is pervading. Sack everybody. Get new blokes in. There must be somebody better out there. What about Kim Barnett as captain?

Reviews for their batting efforts at Trent Bridge ranged from “appalling” to “absolute tripe”. And they were just the publishable views of the ex-pros.

There are question marks over the future of at least four of the starting XI.

Liam Dawson has played three Test matches in row now without mounting a convincing case to suggest he is the answer.

Mark Wood, one of the most estimable cricketers in the game, has struggled twice in the first two Tests against South Africa, his pace down and his wickets tally bare.

Keaton Jennings, lauded as the great hope when he made a century on debut in Mumbai, now averages 26 after four matches.

And Gary Ballance? Awkward.

Fortunately for the beleaguered many in the England XI, the selectors are less trigger happy than they once were.

Collateral damage after the defeat in Nottingham is likely to be limited. Mark Stoneman is said to be penciled in to open with Alastair Cook at The Oval next time out, prompting a rejig that will see Ballance (fitness permitting) and Jennings retain their places in the side, albeit in different places in the line up.

Joe Root, who has run the full breadth of triumph and disaster in his first two Tests in charge, is pleading patience, and cautioning against overreacting to one bad Test.

"It's important to stay calm,” Root said. “There's a lot of cricket left to be played in this series. It's important we don't sulk and we don't get too down on ourselves.”

Sage thinking, of course. The new captain also said the Trent Bridge horror show “wasn't a fair representation of how good we are as a team”.

The trouble is, Root obviously wants to judge his team on their good days. There are plenty of them. The measure of the side at present, though, is the fact there are more bad ones.

They have won just twice in their past 10 Test matches, and lost seven times over that period. In the past six Tests, they have lost by an innings twice, as well as 340 runs, 246 runs, and eight wickets. So, in other words, not even close.

If Root thinks Trent Bridge was not a fair representation, what about the evidence of those games? Maybe it is more accurate to suggest England’s win over the Proteas at Lord’s, handsome though it was, was the aberration.

How is England’s record so poor? This is a side with Cook, Root himself, Ben Stokes, James Anderson, and Stuart Broad. Each would be a contender for a World XI.

It is stating the obvious to say the support cast need to do more. England will only get to where they want to be when they find some semblance of consistency.

Luckily for the underperformers, consistency is at least likely to extend to selection. Now they need to repay the faith.

England v South Africa Test series:

First Test: at Lord's, England won by 211 runs

Second Test: at Trent Bridge, South Africa won by 340 runs

Third Test: at The Oval, July 27-31

Fourth Test: at Old Trafford, August 4-8