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Friday, 22 January 2010

Wedded blisters for Germans as they prepare for the World Cup in the middle of nowhere

THE German World Cup base at the idyllic Velmore Estate near the tiny suburb of Erasmia in South Africa has been transformed into a builder's site just four months before Michael Ballack and his team head to South Africa in search of global conquest.
The five-star hotel complex which lies about 10 miles west of Pretoria, will be home to the German team and officials from the end of May - but one crucial factor, a suitable training pitch, has only just got underway.
Management at Velmore, a popular venue for local weddings, have been forced to dig up the grassy bank running down to the Hennops River - bringing in diggers and ground-levelling equipment to build a fenced-off, state-of-the-art surface for the German team.
And that has left well-off locals, seeking the site as a wedding venue, in a bit of a stew.
A spokesman for Velmore said: "We researched local grounds in the area for the Germans to train on but we couldn't find anything suitable close by. We are at the perfect altitude for their team to prepare, we just didn't have a pitch.
"Now we've begun work on the surface, as you can see. This hotel was only finished in November of last year and everything is going into preparing for the arrival of the German team. We are teaching our staff to speak the language where possible and must do everything we can to make their stay here as comfortable as we can.
"Unfortunately, the building of the pitch has meant we have had to postpone weddings at our venue, which was just becoming popular for top-of-the-range marriage celebrations.
"But we are telling people we will be back to normal as soon as possible. The pitch will be turfed with a mixture of rye grass and local kikuyu, providing an instant surface. It will stay green even in the winter when we get frost and no rain here.
"The only difference for people getting married here is that they will have a flat surface rather than a grassy bank sloping down to the river. The goalposts will only be up for the duration of the German's stay."
Velmore is, as our pictures show, a remarkable five-star complex built, essentially, in the middle of nowhere, backed by local money and overseas funding from India - many such sites are mushrooming around the Johannesburg and Pretoria areas in the build up the Africa's first World Cup.
Behind an imposing frontage, one half of the hotel has already been shut down in preparation for Germany's arrival. The wedding venue (see picture) sees couples march along an aisle which stretches into the middle of the main swimming pool with guests surrounding the poolside. The football pitch will be right in the line of sight of the official making the union.
Velmore also offers a brand new spa facility with oxygen chambers and remarkable presidential suite complete with a room for a bodyguard - but for the thousands of German fans expected to want to see the team train, there is no obvious accomodation within ten miles of the hotel.
A nearby camp-site has been ear-marked for the German fans but with temperatures plummeting below zero on the highveld - the area is about 1500m above sea-level, the same as the average ski resort in Austria - and concerns over security, it is likely the fans will have to pay inflated costs for accomodation in Centurion 10 miles away or Sandton, about 20 miles distant.
England's base in Rustenburg, a further 50 miles away from both the major middle-class residential areas, raises similar concerns as locals seek to profit from the month long football extravaganza.

Labels: accommodation, , England in Rustenburg, erasmia, german fans, german world cup plans, luxury, michael ballack, presidential suite, spa with oxygen chamber, velmore estate

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

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Pietersen: I'm nearly back to my best for Boxing Day

Kevin Pietersen returns to the ground where he made his first impact AGAINST England 10 years ago, insisting: "I am nearly back to my best."

Pietersen, who scored 61 not out for the KwaZulu Natal Dolphins as a 19-year-old against Nasser Hussain's England at Kingsmead in 1999, heads into the second Test against South Africa on Boxing Day on the back of a match-saving 81 in the second innings of the drawn Test in Centurion on Sunday.

After a troubled operation on his Achilles tendon in the middle of the Ashes series in July, the 29-year-old, born 56 miles inland from Durban at Pietermaritzburg, said: "Learning to trust my leg was a big thing for me but I am almost there and hopefully the consistent batting will come back at some stage and I think I am almost there. Technically-wise, I think I am almost back to my best."

Pietersen shrugged off the suicidal run-out that ended his resistance and led to gloating from South Africa captain Graeme Smith saying: "That run-out was my fault and I held my hands up and apologised for it. It was just a bit of a brain freeze. Well, not really a brain freeze, it was a case of trying to rotate the strike.

"It is the way that I play. I make mistakes but I was actually really restrained all day and played an innings that is not typically me. Even the dismissal was restrained. It was played right under the eyes and I just misjudged a run."

Pietersen, who put on 145 runs for the fourth wicket with Cape Town-born Jonathan Trott, added: "The important thing was that three and four batted in a partnership.Paul Collingwood, at five, and myself have formed a good partnership of the last few years in terms of how we have gone about things.

"Our top-order has always been 20 for three or 10 for two and if we can get some consistency so that one, two, three, four, five and six can bat really well together and build partnerships then, for the England cricket team, it will be magnificent."

On Saturday, Pietersen will face severe barracking from Kingsmead's notorious Castle Corner. He said : "I believe we can score runs against their bowling attack but we need to take 20 wickets.

"Graeme Smith is a big wicket for us, so if we can keep getting him out cheaply, and manage to nip Jacques Kallis out, I think it puts a lot of pressure on the other players."

Neal Collins' novel "A Game Apart", the book you must read before the World Cup, is now available.

Labels: , , drawn first test, , , ,

Beware the Christmas sack, Broady. Flower's words of wisdom before Boxing Day Test

STUART BROAD faces the Christmas sack if he doesn’t accept umpires’ decisions when the Boxing Day Test starts on Saturday.

The 6ft 7in England all-rounder, left, has been told by coach Andy Flower: “If an umpire gives you, just go,” after his outburst in the drawn first Test in Centurion.

Broad was given out under the controversial Decision Review System last Friday but felt the South Africans had taken too long to appeal when he was given not out for an lbw but was given the electronic finger by HawkEye.

Amid suggestions the South African coach Mickey Arthur had advised his side to go to the DRS from his television in the dressing room, Broad first remonstrated with on-field umpires Aleem Dar and Steve Davis before storming off to the television room to have a strong word with match referee Roshan Mahanama.

At the time Broad – whose dad Chris is a match referee - claimed he had stayed calm but former England captain Michael Vaughan he felt the Nottinghamshire man was lucky to escape without punishment.

It was a poor First Test all-round for Broad, who took 1-74 and and 2-58 with the ball while managing 17 and 0 with the bat, both dismissals coming after reviews as the opening clash ended in a tense draw, with England hanging on with a wicket to spare.

Flower, no fan of the new review system, said: “I have spoken with Broady about the incident. But he’s not over-stepping the mark. I certainly don't think Stuart will be suspended soon.

"He's a competitive bloke and he's desperate to contribute to winning games for England.

"I'm not a fan of the review system because I don't like the questioning of the umpires. I prefer the old style where the umpire makes a decision and you get on with it.

"I spoke with the match referee, Roshan Mahanama with Broady. I was there. Everyone is getting used to the decision review system. The extended delay (estimated at 34 seconds) in calling for that review contributed to him questioning what was happening. But I agree that, if an umpire gives you out, you should go. Broady and I have spoken about that.”

Former England captain Vaughan, clearly intent on making his name for himself as an analyst since retirement, said: "There is something a little bit annoying about Broad, he always seems to be complaining to the umpire. He needs to be careful. He could end up being banned for a couple of games."

England look like sticking with the controversial policy of using six batsman, leaving Broad, Jimmy Anderson, Graham Onions and Graeme Swann to struggle in the oppressive humidity of Durban. Suggestions that seamer Ryan Sidebottom should replace out-of-form batsman Ian Bell were dismissed by Flower.

He said: “I think Belly will be fine. He had a tough Test. So did opener Alastair Cook. But I think they will do things for us in this series.”

South African are continuing to monitor the progress of Dale Steyn, the world’s No1 Test bowler, after he withdrew from the first Test at the last minute. If Steyn recovers from his hamstring injury he is likely to replace Makhaya Ntini, who won his 100th cap at Centurion but failed to impress.

Labels: andy flower, boxing day test, , controversy, , , , , row,

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Flower backs Bell after clangers

ENGLAND cricket coach Andy Flower has defended Ian Bell in the face of mounting calls for the Warwickshire man to be replaced by seamer Ryan Sidebottom or all-rounder Luke Wright for the Boxing Day Test in steamy Durban on Saturday.
Bell (right) had a dreadful time in the first Test, failing to offer a shot when he was clean bowled for five in the first innings in Centurion, and he offered little bit in the way of resistance in the vital second innings, edging behind on two as England held out for a tantalising draw with one wicket to spare.

Bob Willis has described Bell as "the new Mark Ramprakash" and said his Test future is in danger. The former England paceman, now a Sky analyst, wants England to include Sidebottom in a five-bowler selection for the second Test arguing "we will need an extra bowler in Durban, where it will be extremely humid at this time or year".

But Cape Town-born Flower, the 41-year-old Zimbabwean, insisted at England's plush hotel in Umhlanga today: "He's a high quality player, and we're backing him. I think he'll be fine. Belly got some runs in the pre-tour games, and I think he's feeling quite confident about the way he's playing."

Recalling Bell's 72 against Australia in the final Ashes-clinching Test last summer, Flower said: "He's just had a tough Test match.He made a misjudgment in the first innings and then got 'nicked off' in the second."

Flower admitted to chronic relief after Graham Onions and Paul Collingwood stood resolute as South Africa desperately sought the final wicket. He said: "Of course, we're relieved - after losing those seven wickets to the last new ball - to get out of it with a draw. But it was a superb Test match and a great advert for the game.

"We always knew that second new ball was going to be a very tough period.

"We obviously didn't think we'd lose that many wickets that quickly - but we did well to fight back and hang on in the end."

Labels: andy flower, boxing day test, , drawn first test, , , , ryan sidebottom

For whom the Bell tolls in Durban at Christmas

ENGLAND arrived at their luxurious new base at the Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks ready to make waves in a buoyant dressing room by axing Ian Bell for seamer Ryan Sidebottom.

As the Indian Ocean crashes onto the beach outside in surf sometimes six feet high, the tide of opinion seems to be running firmly against their No6 batsman Bell as the Boxing Day Test 10 miles along the coast at Kingsmead in Durban looms on Saturday.

England held on for a riveting draw in Centurion with Bell shouldering arms to a straight on in the first innings on five and providing little in the way of resistance in the crucial second knock (2 off 17 balls).

Former England paceman Bob Willis said: "I think Bell’s Test career is in danger. The problem with Ian is, he has now played 50 Test matches and he's still not a permanent fixture in that England side.

"He's very quickly going into the sort of Mark Ramprakash column as a guy with all the talent but not the temperament for the big time. I think there's a big question mark against him."

And with Graeme Swann top-scoring with 85 in Centurion at No9 in the order, Sky commentator Willis prefers the five-bowler option, which many argued should have been used at Centurion, where Bell was preferred to Ryan Sidebottom, who took five wickets in the final pre-Test warm-up in East London. He said: "I think the selectors will think they'll need another bowler at Durban. It's very, very humid down there this time of year - and the bowlers looked exhausted at times at Centurion. I do think England will go down the five-bowler route.

“But six batsmen, including Matt Prior, should be able to score enough runs because Stuart Broad and Swann are getting runs down the order and we've seen Jimmy Anderson and Graham Onions are no rabbits with the bat now and Ryan Sidebottom has played some really important Test innings as well.

"We really do need to go with an extra bowler and I think they will make a change. I think they will bring somebody in for Bell. They may experiment with all-rounder Luke Wright; he's obviously a better batsman that Sidebottom but he's pretty unreliable as a bowler and you'd expect him to go for four runs an over.

"They may well go that way to bolster the batting, but my own choice would be to go for Sidebottom."

England will be cheered by the fact South African captain Graeme Smith – who said after the draw “I was a bit surprised with the fist-pumping and stuff like that from England, maybe it was a bit much” – has fallen out of the world’s top 10 batsmen for the first time in 16 months. He managed a duck and 12 in Centurion. Smith is now 11th, but has been replaced by Centurion centurion Jacques Kallis in the top ten. England’s highest ranked batsman is Kevin Pietersen, whose 81 on Sunday moved him up to 13th.

Collingwood is 29th, Jonathan Trott, with just two Tests under his belt, is 49th. In the bowling rankings, Nottinghamshire pair Graeme Swann (11th) and Stuart Broad (13th) feature in their best ever positions for England with Lancashire’s James Anderson slotting in at 12. South Africa’s injured Dale Steyn still heads the list of the world’s top bowlers and but may not be fit for Kingsmead on Saturday.

Steyn said: "I've got until Wednesday to get my hamstring ready. I think we will make an early decision this time on whether I will play, rather than wait until the morning of the game. That puts other players under stress and basically throws the guys into the ocean.

"I'm hopeful. I was very keen to play at Centurion and having a few more days off has given me extra time to get it right, so I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be ready for Boxing Day.

"I just want to make sure it's 100 percent because we have a lot of cricket to play, not just against England but also a tour to India, and hamstrings can be quite a difficult area to sort out. Just when you think you've got it right, it hits you again and slows you down. We are hoping that everything will be right for Durban, that's the goal, and we've been working really hard on it.."

Labels: boxing day test, , , , , exciting draw, , , ryan sidebottom

Monday, 21 December 2009

Trott happy to frustrate South Africa all over again

JONATHAN TROTT, the Cape Town-raised Englishman who proved to be such a thorn in South Africa’s side in the tumultuous first Test in Centurion, heads into the Boxing Day Test at soggy Durban insisting: “I will give it my all.”

Trott, who batted a marathon 212 balls and over five hours (316 minutes with five boundaries), scoring a defiant 61 to help guide England to a draw – by a single wicket – insists he relished the experience of playing under the baking sun for five days against the nation of his birth.

And he is all geared up for the post-Christmas showdown at Kingsmead, where he will get little sympathy from the partisan locals who inhabit the notorious Castle Corner.

Trott, red-faced from the blazing sun after his first overseas Test, said: "You always wonder what it will feel like if one day you have the opportunity to play a Test match back in South Africa – I enjoyed the whole experience and look forward to a few more, I hope."

Trott and Pietermaritzburg-reared Kevin Pietersen produced a 145-run partnership for the fourth wicket which held South Africa at bay for xxx hours – and both came under fire from South Africa captain Graeme Smith.

Smith felt Trott takes too long to prepare for each ball when he is settling down to repel the opposition. Smith ranted: “It’s frustrating. I take a while to prepare myself but when he’s stopping the bowler in mid-run-up all the time, something has to be done. He’s been warned in the one-dayers and he’s been warned in this Test.”

But Warwickshire warrior Trott, 28, appears undaunted by Smith’s trenchant criticism. He says, which a distinct South African burr: "I’ve never had complaints before and I won't be trying to do anything different."

It was only when Trott departed – the first victim of 29-year-old debutant Friedel de Wet in a devastating new ball spell of 3-11 off seven overs – that England began to look shakey, losing Ian Bell, Matt Prior, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann in an alarming last hour collapse. No11 Graham “Bunions” Onions and the ever-reliable Paul Collingwood were left to see off the South Africans in a tense finish on Sunday night.

Trott shrugged off his endless crease scratching and pitch flattening, insisting: "It's one of those things I do to get myself prepared and make sure I'm in the right frame of mind to help contribute to the England side.

"I don't play cricket to get under people's skin - I play cricket to be effective. I have my things I do to get myself ready for battle.

"Maybe it can mess with their over rate or whatever, but it's just what I do - and I won't be changing it.

"It's what's got me to this position to be able to play for England - and it's an exciting time."

Though the Durban showdown is likely to be hit by rain – the local weather forecasters are saying there is a 60 percent chance of daily interruptions in the tropical port city – Trott says the mood in the camp is strong as they settle in at their plush hotel in Umhlanga, 10 miles north of Durban, where the Indian Ocean’s crashing waves draw the surfing fraternity.

He said: "It was a great effort by the guys to pull through and for Paul and Bunions to get us out of a spot of bother and keep the series level at 0-0. The team showed good spirit and guts to get through it."

Labels: , , , , , , second Test, , south african world cup draw

Amid the fall-out, Smith has a quick pop at KP and Trott

SOMEHOW, amid the frantic fall-out from last night’s desperate draw in Centurion, South Africa captain Graeme Smith still found time for a quick poke at his old sparring partner, Kevin Pietersen and his fellow South African-born Englishman Jonathan Trott.

After seeing his side fail by just one wicket to snatch the first Test, Smith went through the usual routine of pretending his side were “taking the positives” from what could so easily have been an unexpected victory - but then launched into Pietersen, who ran himself out just after tea for 81.

Pietermaritzburg-born Pietersen and Cape Town-born Jonathan Trott, 69, had taken England to what appeared to be the verge of safety with a fourth wicket partnership worth nearly 145 from 43 overs. It was only later, when 29-year-old debutant Friedel De Wet took the new ball and knocked over Trott, Ian Bell and Matt Prior in four scintillating overs, that England really started to quake.

But Smith savoured Pietersen’s suicidal dismissal grinning: “Ya, look, it wasn’t a single was it? I’m glad KP took it though! That might have been what started England’s collapse.”

And then he rounded on Trott, snarling: “He’s been warned in the one-dayers and he’s been warned here today. He takes too long to set himself up. I’m not that quick myself but when your bowlers have to continually stop and wait, it gets frustrating. We won’t lose sleep over it, but something has to be done.”

Clearly, had the South African-reared pair not stuck to their guns, England would have lost the first Test yesterday. And their captain Andrew Strauss admitted as much. While complimenting Man of the Match Graeme Swann for his 5-110 with the ball and his Test-best 85 with the bat, Strauss added: “Trott and Pietersen made it look easy. Their partnership was the crucial factor.”

Paul Collingwood, who scored an over-looked 50 in the first innings and followed it with an obdurate 26 off 99 balls yesterday, was also the immovable object for most of the final day when England snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat against Australia at the first Ashes Test in Cardiff last summer.

He said: “It’s fair to say Cardiff was in the back of my mind. I got out there before the end and it’s not easy to watch the last few overs from the changing room. This time I was determined to stick it out. It was so satisfying to be there at the end.

“Right from the start today, with a wicket down, we set out to bat through the day. But when Bunny (apparently short for Bunions, Graham Onions) had to face the last six balls, I was sweating a bit. I know he’s got a good technique, but this was the first time he’d faced this sort of pressure situation.

“And he handled it incredibly well. He always says he’s got the best bat in the dressing room. I was just shouting at him to keep using it!”

In the end, with Makhaya Ntini controversially replacing the heroic De Wet to bowl the final over, England ended 228-9 with Onions showing a clenched fist to the ever-growing Barmy Army here. Smith insisted: “De Wet was tired. I was thinking of a romantic finish for Ntini with him winning his 100th cap here. But it wasn’t to be.”

Labels: , , epic test match, first test, , , , south african world cup draw

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, , ,

Saturday, 19 December 2009

When sunny Centurion pales into insignificance. Come on Arsenal!

SOMETIMES the ebb and flow of Test cricket can get to you. Just as England wilted today on day four of the first Test at sun-soaked Centurion, so this journalist finally lost heart.
I went back to my dad's to recuperate when Hashim Amla passed the 200-ball mark. The bearded one, unlikely to be sponsored by Gillette any time soon, was simply too good for England's attack and took the game beyond us with a magnificent century.
Aided by AB De Villiers and Mark Boucher, a torrid day ended with Morne Morkel slapping Stuart Broad for 14 runs off an over. Then the declaration and a grinning Graeme Smith saw Morkel produce an unplayable ball which Andrew Strauss had to touch to Boucher and England, at 11-1, remain 353 runs from victory going into the final day.
The good news? It's absolutely hissing down out there. After four sizzling days, the tropical rains have returned. England may yet escape with a soggy draw.
Meanwhile, this being South Africa, I was treated to three successive games of live football. First Liverpool went down 2-0 at Portsmouth - my dad's team - then Manchester United, playing without a defence (they're all injured, an argumentative Sir Alex Ferguson ended up with Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher at centre-back) were thrashed 3-0 and now Arsenal are attempting to reverse the string of giants killings against Hull.
And word reaches me via my son's text that Manchester City's Mark Hughes, fresh from a rousing 4-3 win over Sunderland, is about to be replaced by Italian Roberto Mancini. Criminal. Hughes is one of Britain's great managers. But give the foreign billionaires ownership of our clubs and this is what happens. We'll end up like South Africa, with a string of international bosses who can barely speak the language!
Sometimes the cut-and-thrust of Premier League football and the freezing pre-Christmas jousting outweights the lure of sun-drenched cricket. Especially when England are losing their grip on a Test. This is one of those days.

Labels: arsenal hull, , , first test, fulham, liverpool lose, ,

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Rarely in the history of spin bowling have so many overs been bowled in such heat for so few. Take a bow Swanny

GRAEME SWANN take a bow. Rarely in the history of spin bowling have so many overs been bowled in such heat for so few. And he ended with his third five-wicket haul in Test cricket. Ignore the fact England lost Alastair Cook early in their reply, Swann is the man.

Not only did his 45 miserly overs in extreme temperatures keep England in touch with South Africa, who were all out for 418 when many were predicting a score of 500-plus. His 5-110 also ended the Bore War, which broke out around tea-time when the South African tail-enders decided to strangle the first Test.

In Perth this morning, Chris Gayle hit the fifth fastest hundred in Test history with a 70-ball whirlwind against Australia. In direct contrast, Paul Harris (38 off 89 balls) and debutant Friedel de Wet (20 off 67) barely produced an attacking shot in a ninth wicket partnership worth 37 off nearly 17 overs in a bizarre attempt to put a crowd of 9,000 to sleep all at once. In the 10 overs before tea, they scored 11. Ho-hum.

Oh for a Gayle force to blow here. But when England came in to bat, such feats looked a very distant prospect. Makhaya Ntini, winning his 100th cap, came roaring in and had Cook dropped in the first over, right through the hands of AB De Villiers at third slip.

De Wet was less boring with the ball than the bat. His first delivery in Test cricket was a massive leg side wide in the Steve Harmison style. His second beat Andrew Strauss all ends up.

But after that dodgy start, England’s opening pair began to settle until the sixth over when, with England on 25, Cook got the slightest of edges to De Wet and wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, out for a painful 49 in earlier the day, snaffled the catch. No pesky review called for, though it was the faintest of touches... I certainly couldn’t see it.

Cook had been looking good until that point, cracking three fours and scoring 15 off 17 balls while Strauss stayed in his shell.

Cape Town-born Jonathan Trott got a couple of grumbles from the South African fans when he came out to join Strauss, but nothing like the reception Kevin Pietersen will be treated to here.

He was in trouble on 12 when spinner Harris claimed either a catch behind or an LBW which was turned down by long-suffering Australian umpire Steve Davis. The review was called for and appeared to suggest Trott was LBW but this time the decision was left in the hands of Davis, who shrugged his shoulders and gave it not out again.

That allowed Strauss (44 off 70 balls) and Trott (a drab 18 off 56) to put on an unbeaten 63 for the second wicket, pushing England to 88-1 off the 23 overs they received tonight.

Just the 330 behind. But don’t let that take the gloss of a brave performance in the field.

Jimmy Anderson may have turned the course of this game when he had the heroic Jacques Kallis, who looked like he could bat forever despite a rib injury, caught at second slip by Paul Collingwood for 120 early in the day.

But Swann’s effort was quite incredible and Onions, bowling with a calf strain, deserves a mention too for taking 3-86 and intimidating Morkel (above) and Harris. Onions said of the Morkel incident afterwards: "You do aim for the head, but you don't like to hurt anybody. That isn't my intention. I've got to show intent and aggression. And I did get him out four balls later, which was the plan I suppose."

Paul Collingwood picked up a record-equalling four catches - only Marcus Trescothick has taken as many in the outfield in an England innings – against mighty Zimbabwe in 2003.

Labels: , , , graham onions, , , south africa test

Lunch, day two: Kallis gone, England fight back

ENGLAND got the big wicket of South African hero Jacques Kallis early on another blisteringly hot day at Centurion this morning.

Jimmy Anderson may have turned the course of this game when he had the big man, who looked like he could bat for ever, caught at second slip by Paul Collingwood.

Then Graeme Swann got rid of JP Duminy off his first over of the day – just as he did yesterday – and Collingwood picked up a record-equalling fourth catch in the innings to leave South Africa 316-6.

That wasn’t a bad effort from England – but it could have been even better if Graeme Onions hadn’t dropped Mark Boucher off Stuart Broad, a dolly which would have left South Africa teetering on 319-7.

And tempers became frayed when the review system saw both Boucher and Morkel reprieved as Swann turned up the heat. By lunch, South Africa were 330-6, but on another day, with a little more luck and without the review system, they might have been skittled this morning.

Kallis, who single-handedly turned the game around when South Africa were wobbling on 93-3, had added only eight to his overnight 112 when his 306-minute innings came to an end. His 120 off 225 balls featured that huge six off Graeme Swann yesterday and 16 fours.

And all this when the world's best all-rounder is, literally, half-fit. The rib injury he picked up during the Champions League thrashabout in October means he will probably not be able to bowl here.

For Collingwood, it was a third outfield catch - that's worth a jug in club cricket - and for Anderson this vital scalp was his first Test victim since Edgbaston during the Ashes clashes. He went wicketless at Headingley and The Oval as the Australians were shot down in flames by Stuart Broad and Co.

The ball that got Kallis was a peach, pitched up with a hint of away swing as Anderson bowled his fourth over of the day. As Allan “White Lightning” Donald said last night, England’s attack needs a little more consistency, a little more patience. And a few more full-pitched deliveries to give the ball air to swing.

But despite that breakthrough, which left South Africa 283-5, there was little relief for England beneath the cloudless African sky. Wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, no slouch with the bat, was next up to join JP Duminy, who had just moved to his fifty at the other end after adding 124 runs off 42 overs with Kallis at a rate of less than three an over.

A nine-hour flight away in Perth this morning, Chris Gayle hit the fifth fastest century in Test cricket for the West Indies against Australia this morning, reaching three figures of 70 balls. Now that's a strike rate.

But England, as Graeme Swann pointed out last night, are stubbornly refusing to let South Africa run away with this Test. Broad is maintaining an economy rate of 1.88 and the rest of the attack can all claim to keep things under 3.5 an over, apart from the part-time dobblers of Jonathan Trott.

Onions, staging a miraculous recovery from yesterday's calf problem, nearly had Duminy in the 16th over of the day with the score rising over 300, but the edge fell two inches short of Collingwood - who else? - at second slip. At the other end Boucher did what he always does, scoring quickly and piling up the pressure on England.

But Collingwood was perfectly positioned for his fourth catch – engineered by the breakthrough specialist Swann in his first over the morning, the 18th of the day.

His second ball got some bite and his fifth ball, perfectly flighted, actually got some turn. Duminy prodded, Collingwood pounced and Duminy goes for 56 off 150 balls, the highlight of which was a clubbed six off Swann yesterday afternoon. Revenge is sweet.

Swann, who issued this bizarre twitter yesterday “have just had a lovely room date with Cookie. We ate steak and watched bear grylls. He'd be my ideal man, if I kicked with the other foot”, continued to find turn.

But the big chance for wicket number seven fell to Onions on the fine leg boundary with South Africa on 319-6. Boucher top-edged a short one from Broad, the ball dropped neatly into the hands, but Onions, spilled it... and Broad had both hands on his head as the ball trickled over the boundary rope.

Boucher survived a big shout on 323 when he appeared to edge the ball onto his boot off Swann to... yes, that man Collingwood. But the review showed the ball touched the ground as it hit the boot, and Collingwood’s hopes of being the first ever England player to take five outfield catches are dashed. For now.

Even more galling for England was the apparent dismissal of Morne Morkel just before lunch. Swann, bowling like a dream, rapped him on the pads right in front... the finger went up, but the South Africans called for a review. Incredibly, the ball was shown by Hawkeye to be going just over the top of the bails. Morkel, like Ashwell Prince yesterday, survived the raising of the finger. It doesn’t feel right, though I guess you can’t argue with the system.

The interesting thing for England is how much turn Swann is getting. After 30 over, he’s got 3-65... it could so easily have been five or six.

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