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Joe Roots captaincy under huge scrutiny as England are crushed by South Africa in 107-run First Test loss

JOE ROOT and his players do not need to have contracted the lurgy to feel pretty damn sick right now.

Yet another overseas defeat means England end the year as one-day world champions and Test cricket also-rans.

Root faces fresh questions over his captaincy after the First Test defeat to South Africa

Sure, the illness epidemic that has infected Englands dressing-room for the past fortnight disrupted their preparation and planning.

But the brutal truth is that England lost this First Test by 107 runs because they failed to push home the advantage of having South Africa 111-5 on day one, a pathetic collapse of 7-39 on day two and a shocking bowling and tactical effort on day three. It had little or nothing to do with medical ailments.

In fairness to Root, he did not try to use it as an excuse.

Despite promises to re-invigorate their Test performances, little or nothing has changed. Opposing teams have more pace and penetration in their bowling and greater resolve, skill and nous in their batting.


The stated goal of Root and head coach Chris Silverwood to regain the Ashes in 2021-22 looks absurd. All the current evidence suggests England could lose 5-0.

There were a couple of moments yesterday when England began to dream of achieving their second miracle Test win in the space of four months. They reached 204-3 with Root and Ben Stokes batting together in pursuit of a target of 375.

But once Stokes dragged a ball onto his stumps attempting to cut left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, hopes rapidly faded.

Now England need to re-group and get most of their players healthy in time for the Second Test in Cape Town on January 3.

South Africa had lost their previous five Test matches, their chief executive was suspended, their journalists banned for a while and recrimination ruled. Several of the old legends were summoned to try to repair the mess.


Now, from that chaos, it is the home team with all the momentum.

Roots tactical acumen is being questioned, Jonny Bairstow is falling to pieces as a Test batsman, Jos Buttler continues to under-perform, Dom Sibleys technique is questionable, Jofra Archer appears infuriatingly unpredictable, Stokes has a wonky knee and there is no sign of a decent spinner.

And how much longer can Stuart Broad and James Anderson continue as a pair? Darren Gough, who worked as team bowling consultant in New Zealand recently, said on Talksport that England must start planning for life without their two all-time leading bowlers.

All in all, it has been a miserable four days in the South African Highveld, where the air is thin and the opposition unrelenting.

England began needing a further 255 runs with nine wickets standing. After playing fluently on Saturday, Burns was virtually strokeless yesterday until he attempted to pull Anrich Nortjes second ball and skied a catch to mid-on.

Joe Denly twice pulled Kagiso Rabada for six but was then leg before to all-rounder Dwaine Pretorius.

At Headingley in August, Stokes came to the wicket with 218 runs needed after Denly was dismissed. The numbers were exactly the same here but, sadly, it was not to be a glorious portent.

After a bout of sickness on day three, Root was feeling well enough to bat in his usual spot at No.4. But the South African bowlers were displaying no sympathy. Root was hit on the hand and needed treatment after another blow to the forearm.

The hosts celebrate the removal of Stokes

The Stokes dismissal with 172 runs still needed was the decisive moment. The hero of Headingley had left the scene.

South African captain Faf du Plessis said: We kept saying Kesh would get Stokes out in the second innings. Hes got him a few times. We just had a gut feeling.

Stokes was a massive wicket for us. Hes proved he can win games on his own.

Bairstow clipped the first delivery with the second new ball to the mid-wicket boundary but, to the second, he threw his hands at an attempted drive and edged a catch to gully. A careless dismissal when the plan was to repel the new ball.

Then Root nicked off for 48, Sam Curran went the same way and Archer guided a catch to slip. Buttler whacked a couple of sixes in a one-in-a-million hope he and the tail could get close to the target.

But then he skied a catch and Broad was last man out, attempting an ambitious big hit.

Du Plessis revealed his players are still angry that Archer was not banished from the attack on day two for bowling successive beamers to nightwatchman Nortje.

He said: Its a South African thing, were a team of fighters. We love to spark a little something like that. We were pretty upset at the time, thinking the umpires would take him off. When Archer comes in, well do exactly the same thing to him.

For England, they know the best cure for any sickness is to play a damn sight better in Cape Town.