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A Game Apart

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A Game Apart


London Evening Standard



Paddy Power

Oakwood Estates

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Two great events, one nation. And England expects...

A DISTANCE of 1,715km lies between two great sporting events tomorrow. In Cape Town, England's footballers will be unable to influence the World Cup draw but up the coast in Durban, our cricketers will do all they can to inflict an unexpected defeat on South Africa at Kingsmead.

The footballers will be happy to draw Slovenia, New Zealand and Algeria. They'll be devastated if they come out of the hat with France, Ivory Coast and the USA. Those are the two ends of the scale for Fabio Capello in Cape Town, where the sun is shining. Ultimately though, England have to be able to play anyone, anywhere to win the World Cup. They need to be unbeatable.

In tropical Durban, where it's been a little soggy of late, Andrew Strauss knows his side are already unbeatable, given they're 2-1 up in the One-Day International series with one to play. And they are within touching distance of being the only country apart from Australia to beat South Africa in an ODI series on home soil.

Strauss fully appreciates the significance of all this, going into his 100th ODI. In true Tiger Woods style he's trying to play it all down, pretend it's nothing major. He says: "We have to put them under pressure again, make sure we're at the races. It would be a bit naive to talk about series victories. We really want to come and win this series 3-1 but we have to expect another South African backlash."

This Jekyll and Hyde series has been all about backlashes. After the rained off opening game, England won by seven wickets in a crushing triumph in Centurion. Then South Africa broke all sorts of records as they got their revenge in Cape Town last Friday. But England produced another emphatic seven-wicket win in Port Elizabeth last Sunday to turn it all around again.

Given the roller-coaster that has gone before, you'd expect a massive South African win and the two sides will go into the four Test series having drawn both the Twenty20 series and the ODI contest. And that's a worst-case scenario for England. Which is confusing because South Africa have often looked a much better side, particularly with the bat.

But Strauss says: "It doesn't matter how good a side is, if you keep putting them under pressure then you are going to have success against them. We have been able to do that a couple of times this series and let's hope we do it one more.

"I think we've progressed quite a way but I am the last person to say we are the finished article. We still have a long way to go."

With South African born trio Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Strauss threatening to ruin his summer, Proteas' captain Graeme Smith isn't too concerned about the reception awaiting the "English imports" from infamous Castle Corner.

Smith growls: "It happens round the world these days, I think a couple of England fans booed me on Sunday, so it's just something you become used to as an international cricketer.

"Fans are biased towards their teams. You have to learn to have a little bit of a thick skin. What we need to do is push England to perform under pressure. Disappointingly we haven't done that so far."

Dale Steyn's hamstring makes him a doubt for South Africa, who are also without key all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who has had an injection in his injured rib and is rated only 50-50 to be fit for the opening Test at Centurion 16 December. England are now injury free after their initial problems with Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Graeme Swann and, crucially, Jimmy Anderson, who took a career-best 5-23 last Sunday.

I never thought I'd say this but England look like they've got the momentum to beat South Africa in their own backyard, their first ODI series defeat since 2002. Let's hope they don't waste it.

Labels: , , , , , south africa one day series


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