You could be forgiven for being optimistic after England’s dramatic draw with South Africa in the first test. After all, the result was remarkably similar to the one last July in Cardiff.
Then, a last-ditch stand by Monty Panesar and James Andersen doggedly kept the Australians at bay and earned England a draw they never looked like achieving in the opening four days of the first test. The rest, they say, is history; England went on to win the Ashes with a 2-1 series win.
Back then the draw was a moral victory for the English and their fans, while Aussie skipper Ricky Ponting was left to reflect on what might have been. In the end it cost them the Ashes.
But fast forward to today and I believe England can’t take such heart from a similar result at Centurion Park. The ‘crazy hour’ skipper Andrew Strauss described saw South Africa steamroller through the England middle order, giving them a sniff of victory that had never seemed likely at the start of the day. Scrap that, even at tea the cricket betting odds were stacked against such a frantic finish with the tourists 169-3.
But the art of the batting collapse is one England seem to have perfected over the past twenty years and that dreaded domino effect was sparked off by debutant Friedel de Wet, who took three quick wickets, with a total of five falling for just 13 runs.
On this occasion the Monty Panesar role was bravely played out by Graham Onions, who survived 12 deliveries, including the final over, to secure the draw alongside Paul Colingwood, whose dogged innings last year set the platform for the rescue act against Australia.
Putting the relief to one side, the game will again provide Strauss with a number of headaches ahead of the second test, most notably the batting. The form of Alastair Cook and Ian Bell is again a worry; England once again found themselves relying on Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen for runs. If they fail then there has to be someone else who will step up to the plate. Cook has apparently been working on his technique to arrest a worrying slide in form while Ian Bell has once again found himself under pressure after a disappointing performance.
They have received the backing of their coach on this occasion and will almost certainly get another chance. But if any more ‘crazy hours’ continue, changes will surely have to be made.