Cricket Expert & Columnist
Bell has it wrapped up
England are likely to stick with Ian Bell in Durban having picked him for the first Test, says Mike Atherton.
Last Updated: 24/12/09 10:59am
The way in which England imploded after tea on the final day at Centurion does not overly concern me as I look ahead to the Boxing Day Test in Durban.
Collapses such as England's are part and parcel of Test cricket, especially on a wearing pitch against opponents of the calibre of South Africa.
The hosts were excellent as they picked up four wickets for as many runs in that last session - their out-cricket, bowling and the captaincy of Graeme Smith was superb.
What concerns me more is that England only got on top of South Africa in two periods over five days - when Graeme Swann was in full flow with the bat and on the third morning when the hosts were briefly on the back foot.
Alastair Cook might say that England felt in full control throughout the Test but it didn't look like it from the outside.
The side England picked suggested to me that coming away from Centurion with a draw was possibly the limit of their ambitions. Perhaps, given South Africa's strong record at SuperSport Park, that is understandable - but only up to a point.
South Africa were vulnerable going into the series and England did not capitalise. Graeme Smith's side hadn't played much Test cricket in previous months, while Dale Steyn was injured and Jacques Kallis' input - at least with the ball - was limited.
Rather than play Ian Bell at six, I would have included Liam Plunkett to give the side a better balance.
Yes, question marks still hang over the Durham seamer, not least because he hasn't had much cricket here, and to some extent it would have been a shot in the dark.
He still looks frail at times in terms of his method and technique, which he seems prone to tinker with, but he is a better bowler than Luke Wright and has worked hard on his batting in the last couple of years.
It seems that England are likely to stick with Bell at six for now, though. I would not have picked him at Centurion, therefore I wouldn't be playing him at Kingsmead, but having selected him in the first Test I can fully understand why England will keep faith with him.
Selectors don't like to make changes after just one game - it sends out a message of panic, that they don't really know what they are doing.
That said I don't believe it is England's best interests long-term to continue down this road too long given that Matt Prior is a genuine all-rounder at No 6.
I would definitely give the new ball to Graham Onions at Kingsmead. If I was still an opening batsman, I would much rather face Stuart Broad who I reckon would give me four or five loose balls in his opening spell that would help to get me off to a good start.
In contrast, Onions doesn't bowl much rubbish and is going to make better use of the new ball.
Broad still has got plenty of work to do on his bowling and, judging by his behaviour after being given out in the first innings on review, he has got to be more careful about his attitude on the field, which is truculent at times.
Too often he's in the thick of it with the umpires and a strong word from Andy Flower certainly wouldn't go amiss.
As a player your competitiveness should be geared towards the opposition not the umpires - that's a simple line that as an international cricketer you don't cross.
South Africa have yet to determine whether to play fast bowler Steyn at Kingsmead for two main reasons: they don't want to rush him back from injury too early and, if fit, he gives the selectors must decide who to leave out.
On form Makhaya Ntini would be the man to go but that if South Africa were to leave out their only black Test cricketer it would raise all sorts of problematic issues.
There is still pressure on the selectors to make sure South Africa field a representative team and on top of that coach Mickey Arthur said the other day that Ntini would definitely play.
But after his fine debut performance it is hard to leave out Friedel de Wet as well, so if Steyn isn't 100 per cent fit then South Africa can probably afford to give him a bit rest.
If he is fit I really feel Steyn has to play because he's got a fantastic strike-rate and wicket-taking ability which is something both of these sides lack on the whole - collapses aside.