‘Champagne England have no more excuses’

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Pint-sized TMS: South Africa sparkle as England crumble

The day before the second Test, we were saying that all the problems belonged to South Africa, rather than England.

New England captain Joe Root had a dream start at Lord’s, his team winning by 211 runs.

In the space of four days it has gone belly-up. England have been hammered by 340 runs at Trent Bridge. Suddenly they are the ones with all the issues and plans to be ripped up. Welcome to the rollercoaster, Joe.

We see this so often from England, specifically their batsmen. The way half of them play they should be wearing stripy caps and turning out for the Harlequins.

They play champagne cricket. It works some of the time, but when it doesn’t they get thrashed.

They talk about wanting to be consistent, but it is very difficult to be consistent when the players do not seem to want to adapt to the situation.

The bowlers must be infuriated to see their colleagues give their wickets away. As a bowler, you have plans, you try to work a batsman out. Bowling to England, you don’t need a plan. You just get it up there often enough and sooner or later they will hit one in the air.

I do not want to pick on people, but there were things I noticed on the fourth (and what turned out to be final) day at Trent Bridge.

Jonny Bairstow scored just 16 as England collapsed to 133 all out in their second innings against South Africa

Jonny Bairstow played an incredible shot, dancing down the wicket to the spin of Keshav Maharaj and offering a simple catch to mid-on.

What do you say to a shot like that, played when England are trying to save a game?

You simply cannot take the attitude of “that is the way I play”, because look what has happened.

Before the day began, I saw Gary Ballance shadow batting, taking that step right back, deep into the crease.

I said on Test Match Special that he simply could not play that way, facing Vernon Philander on a wearing pitch, getting so far back on to the stumps.

Sure enough, he was lbw. I’m not trying to sound clever, because these things aren’t rocket science.

Gary Ballance had been in good form with the bat for his county Yorkshire, but has struggled in this Test series

The players cannot hide behind excuses, or the coaches. It is their responsibility to figure it out, because that is what you have to do if you are going to succeed at this level.

If anything, we just want to see England battle, because the huge nature of their defeats is so frustrating.

I can’t remember the last time they really fought in an attempt to stave off a loss. They just go down in a blaze of bullets.

England have little option but to strengthen their batting for the third Test at The Oval.

They will look at the pitch and decide what kind of attack they need, but six bowlers – as they have had in the first two Tests – is too many.

They will have James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Ben Stokes and Moeen Ali. Then they should add either an extra pace bowler or an extra spinner.

Surrey batsman Mark Stoneman averages 58 for Surrey in the County Championship this season

That would leave space for an extra batsman. My preference would be to introduce Surrey’s Mark Stoneman to open with Alastair Cook, push Keaton Jennings to number three and, if they decide that Ballance deserves to keep his place, bat him at number five.

Realistically, the type of team I am describing is the one that will be needed for the first Test against Australia at The Gabba in November.

In terms of building a team, England should be looking that far ahead. They are crying out for an extra batsman. If that means that Moeen has to bat at eight – lower than he would like – so be it.

Philander bowls Jennings in his first over of the day

For all the talk of how poor England have been, great credit must be given to South Africa, who have turned things around from looking so poor at Lord’s.

The return of captain Faf du Plessis, who missed the first Test after the birth of his child, has clearly been a huge factor in their improvement – even if he was too modest to say so when he spoke to the media.

South Africa now look organised and motivated, all the things they weren’t at Lord’s.

Vernon Philander proves that you do not have to be 90mph to be an opening batsman’s nightmare, Chris Morris has surprised us with his pace and Maharaj gives the ball real rip.

The series is level at 1-1 with two matches to play. The rest is going to be absolutely terrific viewing.

Jonathan Agnew was talking to BBC Sport’s Stephan Shemilt.

Stokes caught and bowled by Philander

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