LONDON: England captain Andrew Strauss acknowledged on Monday that his team had not responded well to the challenge of defending their world number one test ranking.
By contrast his South Africa counterpart Graeme Smith, whose side displaced England when they won their three-test series 2-0 at Lord's, said he believed the Proteas had what it took to stay on top.
South Africa jumped ahead of England in the rankings after their 51-run victory in the final test on Monday. The win ended England's impressive streak of seven consecutive test series wins at home and extended the Proteas' run of six years without defeat in test series overseas.
England were number one for a year after leapfrogging India last year. But since then they have lost six tests, including three in a row to Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates, won three and drawn two.
“It has been the case that we've lost a lot more than we would have wanted to,” Strauss said.
“Whether that's because of a change of mindset, from being the hunters to the ones that are hunted, I don't know.
“Or is it just that we came unstuck in the subcontinent and lost a bit of confidence along the way? I don't know the exact answers right now. But those are the sort of questions we need to find answers to.
“Obviously, the mindset switches straightaway again - to us being the 'hunters' - and maybe that suits us a bit better at the moment. That should give us the impetus and catalyst to go on and play some better cricket over the coming months.”
England's next challenge in the test arena is a four-match series in India in November before home-and-away series against both New Zealand and their oldest enemy Australia.
Smith appeared unconcerned by the sudden pressure of becoming number one, a position South Africa have already held briefly.
“Being number one is something we have pushed for, for a while,” Smith said.
“Over the next few days we can enjoy that. But our long term challenge is the same as it was for England, in that when the wind blows, to make sure it doesn't blow us over.
“Having touched it before, I think we have learned some lessons. I can't predict what will happen but we are pretty humble. I don't think there will be any flashiness from our guys.
“There will be lots of hard work and with the type of people we have around our group, if we do lose this it won't be because of our attitudes.”
Strauss said England's greatest weaknesses throughout the series were catching, with eight catches going down in three tests, and a lack of runs from his top order. Strauss, himself, made a highest score of 37 in six innings and averaged only 17.
Wicketkeeper and England's man-of-the-series Matt Prior topped the run charts for his team with 275 at an average of 45, batting at number seven.
“The obvious thing to focus on is that our batting was below-par, comparatively to theirs, against a good bowling attack and we dropped catches,” Strauss said.
“In a three-test series in particular, dropping those sorts of catches against a good batting lineup can be the difference between winning and losing games.”
Meanwhile, Strauss said he had made no definite plans to meet controversial batsman Kevin Pietersen, who was dropped for the Lord's test after falling out with the team and the England management.
But he did say the Pietersen saga could not be blamed for the Lord's defeat.