Now jump up a level: England must show they can win from the front in third South Africa Test at Cape Town

By Paul Newman for the Daily Mail

England played their best cricket in the West Indies a year ago after being embarrassed in Jamaica and won the Ashes at The Oval after being humiliated at Headingley. Now they have to show they can excel as frontrunners.

Andy Flower, their team director, was surprisingly subdued yesterday as he looked ahead to tomorrow's third Test, perhaps because he knows England have been at their best when everybody has written them off.

Now their superlative display in Durban has left everyone so dizzy with excitement that they want more. So, after climbing one high peak at Kingsmead, can England scale another in the shadow of Table Mountain at one of the world's greatest cricket grounds, Newlands?

England players skip during a nets session at Newlands

Rising to the occasion: England's squad go through their paces in a training session at the Newlands ground before tomorrow’s Test match in Cape Town

History tells you that, since readmission, South Africa have been close to invincible here. Successive England captains in Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan have suffered convincing defeats. Buck the trend now, Flower knows, and England will have a series win almost as significant as the Ashes.

'When we had our noses in front against Australia we became anxious for victory at Headingley but I don't get that feeling now at all,' insisted Flower.

'Maybe we've learned from the experience. I expect South Africa to come very hard at us here but I also expect us to go very hard at them. They are a very proud cricketing nation and have a very good record here, so that presents a huge challenge for us.'


South Africa (probable): Smith (capt), Prince, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy, Boucher (wkt), Morkel, Harris, Steyn, De Wet.

England: Strauss (capt), Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood (or Carberry), Bell, Prior (wkt), Broad, Swann, Anderson, Onions.

T V: Sky Sports 1 from 8am tomorrow.

1st Test (Centurion): Match drawn.

2nd Test (Durban): England won by an innings and 98 runs.

4th Test (Johannesburg): January 14-18.

It is one that England may have to face without a batsman who did more than anybody to help them survive at Centurion and then produced another important contribution at Durban.

Paul Collingwood is in the form of his life but, judging by his tentative throwdowns at New Year's Day nets, he is far from certain of playing tomorrow after dislocating a finger during fielding practice at Kingsmead.

Flower rates Collingwood's chances of recovery at 50-50. 'We hadn't expected him to bat today but he gave it a go and was pleasantly surprised,' said Flower.

'But he's still a doubt. He didn't face the quicks today and didn' t do any robust fielding so we will have to put him through his paces again before we decide if he can play.'

It is a decision that England will make rather than Collingwood deciding himself. 'He is desperate to play but we won't leave the call to him because he will say anything to make sure he's there,' said Flower.

'This is one instance where it is best not to leave it up to the player. He is in great nick and is using all his experience to good effect at the moment so we are all hoping he does make it.'

All, perhaps, except Michael Carberry. He is standing by to make a Test debut at 29 as reward for persistence in finally proving a consistent performer at Hampshire after moving on in search of opportunity from Surrey and Kent.

'He had a good domestic season and has been impressive with the performance squad in South Africa,' said Flower. 'He looks like a man who knows his game now.'

Flower refused to rule out a call-up for Luke Wright in Collingwood's absence but it seems inconceivable that England would now abandon their policy of playing six specialist batsmen after it proved so successful in Durban.


South Africa's Test record at Newlands, Cape Town, since the nation was readmitted to international cricket in 1991 after 21 years of isolation:

Tests: 20. Won: 14. Drawn: 3. Lost: 3. All 3 defeats were to Australia.

South Africa's record v England at Newlands since readmittance:

Tests: 3. Won: 3. Drawn: 0. Lost: 0.

January, 1996: South Africa won by 10 wickets.

January, 2000: South Africa won by an innings and 37 runs.

January, 2005: South Africa won by 196 runs.

Jacques Kallis's batting record at Newlands:

Tests: 16. Runs: 1448. Average: 65.81. Hundreds: 5.

History would suggest bowling first will be advantageous, given the Newlands results over 20 Tests.

Team fielding first wins: 12. Team batting first wins: 5.

The coach admitted that a line-up which seemed to leave England lacking the necessary firepower had been a difficult one to decide upon.

'It was a close run thing and the balance of the side is always a tricky decision,' said Flower. 'But we just thought that on these pitches three attacking seamers and a spinner we trusted to get through enough overs was an attack capable of taking 20 wickets.

'We thought the batting looked long and solid with six batters and Matt Prior at seven.'

The man who benefited most from that and vindicated England's faith in him was Ian Bell but it was interesting that Flower was not overly effusive about the man who saved his Test career with a big hundred at Durban.

When Bell scored 199 against South Africa at Lord's 18 months ago it seemed certain he had finally cracked it at Test level only to again become inconsistent. He must guard against that now.

'Bell needed to perform in Durban and it's testament to him that he did so,' said Flower. 'He's looked in good form in practice but that doesn't always translate to runs. We don't care about pretty net practices. We care about results and runs in the middle. He's got to continue doing that now.'

Ian Bell

Return to form: Ian Bell must strive for consistency, says Andy Flower

For now, however, all the problems are South Africa's and their coach Mickey Arthur conceded yesterday that his side will almost certainly have to make at least one change to their chastened line-up.

The man, surely, who has to go is Makhaya Ntini. It is truly sad that such a significant player is struggling so badly but it would be an insult to Ntini if political considerations – word is that the South African government still secretly insist on at least one black African in their line-up at all times – over-ruled all cricketing logic.

Friedel de Wet has to play instead and Arthur knows it. 'We will select the best team to win us this Test,' said Arthur. 'There are tough decisions to make and I'm sure we will make the correct ones.'

South Africa will need to to stop England pulling off a huge upset here. The force, for once, seems irresistibly with the visitors.

No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now