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A Game Apart


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Monday, 18 January 2010

Strauss rested, Cook takes charge... and I'm on the flight home

ENGLAND captain Andrew Strauss will be "rested" from the tour party which departs for Bangladesh on February 13. Seamer Jimmy Anderson is also staying home to have his knee injury monitored.

But Graham Onions - mysteriously dropped for the final Test which was lost by an innings against South Africa yesterday - and Adil Rashid both find themselves dropped from the one-day squad for Bangladesh.

Chief selector Geoff Miller said of the Strauss decision: "He's been rested to get his mind together again. We have to look towards the future as well. This is an opportunity for Alastair Cook, to find out if he's future material for the England captaincy.

"We're giving Andrew a break so he can refresh himself after an arduous 18 months. It's about the mental state as well. It's happened before - Graeme Smith and MS Dhoni have both had a break for their countries.

"The majority of the unit are going out there apart from the captain and a little problem with the knee for Jimmy Anderson. The senior players will respond to Cook's captaincy. It's not something we've done lightly. The players are all aware of the situation.

"Andrew has been involved in the Ashes series and South Africa was a very difficult tour. The series we've just had has been very tough. He has to get ready for another big summer and another Ashes coming up this winter in Australia.

"He'll be very disappointed with his batting average in South Africa. He's gone away and come back refreshed before. I have no doubt Andrew will do exactly the same this time, he'll be like he was of old.

"We've given Alastair the opportunity to be involved in team meetings, he's taken on the official vice-captaincy. We feel he deserves the opportunity to show he can do it in the international arena. We feel he could be the future international captain.

"We just felt it was the right time to give Andrew a break, to work on his game."

While Strauss is rested, Paul Collingwood will travel despite playing through a series of injuries in South Africa: Miller explained: "We considered every person. We don't make these decisions lightly. Paul will go out and he'll captain theTwenty20 with a world Twenty20 coming up. We wanted Paul out there to continue in his rich vein of form. We didn't offer him a break. Not at all.

"We understand that international cricket is so intense. But we will cross bridges when we come to them. There is no vice-captain for this tour.

"We've got a lot of senior players there if Alastair gets injured."

Labels: , , bangladesh

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Pietersen faces an uphill struggle says Smith, gloating after his series-saving triumph at The Wanderers

SOUTH AFRICA captain Graeme Smith believes Kevin Pietersen is facing the biggest challenge of his career after a bitterly disappointing safari in the lad of his birth.

Pietersen, who started the series off with a bang in Centurion, could only contribute 12 runs off 42 unconvincing balls as England subsided dismally in front of a packed Wanderers “Bull Ring” on day four of the final Test in Johannesburg.

Needing 243 to make the hosts bat again, England were all out for 169 with the ever-reliable Paul Collingwood (71) providing England’s only real resistance as they handed the Basil D’Oliviera trophy meekly back to the South Africans by an innings and 74 runs.

Gloating over the emphatic way his side snatched a 1-1 draw from a series which looked to have slipped away from them, Smith said: “We had a good game plan for Kevin and it worked for us. He’s one of those guys who has great expectations on his shoulders every time he comes to the crease. The pressure just builds on him, especially after he’s failed a couple of times.

“We just had to keep asking the questions. After the impact he’s had on international cricket over the last couple of years it’s going to be a real challenge for him now. But we’ll keep asking those questions. It’s up to him to find a response.”

Pietersen, out since the second Ashes Test last summer after surgery – and post-operative complications – on his Achilles, appeared in fine form in the opening Test at Centurion when he hit 40 and a top score of 81. But his suicidal run-out there put the Pietermaritzburg-born batsman in the spotlight and nearly led to England’s defeat.

In Durban, at his old home ground of Kingsmead, Pietersen failed to join the run-fest. He was out for 31 when the rest of the upper order were enjoying half-centuries on the way to an innings and 98-run victory.

At Cape Town, England held out for another final-wicket draw despite KP’s worst efforts of 0 and 6 which left captain Andrew Strauss lamenting: “That has to be the most disappointing Test performance of his career.”

Former England captain and SABC commentator Geoffrey Boycott offered to help Piegtersen correct the flaws in his defence but complained “he doesn’t listen to anybody” while there were reports of a bust-up with fans, which were fimly denied.

New Year at Newlands was nasty for Pietersen but in many ways, Johannesburg over the last five days has been even worse. Booed loudly by huge crowds at “The Bull Ring”, he was out for just seven in the first innings and despite a desperate attempt to change his approach, he was hustled off for 12 after batting for an hour and a half, when England needed him most yesterday.

Strauss continues to live in hope. He said: “There are always high expectations surrounding Kevin Pietersen but it must have been hard for him here after a long lay-off. It’s not the easiest thing to come back into the side like that.

“I’m sure he’ll be desperate to prove his class once again. It’s definitely been a frustrating tour for him, but I have no doubt he’ll come back from this.”

Pietersen is not England’s only concern. Stuart Broad came here as an all-rounder but returns home with a bowling average of 33.46 and a batting average of 10.85. Garfield Sobers and Andrew Flintoff sneer in the face of such figures. His constant whining when dismissed did little to endear him to the fans here either.

Highly-rated seamers Jimmy Anderson and Graham Onions enhanced their reputations slightly – though dropping Onions for the final Test in favour of Ryan Sidebottom was a move which will never be fully explained, especially after Onions had twice defied South Africa as a No11 batsman to grab a pair of delightful draws.

Wicketkeeper Matt Prior batted like a buffoon yesterday – he was dropped off his first ball and caught off his second for a duck – and admitted he wasn’t happy with his form going into the Wanderers, where he watched his first big game of cricket.

Jonathan Trott, promising at times but desperately frustrating to watch with all his fiddling at the crease, cannot claim to have set the world alight anymore than Pietersen while Strauss himself has hardly blossomed as he did last time he was out in the land of his birth.

The successes? Alastair Cook has batted his way out of trouble as an opener with a fine century in Durban and further success in Cape Town and Ian Bell has come back with a vengeance. Strauss said yesterday: “Ian’s comeback is exciting for us, but only three batsmen had a decent series. The rest of us, and that includes me, missed out.

“We’ve shown we’re resilient and that we’re hard to beat. But that’s not enough. We’re not good enough at the moment. We have to be more clinical. We all know there is plenty of room for improvement.”

Fair enough. South Africa captain Graeme Smith agrees: “I’m happy with a draw but we could easily have been sitting here 3-1 up.”

There are two reasons England drew this series. Paul Collingwood, England’s “Typical British Bulldog” according to coach Andy Flower, and Graeme Swann, who took a series high 21 wickets and scored one more run than his skipper, including a Test-best 85 in Centurion.

If you’re looking for heroes of this epic safari, look no further than those two. Smith’s verdict: “Swann did well on our pitches but Collingwood is the glue that holds England together.”

Labels: , , England in Johannesburg, , , South africa celebrate

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Smith declares 243 in front. England 48-3 and Sidebottom admits: "Rain would be nice!"

SO now we know. England, teetering at 48-3, have to survive for two days with seven wickets standing.
Ryan Sidebottom's solution to their woes at The Wanderers? "Rain would be nice!"
To be fair to the hairy one, what was he supposed to say, having been singled out as the one to talk to the press after day three of the final Test?
He took two wickets but hardly justified his surprise inclusion ahead of the "legend" Graham Onions. Sidebottom, quite rightly, felt: "I maybe deserved a couple more. It would have been nice to get Graeme Smith early but it wasn't to be."
While yesterday's "Knobgate" row goes on, Mark Boucher made the point: "We've been the side that wants it more. And if you play like that the luck tends to go your way."
It sure has. South Africa declared on 423-7, 243 ahead of England's modest first innings total of 180. Pretty shrewd declaration that as England went out, and in... and out again for the light.
Alastair Cook was first back in the pavilion, comfortably caught by Graeme Smith off Morne Morkel for 1. Six balls were all he could manage. And Cook is one of the form batsman.
At the other end Andrew Strauss narrowly avoided being decapitated by Dale Steyn, the world's best Test bowler who took 5-51 in the first innings. An over later he claimed Jonathan Trott with an absolute snorter which flew off the edge to AB De Villiers (diving above) in the cordon.
In the 13th over, after the light meters had intervened, Andrew Strauss joined Trott in the "that's it for this tour" category, lbw to Wayne Parnell despite a review. He managed 22 off 45 balls.
Kevin Pietersen, who came in to perhaps the worst welcome of this tour so far, is on the nervous nine, Paul Collingwood has yet to score after facing three balls and it's 48-3 as play is called off for the day, just as the sun comes out. England need another 199 to make South Africa bat again.
We're down to the last two days of this epic series, with plenty of Highveld storms about. Rain is England's only possible salvation, as Sidebottom sol aptly put it.
He added: "We're disappointed with the way we've performed here but whenever we've been under pressure before on this tour we've come back fighting."
South Africa captain Graeme Smith told us last night: "We'll be looking to push the lead to around 200. That's a good score if the pitch is doing things and the weather continues."
He went a little further than that, grinding England's fading attack into oblivion with wicketkeeper Boucher producing his top Test score at the Wanderers - a fine 96 off 118 balls.
There were calls to axe Boucher - a 33-year-old veteran of 130 Tests - but this series has put him right back on top. He grinned: "I don't play cricket for the critics. They're always going to be there. But I use it. If somebody says something that gets to me, I use it to motivate me."
Ladbrokes rate England an improbable 33-1 to win this one, you can get 50-1 on Betfair. Former England coach David "Bumble" Lloyd twittered that England need 400 to make South Africa chase 160 at the death. That would have been interesting.
It won't happen now - but the odds on a draw remain reasonable, given the likelihood of rain, the worst of which neatly avoided the Wanderers earlier this afternoon.
That really is our only hope. England have been easily cowed in this final showdown. Earlier in this absorbing series, they showed that iron resistance, the stiff-upper-lip we Brits love to see.
But Johannesburg has been different. England went into this Test 1-0 up in the series, but only after hanging on by a wicket to draw in Centurion and Cape Town. In between, we had the best of the conditions in Durban and won by an innings and 98 runs.
Boucher suggested: "I've been on many tours and sometimes you have one foot on the plane by the time you get to the last Test. The pressure does get to you. But England have got a lot of fighters we've still got to get through."
But in truth, as Smith and his men have pointed out so many times, most of the sessions have been won by South Africa in this series. They deserve to draw 1-1 and retain the Basil D'Oliviera trophy they won in England last time they visited our shores.
And they will. England made a couple of early breakthroughs this morning but they failed to capitalise, allowing Boucher and AB De Villiers to shove England off the rails again.
But they needed a fair bit of luck to put on 120 in 30 overs for the sixth wicket at a rate of just over four an over.
Twice Daryl Harper, the television umpire who failed to hear Graeme Smith's snick yesterday (he was on 15 at the time, he went on to get 105, have a look at earlier posts), allowed De Villiers to bat on after being given out by New Zealander Tony Smith.
Harper also turned down Graeme Swann's plea for the wicket of Mark Boucher, LBW. Harper was right each time. But he seems to be England's bogeyman right now, with every decision going South Africa's way, even Strauss's LBW, the last decision of another fascinating day.
England made a good start this morning. First Hashim Amla, looking set for his second century of the series on 75, was out on the tenth ball of day three, caught behind by Matt Prior off a superb ball from Stuart Broad.
Six balls later, Jacques Kallis was gone, brilliantly taken by Jimmy Anderson on the dive off Ryan Sidebottom. Getting Kallis for 7 was a big bonus for England and at 217-4 the tails were up.
After a brief lull, Andrew Strauss turned to Swann, as he has all series, for the breakthrough. And with his first ball - it's becoming a habit - he had JP "Crash Test" Duminy caught by Collingwood and it was 235-5.
Swann then had De Villiers given out twice - on 11 and 24 - by umpire Tony Hill. But De Villiers called for a review both times. The close catch on 11 may or may not have brushed the bat, the lbw on 24 was not out.
But given that shocker yesterday - Harper failed to hear the Smith snick which echoed around the cricket-speaking world - you might expect a bit of help from the man!
De Villiers survived having the ball come to rest against his stumps without removing a bail (much to Collingwood's chagrin) and a clear glove behind to make it through to lunch with 43 off 99 balls. The always-dangerous Mark Boucher went to his fifty just before lunch after surviving Swann's LBW review.
At 324-5 at the break, South Africa were 144 ahead. De Villiers' luck finally ran out on 58, caught by Collingwood, and Broad had his third wicket of the innings. But Boucher carried on and passed his best-ever Test score at the "Bull Ring" - 78 - with debutant Ryan McLaren in support.
Just as the huge gathering here were really getting going, the rain came down, but it didn't last long. The South Africans, all 30,000 of them, were in full voice as Boucher tortured England in a 67-run partnership with debutant McLaren. And it was Swann, with the first ball of his spell yet again, who finally got rid of Boucher, who popped one up to Jonathan Trott. The declaration came soon afterward with McLaren 32 not out on his debut and Dale Steyn on 1.
Meanwhile Harper - backed by the ICC this morning - has turned to Facebook to justify his position.
After yesterday's knob-twiddling sensation he posted these quotes on his site: "The truth about Smith's decision may come out eventually. The host broadcaster didn't provide the appropriate sound to match the picture. The commentator, Matthew Hoggard, told the viewers that there was no sound - so Smith would be given not out.
"Sadly when the technology fails... and that means that some engineer has failed to do his job... they must find a scapegoat, and the umpire is an easy target because we can't fight back... usually.
"Five minutes later, they found a sound and blamed me! Other networks found the sound immediately, but we didn't get their sound feed."
Good defence Daryl, but how about coming to speak to us in the press box. Just a gentle chat. If you can comment on Facebook, surely you can talk to the journalists?

Labels: , , , decapitate,

Friday, 15 January 2010

Smith's incredible let-off all down to a knob in the umpire's review room!

SOUTH AFRICAN captain Graeme Smith enjoyed an incredible let off as the second day of the final Test at the Wanderers got underway amid controversy this morning- and ended with a flooded pitch.

Smith clearly edged Ryan Sidebottom to Matt Prior when he was on 15 just four overs into the day – but television umpire Daryl Harper was unable to hear the noise on his audio fee.

The Australian apparently hadn’t turned it up to the full volume - and refused to give the decision. Smith went on to score 105 and put South Africa into a virtually unbeatable position.

SABC frontman Neil Manthorpe told the Evening Standard exclusively: “Harper’s volume control ws only on four out of ten. That’s why he didn’t hear the edge.”

Luckless England were all out for a paltry 180 yesterday as their attempt to engineer the draw that would clinch this absorbing series fell flat. They were able to take only two “official” wickets as South Africa moved from their overnight 29-0 to 202-2 as Smith reached his 20th Test ton off 182 balls.

With Hashim Amla (66), he put on 164 in 40 overs – a record second-wicket partnership at this historic ground against England – at a cracking rate of just over four an over. Smith, taken to task for not walking on local television by West Indian commentator Ian Bishop - was finally out to an edge off Ryan Sidebottom, taken by Andrew Strauss at first slip after 187 balls, 252 minutes and 16 fours.

Only rain can save England now, and it’s just started to come down heavily here (see picture above), flooding the outfield and ruling out play for the rest of the day.

As the covers come on, South Africa are 208-2 with Amla on 71 and Jacques Kallis 2 – that’s a lead of 28 with eight wickets in hand. A win for South Africa– which would see this absorbing series drawn 1-1 and the hosts retain the Basil D’Oliviera trophy – now appears to depend purely on the weather.

But with every run Smith made this morning, England’s sense of frustration grew as the realisation dawned that the new-fangled review system cannot ensure Test cricket is free of grinding injustice.

The South African leader, not the most lovable of cricketers, should have been long gone. After patiently guiding his side through a sticky evening session involving a rain break and floodlights last night, he had a wild slash at birthday boy Sidebottom, 32 today

The entire England side went up with Stuart Broad particularly vociferous in his appeal, marching around his his arms up.

While on-field umpire Tony Hill remained curiously unmoved, England captain Andrew Strauss immediately called for a review. And after the initial problems with the new-fangled system, he only does that when he’s sure something’s wrong.

The music played, the replays rolled... and England’s celebrating fielders could hardly believe it when Harper said he heard nothing on the stump mike and backed New Zealander Hill’s not-out verdict.

Ashes-winner Matthew Hoggard, emerging from the SABC commentary box, told me: “There was a definite noise. I don’t understand why it wasn’t given. Once we’d turned the sound up, it was quite clear.

“Perhaps the television umpire had a problem with the feed from the pitch mike. But without hotspot, it’s so difficult.”

Former South African Test player Pommie Mbangwa said: “It was definitely out, although quite a few people couldn’t here the noise in the commentary box until they turned up the sounds.”

Hotspot technology shows an infra-red image of where the ball hits the bat. Though it is functioning for reviews in Australia’s current series against Pakistan, it is not available here, making catches behind difficult to give.

But since then I’ve even had fans coming up saying they heard the nick – and texts from South African fans in London, watching Sky, laughing at their captain’s luck. In fact, I’ve just been interviewed by SABC television, giving the Evening Standard’s verdict on their conscience-free captain.

Australian television umpire Harper, already under fire for not giving a no ball when Alastair Cook was out LBW yesterday, will come under further scPublish Postrutiny from the England camp – though Paul Collingwood said last night England were more acceptant of that decision after further review of the tapes.

But he confirmed England coach Andy Flower had made a brief visit to match referee Rohsan Mahanama after that decision.

Another visit may be required after Smith’s let off. The Standard’s Jon Agnew, seething in the Test Match Special box, twittered: “Interesting how Smith deals with this afterwards. Will it be a 'special' innings in light of having stood on 15? There will be replay after replay.”

England’s disappointment was eased an over later when they grabbed their only wicket of the morning. Ashwell Prince prodded forward at Broad – who looked really fired-up this morning after being told where to go by Jacques Kallis when he got out yesterday – and the thick edge flew to Graeme Swann at slip. No doubt about that one.

The first slip catch of the Test so far left South Africa, 29-0 after those 12 sticky overs last night, 36-1 in the 17th over. But that was as good as it got for England.

The batsman formerly known as Prince (as they like to call him here) did brilliantly to survive two hostile spells amid the rain break and badlight last night, but all that hard work -19 runs off 48 balls - was in vain and he attempted to fend off a good, rising delivery.

Amla marched out to join his captain and together they survived a difficult early morning session. With the sun baking the life out of yesterday’s jumpy strip – and limiting the swing for England’s seamers - South Africa’s 50 came up six overs into the morning session.

Broad and Sidebottom were getting movement and finding a good length... but without the constant menace provided by the pace of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in their devastating opening 12-over spell yesterday, when four England wickets fell for less than 40 runs.

Labels: , , England in Johannesburg, , final test, , the 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

England lose four in the first hour... but Collingwood goes to lunch with a six!

ANDREW STRAUSS was out first ball at The Wanderers this morning as the fourth and final Test between England and South Africa got underway amid incredible scenes.

The captain was soon followed by Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook as England found themselves 39-4 after 9.4 overs with Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell required to produce their now-traditional rearguard action within 45 minutes of the start on the opening morning.

South Africa’s opening pair, Morne Morkel (6-1-20-3) and the world’s top ranked Test bowler Dale Steyn (6-0-26-1) were almost unplayable in their opening barrage.

Fortunately, they were replaced by two debutants – Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell – and the resilient Collingwood (44) and Bell (19) began the business of resurrecting England’s innings, going to lunch at 100-4, having added 61 for the fifth wicket.

Thank God for Colly (my old netting partner, see picture) is the cry. The hero of Cardiff, Centurion and Newlands, the man described by coach Andy Flower as “Our typical British Bulldog” is carrying four separate injuries. But he celebrated the end of the first session by slapping Jacques Kallis for six over square leg. Some guy.

But what a opening spell we had. 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 – near-perfect with the coin on in this series - had done his usual thing and 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 for the opening ball of a Test England only have to draw to clinch the series. Then Strauss turned that 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. 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. You won’t remember Stan. He did that back in 1936.

Ball two from Steyn flew inches wide of Jonathan Trott’s off-stump and reports of a bowlers’ paradise had been confirmed in a matter of seconds.

Groundsman Steve Scott was told to prepare a result wicket by South Africa coach Mickey Stewart, whose side need to win here to square the series at 1-1 and retain the Basil D’Oliviera trophy. It worked like a charm, but only because Strauss chose to bat. And he knew all about the South African scheming.

The first over ended with England 3-1, nerves still jangling. Back in 1999, when the Wanderers hosted the first Test between these two sides, the carnage went on all day as England were skittled for 122 and went on to lose by an innings and 21 runs. Yesterday, out on the balcony overlooking this huge arena, I talked to then-captain Nasser Hussain about that epic morning a decade ago. Surely Straussie would have been told about it? Surely he must have known what it can be like here on the first morning?

Morkel’s first over from the other end was equally worrying. His third ball was edged by Trott for four. His second beat the bat completely. The sixth did for him, plumb LBW, England 7-2. Trott, who had swung at everything he could see, almost walked. A bizarre five-run, eight-ball innings of swishes and hopeful prods. What was he thinking?

Pietersen emerged to a reasonable reception given he spent his formative years in South Africa - and he appeared to have settled, hitting the first genuine four of the morning off Morkel as he settled in with Alastair Cook at the other end.

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

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 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.

Collingwood and Bell survived the last of the Steyn-Morkel onslaught and they relaxed visibly when two debutants – Ryan McLaren and Wayne Parnell – were handed their first overs in Test cricket. But already this entire 20-day Test series has swung South Africa’s way.

Thing is, Arthur finally has his dream attack here. Right from the start of the series, there was a feeling Makhaya Ntini was past it, but they had to pick him for Centurion and Durban, where he won his 100th and 101st caps but took just two wickets for plenty.

Friedel De Wet, the Johannesburg-based paceman who replace him in Cape Town, is 29 and apparently the choice of head of selectors Mike Procter. He did his back in after just five overs at Newlands.

So here, by default, Arthur has Steyn and Morkel on top form plus Parnell – described by Kent team-mate Robert Key as “the new Wasim Akram” – making his debut in place of De Wet and all-rounders McLaren and fit-again Jacques Kallis.

It’s some attack that. And if they want a spinner, they can always turn to JP Duminy, who turns it more than their specialist spinner Paul Harris, axed for McLaren this morning.

England are in trouble here – and they must survive without their best batsman. Yes, Graham Onions, the world’s greatest No11, is out. The legend is no more. Replaced by Ryan Sidebottom, who can swing it a bit. He’ll have to swing it a lot to turn this one around.

Labels: , basil d'oliveira trophy, , England in Johannesburg, , fourth test decider, , , result wicket, the wanderers

Onions out, Sidebottom in... and my journey to Soccer City

WAITING for the big start at the Wanderers, just thought I'd show you a picture taken yesterday, yes that's me at Soccer City, where the World Cup will kick off on June 11 with South Africa playing Mexico.
It's also the 94,600 venue for the final on July 11, where England will play Spain. But those teams have yet to be confirmed!
Hell of a place, Soccer City. Shaped like a kalabash, an African cauldron, it's a unique, African design and the inside is coming on apace.
We sneaked in using our cricket accreditation yesterday afternoon and walked about to our heart's content. I even found the highest seat in the house, row BB, seat 1, right up behind the goal.
Outside the news is not so good. A small shanty town has appeared to service the workers, the Stadium Road sign is hanging off, bulldozers abound. The great walkway up to the stadium appears to have fallen into disrepair.
But there's little doubt it will all be ready for next year. It's not easy to find, but presumably there will be better sign-posting by the time the tournament starts - or was it my father's poor navigation?!
Anyway, back to the cricket. Graham Onions, a legend with the bat (the South Africans can't get him out, he's been the last man standing twice in this series) and not a bad bowler, appears to be languishing on the edge of the warm-ups, suggesting Ryan Sidebottom may get his first Test of the tour.
South Africa have called up McLaren for spinner Harris, reinforcing the idea that this is going to be a swinger's paradise at the Wanderers, where the crowd is conspicuously sparse for the biggest Test of the winter.
McLaren makes his debut, as does Wayne Parnell, in for the injured Friedel De Wet.
And here comes the toss... Andrew Strauss wins yet again, he'll bat. And confirms Onions has been dropped for Sidebottom. Shocker. Onions is our legend with the bat, twice standing firm at No11 for the draw. |But he hasn't had a lot of luck with the ball.
Strauss says: "Graham has done well for us but Ryan will ask a few questions of the batsmen here."

Labels: , , soccer city, , the wanderers

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Strauss: Now is the time KP. But Smith's not having sleepless nights

ANDREW STRAUSS today backed Kevin Pietersen to make his considerable mark on the decisive fourth and final Test against South Africa which starts at The Wanderers tomorrow.

And the England captain, who has proved an accomplished motivator on this epic tour, reminded his master batsman: “The last Test in Cape Town was one of the most disappointing performances of Kevin’s career. He is due a big one. What happened a Newlands was difficult for him but it means he is due a score.”

Pietersen hit a fine 81 before running himself out in that drawn first Test, failed to join the run fest in the innings win at Durban and then scored a meagre 0 and 6 at Newlands. Statistically, it’s hard to argue against the Pietermaritzburg-born giant being the weakest link in the last Test, where England were left holding on for a draw by a single wicket for the second time in the series.

But Strauss said: “Kevin is the man for the big occasion. He has that quality, so much skill, he hasn’t lost that.”

Pietersen needed surgery on his Achilles tendon during the Ashes series last summer and post-op complications made this his comeback tour after a six month break. Strauss said: “Maybe people are reading too much into Cape Town. Because he’s been out for a long time, it’s easy to focus on the fact he’s had a couple of bad games.

“But his focus has been exactly the same as it always has been on this tour. He has worked hard, he is batting well in the nets. He's the man for the big occasion. He will come back and score runs, make those big performances. Soon. The next couple of Tests. I just hope it’s this one.”

When I asked South Africa captain Graeme Smith – not renowned for his fondness of former schoolboy rival KP (that's them together above, when Pietersen was England captain) - if he feared Pietersen would bounce back on what promises to be a difficult track at The Wanderers, he frowned and said: “I’m not having sleepless nights about that. Any one England’s top six could produce a performance.

“But we have played great cricket in this series, we just haven’t been able to produce the knock-out blow. Does anybody have any advice on how to get Graham Onions out?

“But look, you have to give England credit too. This has been a great series, good for cricket.”

Strauss, who goes into the final showdown 1-0 up in the series, said: “It’s nice to go out there knowing we can’t lose the series.

“But we’ll be going into this Test trying to win it, the same as before. The only time the pressure might affect you is on the fifth day. At this point we’re here to win, not draw.

“If we have the mindset we only need to draw, you get hesitant, you hand the momentum over.”

Strauss puts his side's success in this series down to team spirit. And he really does seem to have a point. Training here has been lively, loud... not like it normally is at the end of a long tour.

He said: “We recognise we’ve got a long way to go as a group. We all understood the challenge coming out here. Our work on this tour has been exceptional.

“We’ve put in some gutsy performances. But it will be judged on what we do in this game. We recognise that.

“I think the team spirit on this tour is tangible. It’s about having the right sort of people around, fostering that feeling, including players, not leaning too heavily on senior players. Five years ago a small group of older players did all the talking, ran all the meetings. I was one of them. I've had to rethink that.

“It’s something you’ve always got to work hard on, team spirit. It would be arrogant to think it will always be this way. You get teams with 11 great players but you can have a side that is greater than the sum of it’s parts if you work hard at it.

“It’s not about how many runs you score, it’s how much they give to the team. It’s something we have to work on in the future as well.

”It has been a long tour but it’s not hard to get up for this match. None of us are feeling tired right now, there’s plenty of energy and motivation around.

“We may feel tired after day five here. But not until then.”

South Africa will give seamer Wayne Parnell his debut here after Friedel De Wet's back gave out in Cape Town - and they may go in without spinner Paul Harris. But Strauss insists: “It hasn’t crossed our minds to play an all-seam attack. Graeme Swann has been brilliant for us. Our seamers have done a good job. Our three seamers can get 20 wickets.

“I think we’re confident we can take 20 wickets, we showed in Durban we can do that. We have to fight hard, as a batting unit we didn’t do ourselves justice in the first innings in Cape Town. But we have to show guts again here like we did in the second innings."

For Smith, this is all or nothing. Like everybody else out here, he believes his side has been the better side in this series but he accepts: "Credit to England for their resilience. This series we haven’t hit the huge highs. It’s been a touch disappointing. Tomorrow we have the chance to retain the Basil D'Oliveira trophy if we win the Test and draw the series.

“In two out of the three Tests, we’ve just lacked the final blow on the last day. When England have been put under pressure they’ve handled it well.

“It’s hard to sit here and complain. We have chats about taking ourselves to a new level. We haven’t reached the heights of 2008, but we have the chance to do that now, in this Test."

Labels: , , fourth test decider, Graem smith, green wicket, , neal collins in johannesburg, unbeatable

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

England need 334. South Africa need seven wickets. 1-1 here we come...

SOME Test this. England need 334 off the final 90 overs tomorrow, South Africa need seven wickets. I was in the middle of the South African fans when Kevin Pietersen got given lbw with England on 112-2 chasing an improbable 466 as day four drew to a close at red-hot Newlands.

Umpire Daryl Harper hesitated, gave it... and the much-booed Pietersen immediately called for a review, indicating he’d hit it. Actually he’d smashed it on to his pads. Not out on review, a massive cheer from the Barmy Army, torrents of abuse around me from the locals. This is real cricket. Not your pathetic thrash-and-bash stuff. Five days of sustained tension in extreme heat amid intense beer drinking.

There was no time to relax when, just 17 runs later, Dale Steyn rapped the pads, up went the finger and out went Pietersen for a disappointing six to add to his first innings duckulence. A massive moment in this super showdown, where England are 1-0 up and fighting for their lives in front of a fourth successive sell-out crowd in Cape Town.

The tourists made a sparkling start in the chase for 466 – but never forget, that's a hundred more than anybody has ever made in a fourth innings at Newlands.

Talk of a miracle was simmering among the slowly-baking Barmy Army as England reached the century without loss after 35 overs but then openers Alastair Cook (55 off 116 balls before he skied Friedel De Wet into the welcoming gloves of Mark Boucher) and captain Andrew Strauss (45 off 107, he prodded Paul Harris on to a pad and straight to Hashim Amla) departed in quick succession.

Shortly after tea, Cook – usually so cautious – slapped spinner Harris high over the head of De Wet in the deep, much to the chagrin of the wicket-hungry locals.

And at the other end, Strauss on 25 eased a four safely through the slips off the mighty Morne Morkel, then crashed the hapless Harris to the fence to move England into the 70s. They were definitely not putting safety first as they galloped along at three an over - and the required rate for victory is a modest 3.2.

At 107-2 we saw Cape Town-born Jonathan Trott joined by Pietermtzburg-born Pietersen and we were in the familiar position of having only one foreigner in action –Harris, born in Harare, Zimbabwe.

The multi-national batsmen, so contrasting in styles, ground their way through several mini-crises before Pietersen was trapped on 129 in the 48th over. And now we have nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson, subjected to his first ever golden duck on day three, in with the fiddling, frustrating Trott, who has 24 off 46 balls.

Tomorrow they need 334 or 90 overs of pure defiance . Sunburnt English tourists are hoping for a draw, dreaming of a win. Stranger things have happened. Just ask the Australians after this morning’s epic 37-run win over Pakistan.

When Graeme Smith made his slightly sporting declaration 40 minutes after lunch with South Africa on 447-7, England strode purposefully to the pavilion to prepare for four-and-a-half sessions of resistance with Jimmy Anderson’s eighth wicket of this Test quickly forgotten.

Matt Prior actually ran from the dressing room to the nets to practice his batting - and that after spending a day-and-half wearing voluminous padding and two pairs of gloves in temperatures approaching 40 degrees. This England outfit doesn’t shirk hard work.

The general consensus was that Smith had been generous. He could have batted on until tea. Instead he left England to survive for 146 overs – which is not as many as they successfully endured in Johannesburg in 1995, when Michael Atherton led a stoic defence spanning 165 overs. Mind you, England only had to survive 96 overs in the drawn first Test at Centurion and South Africa were leaning heavily on last man Graham Onions by the finish.

Though it may be impossible to rule out anything after Australia's bookmaker-bashing victory in Sydney, Strauss's weary men should still be staring defeat in the face sometime tomorrow afternoon and we’ll be heading for the final Test in Johannesburg next Thursday with the series locked at 1-1.

The highest winning fourth innings score at this ground on the slopes of Table Mountain is 334-6, made when Australia beat South Africa in 2002... though the West Indies managed 354-5 when they held on for a draw at Newlands in 2004.

Still, considering their hopeless position this morning, England – their seamers pilloried on the front page of the local Cape Times for causing a "BALL TAMPERING FURORE" - plugged away manfully after the departure of South African captain Graeme Smith for a magnificent 183. And his final denouement came courtesy of what was later revealed to be a Graham Onions no ball.

Then obdurate first innings centurion Kallis went for 46 and AB De Villiers fell after lunch, superby caught by Stuart Broad at mid-off for 46 as he became Anderson’s seventh victim.

Spinner Graeme Swann then had Mark Boucher’s top edge caught by Ian Bell for 15, his 19thwicket of the series, leaving Anderson to claim JP Duminy for 36 and force the declaration.

The only hard-working bowler left without a wicket was Broad, who sparked the so-called ball-tampering storm this morning.

He chose to stop a drive with his studded boot just after lunch yesterday, saying afterwards he was too tired to field it in temperatures approaching 40 degrees.
The South Africans saw it differently. They replayed footage of the incident on television again and again, added a bit of Jimmy Anderson ball-picking and came up with allegations which they referred to match referee Roshan Mahanama, but refused to turn into a full-blown complaint. The ICC will take no further action.

Geoff Boycott's exclusive assessment in the loo downstairs? "Ball tampering? There's nothing going on at all. The umpires looked at the ball and found nothing. "

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Monday, 4 January 2010

Seven wickets in a morning. All South African. An incredible morning

THERE have been very few mornings like this in Test cricket. Newlands echoed to the clatter of seven South African wickets - three of them playing for England - before lunch. And this, former captain Nasser Hussain assured us this morning, is a good batting track.

Day two of the third Test began with five victims in just 23 balls for 14 runs. Two further South African-born Englishmen, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, fell as the tourists attempted to make headway on a supposedly friendly 22-yard-strip which has turned nasty overnight.

Incredible. If all Tests went the way of this morning’s first four overs, we’d see all four innings completed by lunch-time on day one with about 100 runs on the board.

As it is, a semblance of normality has returned to this wonderful ground, nestled beneath the cliffs of Table Mountain. Alastair Cook’s on 27 and Paul Collingwood has got 14. England are 64-3 at lunch after 22 torrid overs, still 227 behind, after losing Johannesburg-born opener Andrew Strauss for two, Cape Town-born fiddler Jonathan Trott for 20 and Pietermaritzburg-born waster Kevin Pietersen for a duck.

England captain Strauss became the fifth victim of the day off the final ball of the first over of England’s innings, bowled by Morne Morkel. It was a dreadful, flat-footed attempt at a drive which plopped into the gloves of Mark Boucher.

But the real fireworks had already come and gone with the real South Africans.

Jacques Kallis? Gone to his first ball of the day on his overnight 108. Dale Steyn? He shuffled off cricket's mortal coil at the start of the next over. Morne Morkel lasted three balls, Friedel De Wet four balls. South Africa were all out for 291, 17 balls after resuming with their overnight 279-6. Incredible stuff.

South Africans were talking about their side getting to 350 with chanceless centurion Kallis and promoted paceman Steyn looking solid for 17 overs and 64 runs last night.

But this morning they were confounded on a day which, surprisingly, dawned bright and clear, without the usual 'table-cloth' of cloud rolling over Table Mountain.

After Steyn's opening leg bye off Graham Onions' first ball of the day, Kallis, the 34-year-old man mountain of South African batting who averages nearly 70 at his old home ground, may have been hoping to move close to a double century here.

But he received an unplayable snorter from the Durham seamer, got the edge to one that nipped away off a length, and Matt Prior took the catch amid much jubilation - 280-7. Big, big wicket.

Then came Jimmy Anderson's first ball of the morning from the other end. Kerpow! Steyn was gone, brilliantly caught in the slips by Jonathan Trott, playing on his old home ground.

The eighth ball of the day saw the demise of Morne Morkel, who was supposed to be able to bat a bit, again sensationally caught, this time at second slip by Graeme Swann, who dropped South African captain Graeme Smith so badly yesterday.

And we only had a wasteful Onions over to wait before last man Friedel De Wet went lbw to complete Anderson's five-wicket haul - even a last-gasp review couldn't save him.

Anderson ended with 5-63 after a fairy-tale morning which offered a return of seven balls, three wickets for one run. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Labels: , , , kevin pietersen duck,

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Hungry Kallis gets down and dirty to deny England in Cape Town

JACQUES KALLIS is "hungry" for runs and ready to play "dirty cricket" to dig his nation out of a hole - and that can only mean trouble for England in Cape Town today.

Kallis, who averages 65 on his home ground at Newlands, peaked in the shadow of the magnificent Table Mountain yesterday, scoring an undefeated 108 off 188 balls. He single-handedly denied England the dominance they deserved as day one of the third Test at Newlands ended with South Africa 279-6 and still very much in the game.

After a rain delayed start England, 1-0 up in the four match series, threatened to dominate when they won the toss and elected to bowl - captain Andrew Strauss's seventh success out of nine with the coin. They had the hosts 51-3 and 127-5 but Kallis, in fifty-plus partnerships with AB De Villiers, Mark Boucher and promoted paceman Dale Steyn, led the fightback to frustrate the tourists' pace attack.

Boucher, who put on 89 runs for the sixth wicket with his Capetonian neighbour, said afterwards: "He's hungry. And that's always a dangerous sign for the opposition. Jacques is so calm. His defence is so good.

"He's hungry for runs and he's worked hard on his fitness. Now the hard work is paying off. He is very focused - that's what makes him so good. I always enjoy batting with Jacques.

"We were 50 for three and 120-odd for five and we played some dirty cricket to get back into it.

"Our tail is wagging - and we hope that can continue."

England seamer Jimmy Anderson, who removed Ashwell Prince in the first over of the day, admitted after Kallis's 33rd Test match ton: "He's very focused when he bats and very difficult to bowl at. You've just got to deal with it. You come across these players in Test cricket.

"The lateness that he plays the ball is incredible - and even when the ball is reversing he can pick it, which makes it even harder.

"We bowled reasonably well and I think it's even stevens at this stage. Conditions were in favour of bowling in the morning. Apparently the best time to bat is on days two and three."

Graeme Swann, England's Man of the Match in the first and second Tests, took two quick wickets and nearly turned the game around when he dismissed the initial dangers of AB De Villiers and JP Duminy. But Anderson admitted: "On another day we could have had Kallis in early but it wasn't to be. We'll have the new ball in our hands tomorrow and have to do our best to get him out early."

Anderson backed the decision to bowl first after winning the toss - South Africa captain Graeme Smith has now won just one in 11 heads-or-tails battles - adding: "The conditions this morning were very bowler-friendly. In the warm-up it was swinging a lot - and with rain around as well, it was a very easy choice for us to bowl.

"We're happy with the decision. They've played really well - Kallis played unbelievably well."

Labels: , , , jimmy anderson, mark boucher, , third Test

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Second Test: England win by an innings and 98. Clinical. Strauss: Our best ever

CLINICAL. Ruthless. Emphatic. Words you wouldn't have associated with England's bumbling cricketers in the past. Words which spring to mind after this morning's innings and 98-run win over South Africa.
The second Test wrapped up by lunch-time. Incredible. The Barmy Army have just disappated under a sky suddenly clear. Around 1,500-strong, they sang for an hour to the England dressing room (pictured above). Not since 1964 have England beaten South Africa by an innings, when a certain Geoffrey Boycott, next to me in the commentary box, scored 73 here.
Andrew Strauss, whose blessed hand I have just shaken, said: "That has to be one of our finest Tests in my time. It's certainly the biggest away win I can remember. We always felt in control."
And Graeme Swann, Man of the Match for the second time in two Tests, was in top form after taking 5-54 and 9-164 in the match. He got five and scored a Test best 85 in Centurion, where England hung on to draw with one wicket in hand.
Now up to third in the world rankings, he said: "It's been a dream 12 months for me. I'll take two Man of the Match awards thank you and I'll go on as long as I can. I knew with four bowlers I would have to do the donkey work. It's nice to pick up a few wickets along the way!"
A few wickets? He's on fire, turning the ball a foot on a dead pitch, taking wickets with his first furious over four times in two Tests. The man who, as Ian Bell said last night, "always makes things happen".
If our footballers can perform like this here in June next year, the World Cup will be a doddle. This South African side, packed with real talent, simply couldn't live with Swannie and his Nottinghamshire team-mate Stuart Broad. England, it has been suggested, could go into the New Year Test in Cape Town next week with two bowlers. A bit like Fabio Capello picking nine strikers!
South Africa knew they had to win this four match series 2-0 to go back to the top of the Test rankings ahead of India. Now one of the world's finest sides are 1-0 down with two Tests to play. And England, a modest fifth in the rankings, are ready to add a series in South Africa to their summer Ashes win. Incredible. And Swann wasn't slow to remind us of that fact.
South Africa, 76-6 overnight, did all they could. But Broad (4-43 today and nine wickets so far in the series) got rid of the dangerous Mark Boucher while Swann accounted for Mornel Morkel, Paul Harris and Dale Steyn as South Africa were skittled for 133.
Their captain Graeme Smith, struggling manfully to mask his disappointment, mentioned the words "bounce" and "back" five times in his post-match chat. But he also admitted his team had "not been up to the standards the country expects".
I'm not sure that's fair on his team. Swann in this form is one of the finest finger spinners in the world. On wickets taken this year in Tests, he's second only to Australia's Mitchell Johnson this year - and Broad is third.
Patrick Compton, son of the England Test legend Denis, has been covering cricket for the Natal Mercury at Kingsmead for decades. He just told me this track may have to be re-defined after Swann's performance. It never takes spin... until this week, until Swann.
Strauss said of his impish companion: "It's hard to compliment Swannie when he's sitting next to me, but his impact on this team on the field and off it has been huge. As a bowler, he always attacks, always gets a wicket, even in the first innings. That's rare in Test cricket.
"In the dressing room he's the perfect man to lift things when we're down. He's helped a lot of players get back on their feet after a hard day."
And Swann, deadpan, told us why Strauss has helped turned England into a bunch of winners: "He's brought honesty, keeps it simple, works hard. He's phlegmatic. And everybody likes him. It's good to have a captain you can take the piss out of in the slips. And he comes back with some too! He gets grumpy sometimes, especially when he drops catches in practice like he did this morning... but he recovers quickly!"
As we pack up and head to Cape Town for the New Year, this is an England side at the peak of their powers. Strauss warned: "I hate to put a dampener on proceedings after that, it feels wrong. But we were beaten heavily at Headingley in the summer by the Australians and we came back to win the series.
"We expect South Africa to come back at us hard. They're a good side. But this result, after hanging on for that draw in the first Test at Centurion, has certainly filled us with confidence.
"Alastair Cook and Ian Bell have scored much-needed centuries. Cookie grafted at it and Belly when he plays his natural game is one of the finest batsmen in the world.
"If we've got the opposition scratching their heads about their selection, it just shows we're doing our job."
While England sweat on the state of Paul Collingwood's dislocated left index finger - they don't know yet if he'll be fit for Newlands starting on January 3 and have called up Hampshire's Michael Carberry as cover - the last word must go to the swaggering Swann who offers this explanation of his rise in fortunes: "Straussie dropped me out in Jamaica at the start of the year and I just thought I'd show him!"

Labels: , , clinical, , , innings win, , neal collins in durban, new year test match

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

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

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day Test: Day One: England's day as South Africa scuttle off for the light

AS the clouds closed in and the floodlights went on at 3.10pm local time, the Boxing Day Test in Durban veered England's way at Kingsmead today.
At 175-5 this was a triumph for the visitors after the mind-numbing boredom of South Africa's earlier domination with the bat.
The magnificent sight of the home side scuttling for cover before the rain came down was entirely unexpected. As was the state of most of the 17,364 fans, very few of whom were wearing bikinis (my wife doesn't like the thought of women in swimsuits at cricket games).
England, dominant in the first ten overs when they Jimmy Anderson got rid of Ashwell Prince and Stuart Broad trapped Hashim Amla - both for two - struggled in the burning heat and humidity in an apparently endless spell from an hour before lunch to just after tea.
But then the clouds rolled in and weary England began to respond. Jacques Kallis, the world's No10 batsman but a supremely boring proponent of the art, was snaffled by Graeme Swann. His edge to Paul Collingwood's welcoming hands ended his resistance at 75 off 132 balls.
Together, he and Smith put on exactly 15o for the third wicket and put most of the crowd into a drink induced coma, with beer queues stretching around the ground as innocent cricket fans sought solace.
Together, Kallis and Smith, top of the pile in the under-appreciated Boring Test Rankings sponsored by Slumberland, appeared to have put their nation on top, though the locals showed little appreciation, apart from the odd snarl when Kevin Pietersen was put on to bowl his off-spinners in a moment of madness from captain Andrew Strauss. We also wheeled out Jonathan Trott, testament to the paucity of our bowling attack having stuck with struggling Ian Bell when we could have enlisted another seamer in Sidebottom.
But then the wickets began to tumble. Next up? Smith. He derided Kevin Pietersen for his ridiculous run-out on 81 in Centurion, but what was this? AB De Villiers, looking good, ran down the wicket when his captain dropped one into the off-side. Smith started to accelerate, then turned around like one of those tankers off the Indian Ocean coast here.
For Englishmen, particularly the ever-hopeful Barmy Army who numbered about 3,000 at Kingsmead today, the sight of Cook running in to beat the dive was something to celebrate.
Gone for 75 off a very boring 186 balls. But better than Centurion, where Smith failed in both innings.
South Africa were suddenly 166-4 and the two big barriers were down.
England sensed that, the tails went up, and there was time for Graham Onions, who bowled well all day, to trap the once-dangerous JP Duminy leg before for four.
South Africa were 170-5, they'd lost three wickets for ten. And they ran for cover. Brilliant! With the floodlights on, a home side with guts might have tried to carry on. But Smith and coach Mickey Arthur encouraged the puny Proteas to scurry for the dressing room. England captain Andrew Strauss complained and put on his spinners but they were offered the light... and took it. How weak and pathetic is that with rain forecast for tomorrow!
There was a brief shower, a couple of very drunk pitch invaders hoping to slide on the covers were severely manhandled by the stewards. But predictably, though the light was reasonable under the floodlights at 4.35pm local time, the umpires were unable to encourage the groundsman to remove the covers. Day one is over. Play will start at 9.30am tomorrow morning.
And with the South Africans cowering, this is surely England's day, though Smith and Kallis made them suffer in the sun. The home side, knowing how dark it gets in Durban, how much rain they are having this summer, should have shown a bit of stiff-upper lip.
But they just haven't got it these lads. Head for the dressing room! Swannie's bowling another bomb! Pathetic! The only South Africans with any fight are punching eachother, drunk, in Kingsmead's notorious Castle Corner, perhaps frustrated with their side's lack of spirit.
My Living With The Lions party, pictured above, will be looking forward to skittling this mardy lot tomorrow. As long as it doesn't rain. Right now, at 5pm local time, the light is as good as it's been all day. And the South Africans are headed back to the Hilton Hotel with me. How very, very cowardly.

Labels: , bad light, , , , , , pathetic, rain

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Pietersen relaxed about the boos flowing on Boxing Day

KEVIN PIETERSEN is hoping the festive spirit will prevail at Kingsmead (above, with my Hilton Hotel looming behind the main stand) on Saturday and that the Christmas boos will have dried up by the time the Boxing Day Test starts in Durban.

In fact, the pre-Christmas spirit, with the wives and girlfriends now in the England hotel, is so strong, Pietersen even held out an olive branch to South African captain Graeme Smith, insisting: “He’s turned into a really nice guy.”

You can almost hear the “Ho, ho, ho” as he prepares to play back where it all began for him in 1999 where he got 61 not out and four wickets for the Natal Dolphins against Nasser Hussain’s England tourists. Apparently that was the day he contacted the England officials and said he was interested in switching allegiances.

Michael Vaughan, on his first tour at the time, later suggested Yorkshire should sign him, but he ended up with Nottinghamshire, then Hampshire. And the rest is history.

Given his roots in Pietermaritzburg, about 40 miles inland, his return to this humid Indian Ocean port beneath an England cap could yet be greeted with a tirade of abuse from Kingsmead’s notorious Castle Corner.

I am currently about 200 yards from there in room 111 of the Hilton Hotel (above, it overlooks the ground) with the Living With The Lions tour party, led by the fabulously friendly Brett (see their link on this page). I've got Graeme Smith and the South Africans in the same hotel while England are 10 miles north up the coast in the Oyster Box in Umhlanga. Should be an interesting Christmas with the Proteas in the hotel bar! It's cloudy but muggy in Durban, which is packed to the rafters judging by my time in the downtown traffic jams today.

We can expect a huge crowd on Saturday, this is summer holiday time in Durban, but after his two fine knocks of 40 and 81 in the drawn first Test at Centurion were greeted with polite applause, Pietersen i s hoping he – and fellow South African-born Englishmen Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior and Andrew Strauss – are over the worst of the abuse.

Not that it gets to him of course. He said: "I don't mind the booing. The opposition get a fair amount of stick when they tour a country and that happens when Australia come to us.

"As long as good cricket is respected, I don't mind. I don't mind being abused on the boundary. I don't mind any of that stuff.

"When you field for 240 overs like we did in the First Test, it can be quite boring so it's fun to have some interaction with the crowd.”

Widely reviled by when he first appeared in his mother country as an Englishman during the one-day series in 2005, Pietersen, 29, says: "I have a fantastic relationship with the South African players, I don't have a single problem on the field.

"I have played with Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn in the IPL. And Graeme Smith has calmed down and turned into a really good guy.

“The only thing I don't like is when people swear and abuse you when there are kids around. I've had to ask the stewards to speak to the people concerned.

"A couple of times on this tour, kids have been waiting on the boundary for an autograph and people are swearing at me. That's not great.

"I'm not just saying it because I'm going to be a father - I never swear in front of kids."

Another man who started out in that tour match between the Dolphins and England in 1999 was a 16-year-old Hashim Amla.

Though over-shadowed by KP a decade ago, it was Amla’s patient ton in Centurion which ensured South Africa had worked their way into an unbeatable position by the end of day four.

And when he reached his century, his old Natal team-mate Pietersen was there to shake his hand. Amla, who dismissed his first century at Lord’s saying: “I’ve always thought Durban was the home of cricket,” may not be as prominent in the headlines as Pietersen, but he forms a vital part of the South African resistance movement.

Yet to score a hundred at his home ground, the generously-bearded Amla, a devout Muslim unlikely to pick up Gillette or Castle Lager as personal sponsors, grins: “Of course I would love to score a Test ton at Kingsmead, but I don’t look too far ahead.

“I’m just concerned about the process of batting, focusing on each ball as it comes, doing my job.

“If you start thinking too far ahead, you upset that process.”

Often criticised for his awkward stance and stolid approach, the happily low-key Amla, born in Durban to a family from Gujarat, adds: “So long as I score runs, nobody will say anything. But when I got through a bad patch, I expect the same old comments to come out.”

England are set to field an unchanged side on Boxing Day, with coach Andy Flower refusing to axe the off-form Ian Bell for an extra seamer in Ryan Sidebottom. South Africa are still waiting for a final verdict on Dale Steyn’s hamstring.

The world’s top-ranked Test bowler withdrew at the last minute before the first Test but Amla, who could yet become South Africa's first non-white captain, argues: “Dale Steyn’s return is the key for us. He brings so much experience to our bowling unit. But we aren’t worried about that. We are looking forward to the challenge.”

Labels: , boxing day test, , , hashim amla, hilton hotel, home of cricket, , , Lord's