Promise of Ollie Pope is only ray of sunshine as England’s ‘cursed tour’ of South Africa plods on - Chris Waters

Promise: England batsman Ollie Pope hits out during Day One of the Second Test between England and South Africa on January 03, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Promise: England batsman Ollie Pope hits out during Day One of the Second Test between England and South Africa on January 03, 2020 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Picture: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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IF ENGLAND’s cricket tour of South Africa was an actual person, it would be the sort of person who is constantly blighted by horrendous misfortune.

The sort who, when removing their trousers from the washing machine, would discover that they had forgotten to take out from their pocket a winning lottery ticket now completely illegible.

England's batsman Jos Buttler watches as the ball flies down to the boundary. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

England's batsman Jos Buttler watches as the ball flies down to the boundary. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

The sort who, when clearing out the garden, would inadvertently tread on a rake, sending the handle flying into their forehead and knocking them cold.

The sort who, when visiting their local newsagent, would discover that the last copy of The Yorkshire Post had only been sold 30 seconds ago.

Basically, the sort of person for whom terrible luck is a constant companion – Mr/Mrs Walking Disaster Zone of Calamity Street, Calamityland, no less.

“A cursed tour” is how Ben Stokes described the ongoing South African misadventure, the all-rounder quipping prior to the second Test in Cape Town that the tourists had been considering sending for emergency toilet paper so bad has been the sickness bug that has riddled the camp.

Whether Barcelona will follow suit by banning Messi et al from playing cricket in their pre-match warm-ups ahead of Champions League ties is unclear at this stage.

Chris Waters

They might want to send for a few emergency batsmen too, after starting this game with an underwhelming 262-9 after winning the toss, with only Ollie Pope passing fifty.

Flu/sickness has laid low 11 of the squad so far – an entire side, no less – plus sundry backroom/support staff: ergo, the envelope lickers, bag doer-uppers and superfluous cogs of the misfiring wheel.

Throw in a handful of injuries too, including to pace bowler Jofra Archer (out of this game with an elbow problem) and batsman Rory Burns (whose tour was ended playing football in the pre-match warm-ups) and there has not been much good news to report – particularly on the field, where England laboured again after losing the first Test by 107 runs.

England reacted to Burns’s ankle ligament injury (anyone would think that we were talking about Lionel Messi) by banning their players from playing football, with this the latest in a line of similar catastrophes 
and a classic case of too little, too late.

South African bowler Dwaine Pretorius celebrates the wicket of England batsman Jos Buttle during day one of the second cricket test between South Africa and England at the Newlands Cricket Stadium. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

South African bowler Dwaine Pretorius celebrates the wicket of England batsman Jos Buttle during day one of the second cricket test between South Africa and England at the Newlands Cricket Stadium. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

Whether Barcelona will follow suit by banning Messi et al from playing cricket in their pre-match warm-ups ahead of Champions League ties is unclear at this stage; it would certainly be fascinating to observe whether Messi remains such a dominant presence up front if he cannot practise his slip catching routines beforehand.

England would be better off practising cricket, perhaps (no, hang on, players today do enough practice already). The simple fact of the matter is that, for all their diligent work and good intentions, they are just not a very good Test team at present, with our first-class system offering palpably inadequate preparation for five-day cricket.

Root’s beaming smile/words at the toss betrayed how happy he was that his side won first use of a good batting surface in the shadow of Table Mountain – unless, that is, the Yorkshireman was simply happy at being interviewed again by Mark Nicholas.

Faf du Plessis, the South Africa captain, also said he would have batted, with 600 having played 600 in the corresponding game four years ago.

Almost on their knees: Joe Denly, right, has to get down low to play a shot as South Africa's wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock and Pieter Malan watch on. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

Almost on their knees: Joe Denly, right, has to get down low to play a shot as South Africa's wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock and Pieter Malan watch on. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

Such riches looked a long way off for England here, with most batsmen getting starts but not going on. Apart from Pope (56 not out), five were dismissed between 29 and 47, suggesting a lack of concentration by a team that talks a good game in terms of batting time, but usually struggles to do so.

Pope continues to look an excellent prospect; one would not be surprised, indeed, if he ultimately provides the solution to the problematic No 3 position.

The Surrey man, who turned 22 the day before the match, has a first-class average in the high 50s and it is easy to see why; all the ingredients are there for a long and successful Test career.

Can the same be said of openers Dominic Sibley and Zak Crawley? Only time will tell.

Joe Denly, for all his consistency at No 3 lately, still has not managed a hundred in 12 Test appearances, with too much continuing to rest on Root.

Jos Buttler has made only one Test hundred in 39 appearances, and it is not immediately obvious where the next is coming from.

South Africa’s pace bowlers were too strong here for England again, with spinner Keshav Maharaj typically probing and impressive, just as he was at Yorkshire last summer.

One should never judge a pitch – or, indeed, predict the outcome of a match – until both sides have batted.

But already it is shaping up to be a long four-match series for the tourists, with a “cursed” tour potentially having yet more misery to inflict.