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A Game Apart


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Friday, 15 January 2010

Stubborn Steyn removes all doubt... and misses Onions

DALE STEYN, fresh from his first five-wicket haul against England, was understandably happy after day one of the final Test at the Wanderers– and relieved to see England drop South Africa’s bogeyman, Graham Onions.
Steyn, who scuppered half of England’s side as they were skittled for 180, said: “It was something I was raring to get, a five-fer against England. I’ve done it against everybody else.
“I came close in Cape Town. Bowlers work hard for these things. We don’t often get decks that move around a bit, we’ve got to fill our boots when things happen like today.
“It didn’t happen for me in Cape Town, but I didn’t bowl as well as I did at Newlands but it went my way today a bit more.
“For me, the most important thing is to stick to the basics, I’ve never done anything special, I just apply the basics fantastically!
“In my first three Test matches against England I was very young but I won’t go there.
“If somebody had offered England all our for 180 and us 29 without loss, we would definitely have taken it at the start of the day.”
Asked about the decision to drop Onions, who has held out against South Africa twice as a No11 bat, Steyn was clearly surprised: “Sir Graham Onions? That’s what they’re calling him isn’t it?
“Even as a bowler he would have been a handful on this wicket, he could have been dangerous. I’m not taking anything away from Ryan Sidebottom but it was surprising to see he wasn’t playing. It was a bit of a relief for us.
“I won’t dwell too much on their side but we were surprised they dropped Onions. It’s their decision, I’m not really too fussed. It’s been a good day for South African cricket.
“Morne Morkel set the tone for us this morning, getting rid of Trott, Pietersen and Cook, who looked pretty solid. He’s been bowling pretty well. This is the start of Morne’s career. With Makhaya Ntini not in the side he has to step up to the plate.”
England’s top-scorer Paul Collingwood, who scored 47 while all about him where losing their heads, said: “We’re disappointed with 180, but the wicket’s certainly got a lot in it. Good carry, the ball’s swinging all the time and there’s certainly seam movement out there.
“But we’re disappointed. Hopefully we’ll do better second time around.
“The toss? I think both captains had the same idea, to bat if they won it. But on pitches like that you have to be committed, whether that’s a shot or a leave. A hundred percent committed.
“There are some guys who will be disappointed with their shots. It can be tough to play on these wickets.
“We’re not going to make an issue of Alastair Cook’s dismissal. We thought at first it was a no-ball, but having seen further footage. Andy Flower went to see the match referee. There was a still frame on the television which showed his foot was over the line. But there was a bit of slippage. It’s not an issue.
“All of us have got to understand what our strengths are as batsmen. We weren’t quite good enough today.”
On the decision to axe Onions for Sidebottom, Collingwood said: “Graham’s done a fantastic job but you can understand the need for fresh legs. You’re going to need four, five, six seamers in the future for England with all the overs they bowl in Test cricket these days.”
And how was the dressing-room affected by the first-ball dismissal of Strauss? “It’s not an ideal start if we’re honest. But it was a fantastic catch by Hashim Amla, not even a 50-50 chance. We never quite got through that new ball. This wicket seems to still be doing plenty with a 40-over old ball. It’s one of them watchful wickets.
“I thought we bowled excellent at the end, our lengths were exceptional. We’re going to get a lot of playing a missing. Hopefully we can hold our catches in the morning and get a few of them early.”
And the latest Kevin Pietersen failure? “I was glad to see him getting out to an attacking shot. I’d rather that than see him get out being defensive. That’s his way.”

Labels: 180, , decisive fourth test, , , skittled, wanderers

Thursday, 14 January 2010

England shot out for 180 and South Africa survive the rain and floodlights without loss

ANDREW STRAUSS fell to the first ball at The Wanderers this morning and England were shot out for 180 on a disastrous opening day of the “must-draw” final Test in Johannesburg.

South Africa, needing a win to tie the series at 1-1 and retain the Basil D’Oliviera trophy, were 29-0 with openers Graeme Smith(12) and Ashwell Prince (15) surviving 12 overs, a 95-minute rain delay (pictured right) and a bonus late session under floodlights.

When the umpires finally took them off for bad light, Strauss was furious. It was the end of a very, very bad day at the office.

Strauss’s first diamond duck was quickly followed by the loss of Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook as England found themselves 39-4 after 9.4 overs. South Africa’s opening pair, Morne Morkel (3-39) and the world’s top ranked Test bowler Dale Steyn (5-51) were almost unplayable in their opening barrage.

It was left to Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell to restore sanity – they added 76 for the fifth wicket before Collingwood departed for 47 and Bell followed for 35 soon after lunch.

And then the gormless procession resumed. Matt Prior, Stuart Broad and Ryan Sidebottom offered little resistance as England – Graeme Swann excepted - caved in. Yes, Sidebottom – a surprise choice to replace Graham Onions before play this morning. Onions, the legendary No11 bat the South Africans never managed to remove. Just another silly decision on a day of poor choices from England.

The most remarkable of the lot? Strauss deciding to bat when he’d won the toss. Did nobody tell him about 1999 when we were shot out for 122 on the opening day and lost by an innings?

There’s one reason this lot might do a tad better. Collingwood. Oh, for 11 Durham Determinators. Described by coach Andy Flower as “Our typical British Bulldog” he is carrying four separate injuries to his shoulder, back, hand and groin. But he celebrated the end of a fascinating first session by slapping Jacques Kallis for six over square leg and calmly walking off for lunch.

It couldn’t last. In the fifth over after lunch Collingwood, looking good for an heroic 50, turned a typical nurdle off his pads into a leading edge to JP Duminy. England were 115-5 and the Bulldog was gone for 47 off 61 balls, McLaren’s first Test victim.

Bell’s two-hour resistance ended when he was bowled by an absolute snorter from Steyn which nipped back and shattered his stumps.

Prior, who admitted earlier this week he was unhappy with his form in the city of his birth, was next. Steyn celebrated with abandon when he touched one to Boucher for 14 off 25 unconvincing balls.

Broad, once an England schools opening bat, produced a couple of nice shots before he went for 13, caught Morkel, bowled by an animated Jacques Kallis. No love lost there. Broad actually got a worse reception that Kevin Pietersen from the locals.

And Broad’s demise was typical of England today, a nothing shot to a nothing ball. While the South Africans are fired up and verbal, England’s batters appeared happy to wander in and out with no apparent fury.

Sidebottom did exactly that, Steyn’s fourth victim, caught behind for a duck off six balls. He waited all this time for the chance to bat in this series, worked so hard in the nets during the first three Tests. Then he nibbled at one outside off just when his country needed him to hang about a bit.

Graeme Swann, competing with Collingwood as England’s man of the series, got stuck in for a run-a-ball 27 before he became Steyn’s fifth victim and Boucher’s third. Innings closed but at least Swanny, the top wicket taker in the series, added 25 with Jimmy Anderson (6).

At 180 all out on a pitch being downgraded from “downright nasty” to “quite lively”, England are in serious trouble, but it could have been ever worse after the opening spell we witnessed this morning. An assault on the senses shared by a crowd of around 8,000 as the press box, packed with former Test stars, went into meltdown.

Steyn got things underway after Strauss – three-out-of-four with the coin on in this series - had won the toss. The England captain’s decision to bat is something he will have to live with for the rest of his career.

There was a hushed silence as Strauss turned the first delivery of the day straight into what the stadium commentator instantly described as “the magic hands of Hashim Amla” at short leg. Great catch, one handed to his right. Uproar.

England’s stunned Barmy Army, who had their traditional chorus of Jerusalem drowned out by the sound system at the “Bull Ring”, were immediately silenced. Strauss had become the 28th person dismissed on the first ball of a Test, a fate which befell the great Sunil Gavaskar three times. Last time this happened to England? Stan Worthington in Brisbane against the Australians in 1936.

The first over ended with England 3-1, nerves still jangling. Morkel’s first over from the other end was equally fiery. His first ball was edged by Trott for four. His second beat the bat completely. The sixth did for him, plumb LBW, England 7-2. A bizarre five-run, eight-ball innings of swishes and hopeful prods. What was Trott thinking?

Pietersen, on seven runs from 16 balls, did what he has been doing all tour. Made a rash decision just as he was beginning to get comfortable. He went for the big pull, didn’t quite make it and Wayne Parnell took a sharp catch at cover. England were 32-3. It was all so fast, the poor bloke, making his debut, even had a quick shy at the stumps after taking the catch.

Pietersen departed spitting and shaking his head. Now boasting a full beard and a rapidly diminishing Test average, the man from Pietermaritzburg looks an unhappy soul.

Alastair Cook, somehow keeping his sanity at the other end as three South Africa-born English batsmen perished, was next, Morkel’s third victim. His LBW decision went for review with the controversial TV umpire Daryl Harper and though it looked like a no-ball, the decision stood. England coach Andy Flower went to the match referee to complain, but by then it was too late. Far too late. Cook was gone for 21 off 31 balls and England were past shock and into intensive care at 39-4.

Labels: , England in Johannesburg, first ball, fourth test decider, , , result pitch, the wanderers

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Fourth Test special: Kallis taunts England: South Africa are the better side

JACQUES KALLIS insists South Africa are a better team than England – and will aim to prove just that when the decisive fourth Test gets underway at The Wanderers on Thursday.

Kallis picked out Graeme Swann and Paul Collingwood as the two thorns in South Africa’s side, but though his side are 1-0 down heading into the final Test of the four-match series, he said: “We feel we’ve dominated the series but we’re somehow still behind.

“But that’s in the past, we’ve got to look into the future. We’ve got to go out and win this Test match. The guys have discussed it, we have to move on now. There will be no favours given in this series.

“We like to believe we are the better team. We’ve got to believe it. There was a two day period where we didn’t play the better cricket and we lost it in Durban.

“But we’ve still got a lot of belief. I’ve had a look at the wicket, I’ve seen greener here. It’s not as bad as people think. You’re going to need a bit of skill to get through it. Our guys are used to pitches with bounce more than England are.

“Hopefully the luck will go our way this time. It’s been going England’s way so far.”

When I asked if relations between the two sides were cordial after allegations of ball tampering during last Test in Cape Town, Kallis said: “That was the only issue we really had. Nobody is holding any grudges. There have been no major blow ups in the field. It’s been in played in a good spirit.

“Obviously KP is a key player for England but they’ve done well without him playing well. We’ve had a few plans that have obviously worked. But he might be due something in the next couple of Tests. I hope it’s not this one.

“Our guys do rate him. We’ve done well to keep him quiet. But we know he’s a quality player, you don’t lose that overnight.

Kallis, the top run scorer in the series so far and the best all-rounder in the world, said: “From my point of view I’m not going to change anything I do. I dont’ feel any more pressure.

“It’s a challenge, it’s no often you play on Test wickets that do a lot. Our pitches are more lively than any in the world.

“England haven’t given up. Two games when they were totally out of it, they managed to stay there. We were in England’s situation in Durban and we crumbled.We were in the mire in Durban and we failed.

“The danger is you finish a Test match on top like we did in Cape Town and we have to guard against remembering that. Just because we dominated the last Test match doesn’t mean we’ll be on top here.

“There is a bit of weather around, the wicket does need to be a little bit greener. We need a result wicket with a bit of grass on it. But it’s dangerous going into a Test match without a spinner.

“This almost becomes a one-off Test match. Swannie’s had a good series, Colly’s been key for them. Those guys have been a thorn in our side so far this series.

“Collingwood? To get the balance in your side you need a KP but you need a Colly. He’s shown what a quality player he is. Certainly, at times, not the prettiest player in the world. But you’d take the ugly guys, the kind of gutsy guys who fight in tough situations.

“Obviously, we need to play all the cricket here. There will be pressure on us. We have to be more positive. It’s a gamble we have to take.

Labels: England in Johannesburg, , , neal collins in south africa,

Colly ready for Bore War: "I love to annoy South Africans"

PAUL COLLINGWOOD is ready for the final battle of the Bore War. As England prepare for Thursday’s final Test against South Africa, Durham’s dogged Determinator grins: “I might bore a few people but it’s a job. And it’s a job I enjoy. And I love to annoy the opposition.”

And annoy them he has. England go into the last chance saloon at the Wanderers “Bull Ring” in Johannesburg knowing a draw will secure a shock 1-0 series triumph – largely thanks to Collingwood’s obdurate attitude at the crease. After twice helping England to last-wicket draws, he says: “We’re happy with where we are at the minute, but if we can get that draw or a win, that’d be magic for us.

“I’ve always been a fighter, ever since growing up with my brother in my early teens. I will always go out there and fight. This whole team has shown that resilience. Obviously you need flair and genius at times, but in Test cricket resilience is so important.

"Getting a draw when the other side are winning can be vital. It really hurts the opposition. And for me, staying out there for four hours and getting 40 can be better than a hundred.”

Collingwood, described by coach Andy Flower as “a typical British bulldog” after yet another match saving innings in Cape Town last week, has been central to England’s trio of last wicket stands – the first against Australia in Cardifff last summer, then twice against South Africa in the first and third Tests of this absorbing series.

I enjoyed a net with Collingwood last summer (see picture) and he remains the most approachable of the England players. And his resolve remains undimmed after three months on safari surviving record-breaking temperatures, numerous injuries and a wild Dale Steyn in Cape Town.

The most consistent of England’s batters – he got 50 and 26 not out to aid survival in Centurion, 91 in Durban’s innings triumph then 19 and 40 off 188 balls of stoic resistance in Cape Town – simply refuses to accept his body is struggling to cope with the endless strain of international cricket.

He has delayed the operation on his dislocated shoulder for eight years – “I can’t afford to take three months out” – and still needs the odd cortisone injection to clear things up. He has been having ice treatment on his back problems which have eased since early in the tour but he dislocated his left index finger warming up in Durban three weeks ago and was wearing two large strips of adhesive tape on his left inner thigh at nets yesterday.

But there he was today, netting like a madman. He got hit on that left finger by Graham Onions but shrugged it off and batted on. Then he bowled at full pace for an hour, beating the bat as many times as any of England’s quicker bowlers.

The British Bulldog? “Andy can describe me however he wishes,” grins Collingwood, “My innings out here have been very special. Centurion was good and in Cape Town, I always had the belief we could do it.

“It was such a big game for us. It’s hard to measure these innings. They’re not about runs, it’s about the time you spent in the middle. The attitude you show to the other players, the balls you face.

“I think those innings are worth a hundred, it may not come across that way. To get over the line we way we have done in those two games was special.

“Those innings give me more pleasure than some hundreds. I’m sure Ian Bell has discovered that. He scored elegantly for 140 in Durban but I’m sure when he came off in Cape Town with 78 after four hours, it was even better.

“He was under pressure a couple of games ago, to show that mental strength will mean a lot to him.

"This is a huge week for us. To win this series would mean so much.”

Collingwood survived being given out first ball in Cape Town, thanks to the new-fangled review system. He said: “It’s good for the game. It will improve the game in the future. But at time it can be frustrating with all the stoppages.”

If groundsman Chris Scott does what he’s been told and leaves a little grass on the No5 strip out here on Friday, Colly may just find himself bowling a real spell for the first time in this series when Stuart Broad, Onions and Jimmy Anderson tire.

Bowling at something close to full pace for the first time in weeks at nets this morning, he said: “I feel very comfortable, but my full pace is what you might call medium. Usually when there is a bit more in the wicket, the last person they’ll turn to is me! We’ve got the guys with the skill to swing it.

“When I get the ball we tend to be in a bit of strife, I hope I don’t get too much bowling here.”

Colly famously tends to be at the other end when Kevin Pietersen is playing his best cricket but with the South African-born batsman struggling, Collingwood insists: “KP scored nice runs in Centurion. I think we always look at KP and think he should be doing it every match. He’s sort of a genius, if he goes a couple of games without runs, the pressure comes on. I’m sure he will produce something in this game.”

And then we return to his favourite topic. Staying power. He says: “To have this kind of resilience when you’re under the pump is a great strength to have in a team. You need your flair, your bits of genius, but we’ve shown in the last six months, we’ve got it in the locker if we need it.

“And we’re finding more and more players who have that resilience in our team as this tour goes on – like Belly in Cape Town.

“South Africa have outplayed us quite a lot in the sessions but we’ve got that strength. It’s an important part of Test cricket to get a draw from a game you might lose. It takes a lot out of the opposition.

“We feel refreshed after Cape Town. Andy Flower and Andy Strauss have identified times when we can recharge the batteries. It’s important after two tough Tests. The last two days in training, we’ve shown a lot of energy. This week means a lot of us.

“It was nice to have a couple of days break but we have to come out and play. We can’t sit back and rely on this position. It’s a huge week for us. We want to go away winning the series.

“I’m just enjoying my game. But those situations, I really love.“

Labels: absorbing series, British Bulldog, bull ring, facial injuries, final test, neal collins in south africa, , resilience, the wanderers

Friday, 8 January 2010

Flower blooms at 7am the morning after... and issues a warning to South Africa

ENGLAND boss Andrew Flower issued a clear warning to South Africa before Thursday’s final Test in Johannesburg, insisting: “We aren’t going to The Wanderers to draw the series, we’re going there to win this thing 2-0”

After yesterday’s miraculous draw in the third Test at Newlands, Flower (and Ian Bell, right) emerged before 7am London time at the team’s plush new headquarters on Cape Town’s waterfront to say: “We showed a lot of fight to save two Tests here and we won in Durban.

“Fight is something we like to have in our dressing room. It’s integral to what we want. But every England side inherently has fight because the players are representing their country.

“We want to go on to bigger, better things with this team.”

Flower, talking as a “table cloth” of cloud drifted over the magnificent Table Mountain behind him, praised the fantastic four-hour partnership between Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell which provided the platform for England’s great escape yesterday – and he had kind words for No11 bat Graham Onions, who stood firm for the last over, just as he had at Centurion in the first Test.

Flower said: “Colly is a typical British bulldog, he’s great in the dressing room and he has lots of energy. Now he is using his experience and he is battle-hardened to play against the best sides in the world.

“Belly followed his big 100 (140) which helped win the match in Durban with a match-saving innings (78) yesterday It’s good to see him playing with confidence.”

Described as “a legend” by captain Andrew Strauss yesterday, “Bunny” Onions came in for further praise from Flower as he followed his 19-ball last-man-standing epic at Centurion with 17 balls of desperate defiance yesterday. Flower said: “Bunny’s been in some difficult situations and he’s come through it. He’s had very little luck with his bowling on this tour but he’s proved he can bat when it matters.

“That’s testament to him and the thousands of balls he’s had thrown down at him Phil Neal and our coaching staff. Battling our way to two draws, refusing to lose, that has to be great for English cricket.”

The only slight blemish? The form of Kevin Pietersen, who scored 0 and 6 in front of booing fans at Newlands. Flower said: “Everybody has blips in Test cricket. I’m confident he’ll come back. But he contributed to this draw in the field and in the dressing room.

“I wouldn’t say he’s a special case, everybody is a special case in our squad, in the nicest sense of the word. They all have their unique problems but we deal with everybody the same way. I have every confidence in Kevin.”

Of the ball-tampering allegations against Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, repeated over two days by the South Africans, Flower said: “Our bowlers did nothing wrong. They have great talent at bowling reverse swing on coarse tracks here. We shall continue to do exactly what we always do.

“Has this changed the relationship between the two sides? There’s always a little bit to say to eachother in a series as close as this. But it’s fine. Was it an attempt to unsettle England? You’ll have to ask them that.”

Labels: andy flower, , cricket test series, , fourth test decider, graham onions, ian belll, , the wanderers

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Second Test: Day five: Tea: South Africa are making a meal of it. England can't lose five wicket in a session, surely?

PAUL COLLINGWOOD (left) and Ian Bell survived a ferocious four-hour assault from South Africa’s bowlers to take England within touching distance of a miraculous draw on the final day of the third Test in Cape Town today.

In front of another huge crowd — the 17,000-capacity Newlands ground was sold out for the first four days and isn’t far short of 15,000 today — the tourists lost nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson (nine) and locally-born Jonathan Trott (42) in the morning session. But Collingwood and Bell, unbeaten on scores of 58 and 34 respectively, survived everything the hosts could throw at them to guide England deep into the final session without further loss.

With time running out, England were 255 for five — 211 behind the hosts with an estimated 23 overs of this absorbing contest to come. They lost seven wickets in the final session in the opening drawn Test in Centurion when the new ball was used, but England clearly learned from that experience.

Their unbroken sixth wicket partnership has so far endured 288 balls and been worth 102 runs – at a modest but irrelevant rate of 1.98 per over.
Defeat here would have squared the series at 1-1 going into next Thursday’s final Test at the Wanderers high-altitude Johannesburg, making South Africa favourites to clinch victory in this fascinating 20-day tug-of-war. As it stands, England will fly inland on Sunday knowing they can’t lose.
England’s so-called chase — they needed 466 runs off 146 overs when South African captain Graeme Smith declared yesterday before tea — was never really on. But with Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook falling after a promising century-strong opening partnership last night and Kevin Pietersen joining them soon afterwards, even the chances of surviving for a draw looked anorexcally slim.
Resuming at their overnight 132 for three, Anderson — out here for his first ever golden duck in the first innings — survived for 45 minutes.
But he fell to the eternally fortunate Paul Harris, the non-spinning spinner, whose awful full toss was kept down by Anderson but it came off the boot and was brilliantly caught by Ashwell Prince, diving one-handed to his right.
Anderson departed for nine, but he’d done his job, batting 52 balls and supporting Trott for an hour to leave England on 153 for four.
Collingwood arrived but almost suffered a quick exit. His first ball from Harris hit something and was snapped up in the slips. The entire South African cordon went up, demanding the departure of England’s most stubborn resistor.
New Zealand umpire Tony Hill gave it out but Collingwood immediately called for a review.
Without hot-spot technology or the snickometer stump microphone, there was no evidence of a touch as the ball went through to hit his hip. The decision went in Collingwood’s favour. Gamesmanship by the hosts? Did they really hear something? Hard to tell.
But in the light of their ball-tampering allegations that apparently orchestrated appeal wasn’t quite what you’d call cricket either.
Seven overs later, the world’s top ranked Test bowler Dale Steyn, now fully recovered from the hamstring injury which forced him out of the drawn First Test in Centurion last month, worked his 90mph magic.
Trott, on 42 from 99 deliveries full of fiddling and marking his crease, saw his off-stump go flying as Steyn produced a touch of nip from the seam and squeezed the ball between bat and pad to leave England tottering on 160 for five.
Bell then joined Collingwood and the pair began the arduous task of trying to steady the England ship surviving a testing period as the hosts reached 179 for five at lunch.
The Durham man, suffering from a bad back all tour and the left index finger he dislocated during the wonderful win in Durban last time out, reached the break scoring a mere eight runs off 51 balls amid echoes of Cardiff and Centurion, where he was integral in carrying his side to safety. At the other end, Bell was almost belligerent scoring 12 off 27 up to lunch to frustrate the South Africans.
Before Christmas, Bell was considered something of a liability. But that superb match-securing 140 in Durban followed by a careful 48 in the first innings here makes him the one of the form batsmen — and with South Africa stuck out in the sun all day, the chances of a courageous draw were growing by the over.
Seamer Friedel de Wet – controversially drafted in to replace Makhaya Ntini, the 101-cap legend of black South Africa — needed an injection in his buttock for a muscle spasm before play and was bowling well below his normal pace.

After lunch, South Africa turned to Morkel for the new ball. He has been head-and-shoulders above the rest of the attack throughout this series and took five in the first innings here. At the other end Steyn, bowling like an express train gave Collingwood a torrid work out.

On another day, with a little more luck, Steyn and Morkel might have blown half a team away. But somehow Colly and Bell survived the crucial 20 overs after the new ball, defying the odds and giving England a real glimmer of hope.

At one point, the pair put on just one run in 24 balls between the 84th and 89th overs and when Collingwood picked up a four off Harris in the 101st over, it was England’s first boundary since Bell’s four off Steyn in the 83rd over – a lean period lasting 108 nerve-jangling balls.

But survive they did, and when Harris came back on in the 95th over, you could almost sense the relief. Steyn and Morkel had been magnificent, Kallis and De Wet less so. But the new ball had failed to produce the wicket South Africa so desperately needed.

In the final session, South Africa turned to twin-pronged spin, with JP Duminy joining Harris and finding some serious turn for the first time. But England’s heroic pairing simply adapted and Bell went to his 50 first, tucking Duminy away for four on the leg side after three hours and 134 balls. What a knock

At that point, with Steyn firing up again from the Wynburg end, Collingwood was on 32 off 156 balls and England were 249-5 with 26 overs to survive.

Labels: drawn first test, epic resistance, , , neal collins at Newlands, , , third Test

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Second Test: Day Four: Bell's belter, Colly's folly and Broad's bore

IAN BELL joined Alastair Cook on the Kingsmead honours board today, the second England batsman to produce a selection-enhancing century at the second Test in Durban.
While Cook's 118 was a gritty 263-ball, nearly six-hour crusade yesterday, Bell's ton was a far more fluent affair, needed 172 balls to carve the weary South African attack apart.
He went to three figures for the ninth time in his Test career by waltzing down the track and slapping Harris back over his head for four.
But as England dominate, there is bad news too. Paul Collingwood, who added a magnificent 91 yesterday to his first Test scores of 50 and 26 not out, has just returned from a scan which revealed no fracture.
He dislocated his left index finger this morning while warming-up - the man who took a record-equalling four slip catches in the first innings of the drawn Centurion Test always puts himself through a tough pre-play session - and was taken off in some pain.
Fortunately, Bell, with help from Matt Prior (60 off 81 balls, they put on 112 together for the sixth wicket) has ensured Collingwood won't have to bat again in this Test.
Collingwood was also spotted with an ice-pack on his shoulder, suggesting the back problems that nagged him during the triumphant one-day series triumph earlier in the tour are not dealt with.
That might explain why he bowled just one over in South Africa's first innings 343, with part-timers Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen called up to help the front-line bowlers ahead of the Durham man.
Already Luke Wright is being suggested as the obvious replacement for the New Year Test in Cape Town next week - but with Collingwood averaging 83.5 in this series and the best fielder out there even with one hand and a bad back, captain Andrew Strauss will be relieved there is no fracture. We await further developments.
With lunch still half-an-hour away, England moved things on to 500-6 this morning, extending their lead to beyond 150 and with high tide due at 1.40pm (it affects the pitch and the swing apparently) the afternoon might have been interesting. But Stuart Broad (x off xx balls) put down anchor and England simply lost the initiative. Quite why the Notts man decided to bat like a barnacle (the politest verdict I can conjure) nobody's sure. Bloody ridiculous is another way of looking at it. 11 runs in eight overs before lunch at 513-6. Ludicrous.
The clouds are back for day four but the gateman told me: "It won't rain, I have a direct line to God." Who am I to argue... but it's the light which could prevent a result here. The floodlights were on all day on Monday, they could be on again soon here.

Labels: century, dislocated finger, , , , injury, , , second Test, x-rays

Day four: the dislocated finger: Bell belter, Colly folly

BEFORE I'd even grabbed my first can of grapetiser (it's all the rage here) in the press box this morning, the bad news arrived before the start of day four at Kingsmead.
England's experienced team media manager Andrew Walpole was on the phone. The words "dislocation" and "x-ray" were clear. And soon it was official. Paul Collingwood (pictured), England's most consistent batsman in this series, disclocated his left index finger during the warm-up this morning. He is off to hospital for x-rays. Terrible news.
Collingwood, who puts himself through perhaps the toughest slip-catching regime of all (he took a record-equalling four catches in the ring during the first Test), injured the digit and was in obviousy pain and he went off for treatment.
On top of that, he was having ice treatment on his neck, a legacy of the back problems he suffered during the triumphant one-day series earlier in the tour. That might explain why Andrew Strauss is turning to Jonathan Trott ahead of Colly when he needs a trundler here. He's even used Kevin Pietersen to give Collingwood a breathing space.
The Durham man only bowled one over in the first innings and already there are suggestions Luke Wright could be needed for the New Year Test in Cape Town next week.
Collingwood, with scores of 50 and 26 not out in Centurion, scored another monumental 91 yesterday... I leave you to work out his average so far (erm 83.5?).
Along with Alastair Cook (118) and Ian Bell (55 not out overnight), the Durham super sportsman (he's pretty good at golf and most other manly past-times) helped propel England past South Africa's first innings score of 343 on day three.
Starting this morning on 386-5, England have moved to 457-5 this morning, extending their overnight lead of 43 to 114. Bell, who looked so confident yesterday despite his failures in Centurion, is now in the nervous 90s but still looking remarkably fluent with Prior going to a much-needed 50 with a swept six. If he gets there, everyone except Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott will have added at least a half-century. That's erm... all the most English England players!
After yesterday's 10,000 crowd (we've had 17,000 on Boxing Day, 7,000 on Sunday), we're back down to a sparse sprinkling this morning and the clouds are back. Expect the floodlights to come on at any minute - they were on all day on Sunday.
But the gateman, when I asked him if it was going to rain, replied confidently: "No. I have as direct line to God."
I won't question that sort of authority. But it's the bad light that worries me. We could be off by 3.15pm the way things are with this umpires and their light meters.
More news on Colly when it arrives. He's a tough northern type. I bet he'd bat with one hand and a bad back.

Labels: , andrew walpole, dislocated finger, , , , neal collins at kingsmead, , x-ray

Monday, 28 December 2009

England's unsung heroes... and why Durban should host a future Olympics

TODAY was the day for England's unsung heroes. The men who quietly serve while Kevin Pietersen. our only truly world-class batsman, preens.
Take a bow Alastair Cook, Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell. Thanks to you England are 386-5, 43 ahead with half their wickets in hand going into day four of the Second Test in a balmy, Barmy Army-dominated Kingsmead.
Cook (118) and Bell (55 not out) needed the runs. Collingwood (91) just keeps coming up with the goods.
While an impressive-looking Pietersen came and went much too quickly on his old home ground, England's Three Musketeers dominated the third day in sunny Durban, leaving South Africa frustrated and flustered.
The world's best bowler, Dale Steyn, normally takes a wicket every six or seven overs. Not today. Not with Cook, Collingwood and Bell in this mood. He's bowled 26 sweaty overs without success. One for all and all for none might be dangerous Dale's creed.
After the initial departure of the world's most annoying batsman Jonathan Trott - no tears there as he scratches and delays at the crease - KP was out to the very ordinary spinner Paul Harris trying to sweep a straight one on 31. So straight, England didn't even bother to ask for a review. Like Trott and Bell in the drawn first Test in Centurion, perhaps he was expecting Harris to turn one. He rarely does.
The Cook recipe never includes such extravagances as sweeps and paddles. His ingredients amount to the basics. Grit, resolve, determination, with just the odd boundary thrown in.
It wasn't pretty to watch but after 218 balls, the roar finally went up. With an equally gritty Collingwood at the other end, these two pushed England gradually - too gradually for some - from 155 to 297 for the fourth wicket with a review or two their only threat.
And if South Africa's last pair, Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini, hadn't added 58 runs to push their total on to 343, England would been just about past them at tea with seven wickets to spare and a result on the cards.
As it is, knowing the light and tropical storms around these parts, this one's headed for a draw unless the pitch turns suddenly demonic.
There were fallow periods. At the end of day two, Cook had scored 8 out of 58 when captain Andrew Strauss raced past 50 and fell to the excellent Morne Morkel.
This morning, he scored just one run off his first 37 balls. But this is Test cricket. And England are starting to look the better side at the longest form of the game, having already won the One-Day series here. Not bad on foreign soil, in vastly changeable conditions.
And what of Collingwood, who, like Cook, averages around 43 in Test cricket? After his two superb knocks in Centurion, he was eventually out for 91 off 215 balls. The man is a mountain, impossible to shift, averaging over 80 in the series so far.
And then there's Bell. So nervous at Centurion, but looking great today, justifying the selectors' decision not to drop him for Ryan Sidebottom or Luke Wright. He got on with it, tearing into the weary South Africans after Cook went and crashing Harris for a masterful six. Neat and stylish, he ended the day on 55 not out off a more brisk 84 balls with Matt Prior, who could also do with some runs, on 11 not out at the other end. Great stuff.
But Cook will be the story in the morning papers. He was 25 on Christmas Day and became the youngest ever England player to pass 50 caps this week. Ten tons in 50 outings ain't bad. Once more, he looks the man born to captain, the lead when the going gets tough.
Truth is, I missed most of Cook's determined innings, went off to see the new Moses Madhiba World Cup stadium (above) about a mile away from Kingsmead, next to the impressive old King's Park rugby stadium.
There were long queues for the cable car which sails over the arch - why didn't Wembley think of that? - and plenty of people taking the stadium tour. Pity England aren't playing here... though they could face a World Cup quarter-final in Durban if they don't win Group C.
Durban would make a perfect Olympic Venue. Kingsmead (25,000), King's Park (55,000) and the Moses Madhiba (60,000) are all within a mile of eachother, centred around the fairly new railway station. There is also a small athletics stadium, a old velodrome and indoor and outdoor swimming stadiums, plus two fabulous golf courses, one inside the magnificent Greyville racecourse. All within spitting distance of eachother.
The regatta could take place just over the road, with the beach volleyball on North Beach, where they are building a walkway to the football stadium 400m away.
Incredible. And in winter - June/July - the climate here is perfect. Warm enough to swim in the sea but not so hot you need sunscreen.
Worth considering, especially with the new Airport at La Mercy opening early in March. Then they'll have two international airports, one each end of this tropical city, where monkeys still leap from the roadside trees.
Miles of beaches and huge hotels, game parks and waterfalls all around. The local Zulus always have a smile and provide superb service, the huge local Asian population help make the commerce zing. The new Ushaka development has transformed the rough end of Durban around the docks at Point Road. I could go on...
Olympic paradise. Trust me.

At that juncture of the east and south stands at Kingsmead, the Barmy Army are dominating the sparse South African platoons... Jimmy Saville - real name Vic Flower - apparently fully recovered from the Boxing Day assault mentioned here yesterday. The Natal Mercury, the local morning paper I worked for from 1980 to 1983 - were on the phone three times yesterday about the story and ran it on their front page today.

Who needs newspapers when you've got my blog! That said, I'm off to the pool. It's hot!

Labels: , , , , , king's park, , moses madhibe stadium, olympic venue, , Paul Collingwood umpire

Sunday, 20 December 2009

South Africa Friedel while England burn... but Onions ensures the draw

SOUTH AFRICA'S 29-year-old debutant Friedel de Wet pushed England to the brink of defeat at Centurion last night with a fiery new ball spell which had 9,000 sun-baked Centurion fans on the edge of their grassy hillocks.

In the end, his phenomenal spell was not quite enough. England ended 228-9 with Graham Onions surviving a torrid last over from Makhaya Ntini to roars from the Barmy Army... and groans from the locals.

Unsung hero Paul Collingwood played his part too, looking on from the other end as the tail collapsed around him. He ended with 26 off 99, but like his obdurate resistance against Australia at the first Test in Cardiff last summer, it was worth at least twice that.

But in truth, the afternoon belonged to De Wet, who finally ended local disputes over his selection when he tore through the England late order just as safety was arriving over the cloudless horizon. Taking the new ball with England apparently secure at 205-5 with 13 overs to come, he got the stubborn Jonathan Trott, the hopeless Ian Bell and the non-batting wicketkeeper Matt Prior in quick succession.

Then, from the other end, South Africa's barely-spinning slow bowler Paul Harris got Stuart Broad to edge one and, after a painful review, he too was gone and England were 206-8. They'd lost four wickets for four runs in seven overs.

Last week there was a reported dispute between chief selector Mike Procter and coach Mickey Arthur about picking De Wet, who bowls for the Lions of Johannesburg, ahead of Wayne Parnell.

But Procter held firm and when Dale Steyn pulled up with his hamstring on the morning of the match, it was De Wet who stepped up, bowling a massive Steve Harmison-style wide with his first ball.

But he has improved steadily throughout this game and with the pitch finally showing some bounce - as opposed to the odd, low scuttler - from the Hennops River end, he came to life.

That initial new ball spell, four overs, three maidens, three wickets for two runs, will live long in the memory. First Trott hurt his thumb trying to fend off an absolute snorter and AB De Villiers took a sensational one-handed catch at first slip. Trott was gone for a fine 69 off 212 balls.

But Ian Bell, who left a straight one in the first innings, lasted just four overs before he fished at De Wet and wicketkeeper Mark Boucher took another fine, one-handed catch to his right.

Next up? Matt Prior. Our non-batting wicketkeeper. He was gone in a trice, another edge to Boucher, nine balls, no runs.

With the much-loved Ntini, winning his 100th cap here, having no such luck with the new ball, captain Graeme Smith turned to his gentle spinner Paul Harris, who took five wickets in the first innings. And it worked a treat. Stuart Broad, who relishes situations like this, prodded at Harris's fourth ball and the entire team of close-in fielders went up, as did the umpire's finger.

Broad, on nought, nil, nada, quack-quack after seven balls, demanded a review - his father Chris is, after all, a match referee and he'd felt hard-done-by first time round - but the television just confirmed what we knew already. A substantial touch to Boucher, who had now taken three catches in four overs.

But of course, England's secret weapon had yet to come out to join the canny Collingwood, who got a quiet half-century in the first innings.

Graeme Swann. Five wickets in the first innings, none in the second. A Test-best 85 in the first innings and a massive job to do here with seven-and-a-half overs left. The crowd were in good voice, the Barmy Army attempting to out-sing the locals. Bedlam. Everyone had been asleep half an hour before.

While Durham’s Graham Onions sat nervously in the dressing room to our right, Swann and Collingwood plugged away, attempting to stem De Wet's tide and seeing off Harris.

Six to go, five to go, four... but then Smith turned to Morne Morkel, his third paceman. Remember, the injured Steyn is currently the world’s No1.

And bang, with his fifth ball, he catches Swann in front. The finger goes up. They call for a review, but it’s too close. We have to stick with the on-field umpire. He’s gone for two off 22 balls.

Onions to face Morkel’s final ball. He survives.

Three to go. One wicket to fall.

Before De Wet’s arrival, this game had been dead, killed by the two South Africa-born batsman, Kevin Pietersen and Trott.

Even when KP ran himself out suicidally an over after tea for a fine 81, England still looked safe at 4-172. The crowd were starting to go home, the caterers were packing up.

But while we fiddled, Friedel burned with ambition. And when the new ball was thrown to him, he finally produced the kind of bowling South Africa have been calling out for throughout this sun-burnt Test.

So to the penultimate over. Onions survives three from Morkel with reasonable aplomb but then, inexplicably, takes a single off the fourth, a Yorker which nearly squirted through.

Collingwood goes for the single off the fifth... hoping to face De Wet’s last over. But he overcooks it. The ball reaches the boundary and he’s sent back with another four to his name, and he can’t get the last one away.

So it’s Onions to face the final over from Makhaya the Magnificent. Controversially, De Wet is rested after a spell of seven overs, 3-11. I’ll take you through it.

1: Gets a bat on a widish one, but not the full bat.

2: Plays and misses. Close to an edge. We’re all edgy.

3: Solid, right behind a good ball.

4: Gets a bat on it in front of his pads, plumb in front.

5: Solid, could have had a single cover.

6: A huge roar from the Barmy Army as Onions survives. He turns to the flag-waving Brits in their corner, and shows a fist. He’s done it. A 12-ball knock for one run, but it’s worth a roar. England have survived for a draw.

We live to fight another day. In Durban on Boxing Day for the second Test, where rain is predicted.

Labels: , devastating new ball spell, england cricket, friedel de wet, , ,

Closing overs, Day Five: Why the Trott/KP partnership hurt so much for South Africa

STRANGE isn’t it? Two men playing against the country of their birth are so determined to resist in front of their former compatriots. And the two Englishmen we saw early today, James Anderson and Alastair Cook, produced a couple of airy-fairy shots to go and sit comfortably in the shade of the dressing-room while the heat is on.

At tea Jonathan Trott (53 off 148 balls) and Kevin Pietersen (80 off 136) had pushed England from 27-3 to 169-3, an unbroken partnership of 142. Safety looms, though Pietersen ran himself out for 81 an over after the second interval and Trott was brilliantly caught by, one-handed by AB De Villiers at first slip off Friedel De Wet for 61 - and went of nursing a bruised thumb from a superb, rising delivery, the 212th Trott received.

That leaves two lilly-white Englishmen, Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell, who left a straight one in the first innings, to see out the last 13 overs of the fifth day to ensure a drawn first Test with the score 209-5.

But what British stiff-upper-lip Trott and Pietersen displayed! What true English blitz spirit! And of course, they're both South African reared.

Nightwatchman Anderson, judging by his twitter this morning, was more intent on getting back to find a television by lunch-time. He said: “Huge day today. Wolves v Burnley 1.30pm.”

After Andrew Strauss’s departure last night, Anderson and Cook were out in the first hour with just 27 on the board, 336 still needed. All looked lost, a growing Sunday crowd were having their time in the sun. Then Cape Town-born Trott got his head down and was joined by Pietermaritzburg-born Kevin Pietersen and the resistance grew. And grew.

As I wandered around this magnificent ground, all grass banks, paddling pools and beer, the South Africans were getting remarkably uptight. About 10,000 of them have disturbed their traditional pre-Christmas Sunday braai (or barbecue) to witness England, the old enemy around these parts, crushed.

Instead they were forced to witness two of their own, batting proudly for queen and country, soaking up the pressure and pushing England towards a draw. In their charming double-storey executive boxes, which look like Victorian houses, and on their picnic blankets, I recognise the words from the bearded men as they see yet another appeal turned down. Bitter words. Angry phrases from a near-forgotten childhood.

It’s not hard to understand their discomfort. The Afrikaans curses shouted loudly across the ground are understandable. In short: Centurion, once known as Verwoerdburg, lies next to Pretoria, the heart of Afrikanerdom. They were never too keen on the “rooineks” (red necks) here. Not since we built a concentration camp in nearby Irene, about a mile away, during the Boer War 110 years ago and left the local populace in small-pox infected misery. Okay, it's ancient history to most, but the vast graveyard and memorial, next to Irene Primary School, is barely a six-hit away. It holds the graves of the 1,149 mostly women and children who died there.

So this is no fun for the folks gathered here, large people, large appetites, large opinions. And not all of them modern, democratic thinkers. Things have changed, the nation is rainbow-coloured, but the last thing they need is for two turncoats from the coastal regions to push this game beyond South Africa’s reach. I’m amazed they’ve been so gentle on this pair, considering.

The South Africans on the field are little happier. Even Jacques Kallis, supposedly not allowed to bowl because of the rib he fractured in October, demanded a go at this pair. And he got nowhere. At tea he had figures of 3-1-5-0. And the misery goes on for the locals.

Early on, things were unpleasant for England and their tiny Barmy Army after the first overnight rain of this sun-soaked Test. The ball was flying around, it was pleasantly cool for the fielding side. But Anderson, who gloved Friedel de Wet to Mark Boucher 13 balls into day five, produced an avoidable dismissal.

The gormless Cook followed soon afterwards, caught by South African captain Graeme Smith at gully off Paul Harris. What is the point of Cook? He's earmarked to captain the side in Bangladesh on their next tour but hasn't got to 50 since Lord's against the Australians. He looks good, sounds good... but he's no Test opener at the moment. He looked terrified coming out to bat last night.

The irrepressible Graeme Swann, whose five wickets and Test-best 85 carried his side through the first three days of this Test, twittered a more positive: “Three things I want to see today. Jimmy get a fifty, Cookie a hundred and the Toon smash the Smoggies.”

Only the last of those is now a realistic option. For our foreign readers the words “Toon smash the Smoggies” constitute a Geordie phrase roughly equivalent to “the once-great Newcastle beat never-great Middlesbrough in the second tier of English football which nobody cares about”.

Of far more importance to lovers of real football was Arsenal’s 3-0 win over those niggling, nasty men from the fires of Hull. It closes the gap on Manchester United – smashed by Fulham, 3-0 (yes, that's 3-0) – and extends the lead over Liverpool – beaten 2-0 by bottom club Portsmouth (yes, that's 2-0).

Which just leaves Chelsea to lose to West Ham today, just after this absorbing Test draws to a close this afternoon. And yes, it’s all true. Mark Hughes is gone despite yesterday’s goal-happy 4-3 win over Sunderland which left Manchester City handily placed in sixth. His replacement? Roberto Mancini. So that means City are are in trouble.

And is my precious book, A GAME APART. It was published two days ago. Sales have reached a feverish 14 in two days despite emails to all my mates, constant blogging and attempts to bring people into my web-site with pathetic twittering. My wife threatens to cut people's hair badly in her salon if they won't buy.

But it isn't working. Please help. Behind me, the Johannesburg Star's Kevin McCallum sold 40,000 copies of his sports trivia book. I need 39,986 of you to help. It's the book you must read before the World Cup. If you want. It's not expensive. My wife liked it. Just go to

Labels: , first test, friedel de wet, , , jimmy anderson, , , master plan, ,

Saturday, 28 November 2009

One win in seven, but South Africa are favourites in Port Elizabeth

SOUTH AFRICA'S rugby team return home this week with an unwanted record of just one win in five games. After today's 15-10 defeat against Ireland, the World Cup-winners fly home having beaten just Italy on their trip to Europe, with defeats against France, Leicester and Saracens to add to today's 15-10 defeat in Dublin. Shocking!
Their cricket team of course is in even worse shape. In their last seven One-Day International showdowns against England they've won just once. Not great for the No1 ranked Test nation. Nearly as bad as their football team, still switching coaches and begging stars to play six months before football's World Cup kicks-off in Johannesburg on 11 June next year.
But let's be honest, that's a cheap dig at Graeme Smith's Proteas. They are in a different league to the Rainbow Nation's football and rugby sides right now.
Friday's clash at Newlands saw a comprehensive victory for the Proteas, with centurion AB De Villiers imperious in a 118-run triumph which levels the series at 1-1 with two to play. Home skipper Graeme Smith says he now intends to make life very diffficult for Andrew Strauss, who insists his side are "still a work in progress".
The teams flew up the Garden Route at the crack of dawn this morning for tomorrow's clash at Port Elizabeth with Paul Collingwood, fresh from scores of 105 not out and 86, insisting: "We're straight back into a game tomorrow, but in many ways that's a good thing. I feel in very good form at the moment - I'm seeing the ball well. I'm enjoying the wickets out here, I gained a lot of confidence from playing in the Champions Trophy on faster and bouncier wickets.
"My confidence is high, and it's amazing what you can do when confidence is that high."
You can say that again. A couple of weeks into the tour it looked like a bad back might force him out of action. Now he says: "It's settling down. I think I've just got to control it as much as possible. Touch wood, everything feels fine at the moment - and I hope we can get another win."
England's other wounded troops, James Anderson (knee), Graeme Swann (side) and Stuart Broad (shoulder), should all be okay to resume battle tomorrow but having let the South Africans get a near-record 354-6 on Friday, the return of Swann and Broad didn't have quite the impact England were hoping for in Cape Town... where losing the toss was a huge drawback.
While Strauss practices his coin-tossing, South Africa are sweating on the dodgy hamstring of the world's No1 pace bowler Dale Steyn, though they have the consolation of knowing Wayne Parnell and Morne Morkel returned to take eight wickets between them in Cape Town. Charl Langeveldt is ready to step up and Smith says: "If Dale doesn't play we will miss him dearly. But the positive side is it gives someone else the opportunity to rise to the occasion."

On a weekend when Tiger Woods crashed his car, Wayne Rooney scored a hat-trick and West Ham enjoyed a high five, tomorrow sees further huge sporting showdowns including this one in Port Elizabeth and, in London, the make-or-break game for Arsenal against Premier League leaders Chelsea. As a cricketing Gooner, I predict a sad Sabbath. South Africa and Chelsea will seize the day. As for Real Madrid v Barcelona, on immediately after the Arsenal v Chelsea clash... it's got to be Barca.

Labels: , , , , Ireland rugby, , , series, , Springboks

Monday, 23 November 2009

Trott the all-rounder? A revelation from Botham

IAN BOTHAM, who knows a thing or two about all-rounders, picked out Jonathan Trott’s performance in the thumping seven-wicket win over South Africa yesterday as “a revelation”
While the immediate headlines surrounded the performance of Paul Collingwood, who took two wickets, a superb catch and scored an undefeated 105 in his record 171st one-day international for England, Botham went straight to Trott’s performance with bat and ball in his post-match analysis.
The Sky Sports commentator and former England captain said: “You have to look carefully at what Trott (pictured) did out there. He scored 87 and bowled seven overs for nothing (21, the most economical England bowler). England are having to learn to live without Andrew Flintoff and Trott will help them do that.
“It’s been a real revelation for England. South Africa are struggling without their all-rounder Jacques Kallis (broken rib) but we have Trott, Paul Collingwood, Luke Wright and Tim Bresnan who can do both now.”
Botham appears genuinely optimistic about England’s chances after they eased past South Africa’s 250-9 with seven wickets and four overs to spare.
With South African captain Graeme Smith admitting: “There is a realisation we’re in for a long, hard summer of cricket,” Beefy argues: “We all want to see a vibrant and punchy England side going at it hammer and tongs with the opposition.
“The best one-day teams in the world are front runners - the Australians and the Indians. I think Andrew Strauss finally recognises that. He was conservative in the West Indies, but he has been captain for a year now and I expect to see him blossom in charge.”
Collingwood, who overtook Alec Stewart as his country's most capped player in the ODIs, said: "It was a big day for me on a personal note.We were quite comfortable in the end. It was a special performance by all the boys really."
But the Durham dynamo also picked out Trott after their 162-run third-wicket partnership. Trott opened for the first time, replacing Kent’s Joe Denly, and fell just 13 runs short of a maiden one-day ton.
Collingwood purred: "It was a top knock by Trotty. He really played the anchor role. "Credit to him, all the international innings he's played so far have been special ones and hopefully that continues. He’s taken his county game to the international level."
England captain Strauss, who dropped three catches and scored just 16 off a sluggish 26 balls, did the vital thing - winning the toss - and said: "Jonathan and Paul both played exceptionally well. We always felt we could chase down 250 but we needed to get stuck in and build a partnership.
The great disappointment yesterday? Adil Rashid, once more England's least economical bowler. The young Yorkshire spinner, hit for four sixes in the only over allowed him in last week’s crushing Twenty20 defeat on the same ground, bowled just three overs for 27, leaving the door open for Kent’s James Tredwell to make his debut in the third one-day international at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday.
Tredwell, England’s Under 19 captain back in 2002, took 95 wickets in all forms of the game last season and he can bat a bit as well, with two first class tons and a 16 fifties for Kent.
The only other thing England need to worry about on Friday? The captain’s hands. After dropping those three catches, Strauss said: "That was the one negative. My hands went missing somewhere. I'll have to do some practice before Newlands on Friday."

Labels: , , , , , , world cup

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Record-breaking Collingwood's clout of Africa

PAUL COLLINGWOOD take a bow. Two wickets and an undefeated century as he broke Alec Stewart's record of 170 England one-day international appearances - and South Africa crushed by seven wickets. What a day for the Man of the Match. Oh, and typically, a flying catch at backward point to dismiss danger man AB De Villiers for two.
The Durham dynamo (left, with me at The Oval earlier this year) ended with 2-24 off six overs with the ball as South Africa could only manage 250-9 off their 50 overs at Centurion. Then, with a little help from Jonathan Trott, 87, and Eoin Morgan, 27 off just 18 balls, Colly scored a magnificent 105 off 110 to see England home.
Home captain Graeme Smith, who gets more articulate by the day since his early, clumsy attempts at verbalising on his first tour in charge here back in 2005, was left admitting candidly: "I think the realisation has dawned that we're in for a long, hard summer of cricket against England.
"Credit to them, they bowled well and we were 30 runs short. I think we were a little soft with a few dismissals in the middle. I'd like to congratulate Paul Collingwood...and we will have to be at out best from now on."
How's that for a change of mood? Just a week ago, South Africa raced to a record Twenty20 victory at the same ground (curiously the hero of that game, Loots Bosman, was left out in the longer form of the game) and injury-hit England looked in all sorts of trouble despite somehow contriving to draw the two-match wham-bam series.
The 50 over game made the South Africans look impatient and under-prepared. Collingwood said: "To be fair this was a completely different track today. Last week was a quick track, the ball was coming onto the bat. I thought we bowled really well and I had great support from Trotty and Morgs.
"Jonathan just took was he does in county cricket and did it here. To be fair, his international innings so far have all been magnificent.
"It was a big day for me, but I thought the team were fantastic all the way through. I had a bad back last week but the medical staff did a great job and hopefully I'll be fine now."
As a Sunday cricketer lucky enough to have netted with Collingwood, and ghosted newspaper columns with him, you can rest assured a day like today couldn't happen to a finer fellow. A handy golfer and all-round sporting genius, Collingwood has often been lambasted for being something less than Andrew Flintoff as an all-rounder. If England are to live without Freddie, we have to start loving Colly more.
Lifted by a warm-up win against South Africa A in Potchefstroom, England were magnificent today, apart from a couple of dropped catches from captain Andrew Strauss, who also failed with the bat.
But as he picked up the magnificent R15,000 winners' cheque (that's about £1,000, which won't go far back home), Strauss was all smiles. He did all the captain had to today, winning the toss before play had even started. He said: "It was an imporant toss to win, I think the pitch flattened out a bit for us. But I was very happy with how we bowled. It was a professional performance. Paul and Jonathan played very well and hopefully we can take this forward. We aren't going to get carried away, but we're fairly happy with where we are at the moment."
With three more one-dayers to go - the first was rained off in Johannesburg on Friday - followed by the four Tests, we're all fairly happy Straussie. And as Collingwood said: "We'll just have to give the captain some catching practice."

Labels: , , , , , one-day international, , , test series

Friday, 13 November 2009

Grim Smith 1, Strauss 0... and Swannie's moustache

GRIM SMITH won the opening battle of the Boer War in Johannesburg yesterday, blasting England captain Andrew Strauss for not wanting to play in tonight’s Twenty20clash at the Wanderers.
Grim, spelt Graeme, may just have done his rivals a favour by calling Strauss’s non-playing role into question yesterday — England’s Johannesburg-born captain Strauss is now considering playing after opening bat Alistair Cook succumbed to a virus overnight.
Smith will no doubt take the credit for that. He’s that sort of bloke.
He has been in charge of the Proteas since the departure of the disgraced and now-departed Hansie Cronje five years ago. And he has come a long way since his first clash with England at the tender age of 22, when his record-breaking batting spoke louder than his clumsy words.
As the two nations go into a torrid schedule of 11 showdowns in 10 weeks, Smith — who has taken his team to No1 in the world rankings in both forms of the game — saw fit yesterday to have a go at Strauss’s decision to miss the two Twenty20 internationals this weekend and give the captain’s armband (if only cricketers had them) to Paul Collingwood.
Having scored 72 and 117 not out in England’s opening two tour wins, there are those who feel Strauss might have made the difference when England were all out for 89 and crushed by four wickets in a Twenty20 warm-up against South Africa A on Tuesday night.
Smith, who averages over 50 in Tests, said when asked about Strauss’s reluctance to play in the shortest form of the game: “It does surprise me. It’s very difficult to keep chopping and changing and I think it will be difficult for your coach Andy Flower to be working with a different captain with a different outlook.
“Who handles team meetings, who runs the show? Those are questions it’s difficult for me to answer but it must be an interesting dynamic within the side.
“He’s scoring runs, he has been successful in one-day cricket over a period of time, maybe it’s something he is reassessing in his own mind but it does surprise me that on a tour like this having started so well that he’s not playing a part.”
Smith won’t have it all his own way on this tour though. The last time the pair met, Strauss was the runaway winner.
It was a Champions Trophy qualifier at Centurion last month, an injured Smith needed a runner and the England captain said no.
Despite a Grim ton, South Africa were comperhensively beaten and the hosts crashed out of the competition.
Smith insists: “There are no personal hard feelings. It is going to be competitive. I guess we’re trying to work out at the moment how Andrew is going to go about things. He has been a very quiet individual whenever we have played against him, almost stuck in the background, a clean and tidy type of character.
“I think he is trying to be a lot sterner and tougher in his ways and maybe he thinks the England environment needs that. He is much more outspoken now, I guess the captaincy does that to you so it will be interesting to see how he goes this summer.”
On a less serious note comes news of Graeme Swann’s moustache, another stunning exclusive. You may need a magnifying glass and spectacles, but it IS there, stubbornly clinging on just above the top lip as England warmed up for tonight’s Twenty20 clash against South Africa in Johannesburg. Swann himself twittered last night: “Oh dear, my so-called ’tache is a disgrace. A semi-ginger, patchy disgrace! Still I must stick with it... at least until ordered to shave!” A less light-hearted twitter from Swannie this week reads: “‘This part of Joburg is safe as houses,’ said our liaison officer. Round the next corner? Bullet-ridden car, news crews, body bags!” Paceman Jimmy Anderson echoed that sentiment: “Just seen the aftermath of a shooting near the hotel. Cars full of bullet holes. Very scary.”

Labels: andy flower, england cricket, , , james anderson, , ,

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Just put this on page 51 of today's Lite

LITESPORT would like to apologise to any readers of yesterday’s cricket story on page 35 headlined: “Swann warns SA this is NOT same old England side”.
This newspaper was taken in by two early wins on the tour of South Africa which encouraged us to accept Graeme Swann’s argument which ran along the lines of: “What we’ve been trying for the last five years hasn’t really worked and we’ve done something about it.”
Last night’s humiliating Twenty20 defeat against South Africa A in Bloemfontein suggests this England team ARE, in fact, just as bad as all the other touring teams we send around the world for a good hammering at the hands of our former colonies. For that we apologise unreservedly.
England, without captain Andrew Strauss who avoids the shortest form of the game, were skittled for 89 in an innings that featured three comical run-outs. The second-string South Africans got there with four wickets to spare.
With the first of two Twenty20 internationals looming at the much more intimidating Wanderers Bull Ring in Johannesburg, stand-in captain Paul Collingwood said: “I’m hoping this was just a blip. I never like losing, but I think sometimes it is going to be a little bit of a reality check as well.
“We’ve started so well, it’s a really great atmosphere and there’s a lot of hard work going into it. I guess it’s just our decision-making in this form of the game that tonight has let us down.”
England’s injury list is worrying too. Swann left the field with a slight thigh problem, joining James Anderson (knee), Graham Onions (back) and Stuart Broad (shoulder) in the casualty department.
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Labels: , bloemfontein, captain, , disaster, england, graham onions, humiliating, james anderson, , , , tour