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Wednesday, 10 February 2010

England rely on Swann for a face in the Test rankings... but not a batsman in sight

ENGLAND remain without a single batsman in the world's Top Twenty according to the latest Reliance Mobile ICC Rankings.

India’s Gautam Gambhir stays on top despite scoring just 13 runs in the innings defeat to South Africa at Nagpur last week - Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla, who put on a record third wicket partnership in that match, are both closing fast.

Amla scored a Test best 253 not out to break into the top 10 and is now just behind the great Sachin Tendulkar.

The bowling rankings are more encouraging for England fans with spinner Graeme Swann staying fifth with seamers Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom also in the top twenty.

But paceman Dale Steyn, who took 10 wickets at Nagpur (including a Test best 7-51 in the first innings) remains out in front and is now officially the best bowler in Test history on strike rate.

Swann also features in the all-rounders ranks after his Test best 85 at Centurion against South Africa last December, but he remains a long way adrift of the masterful Kallis and New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori.


Rank (+/-) Player Team Points Ave HS Rating

1 ( - ) Gautam Gambhir Ind 840 55.46 886 v SL at Kanpur 2009

2 (+1) M Jayawardena SL 836 53.96 883 v Ind at Ahmedabad 2009

3 (+1) K Sangakkara SL 835 55.10 938 v Eng at Kandy 2007

4 (+4) Jacques Kallis SA 825 55.16 935 v NZ at Centurion 2007

5 (-3) Graeme Smith SA 823 50.55 843 v Eng at Johannesburg 2010

6 ( - ) Virender Sehwag Ind 811 52.62 854 v SA at Kolkata 2004

7 (-2) Michael Clarke Aus 805 50.19 855 v Eng at Headingley 2009

8 (-1) Ricky Ponting Aus 783 55.67 942 v Eng at Adelaide 2006

9 ( - ) Sachin Tendulkar Ind 778 55.35 898 v Zim at Nagpur 2002

10 (+13) Hashim Amla SA 775 ! 44.47 775 v Ind at Nagpur 2010

11 (-1) S.Chanderpaul WI 765 48.70 901 v NZ at Napier 2008

12 (-1) Ross Taylor NZ 763 42.15 775 v Pak at Wellington 2009

13 (-1) Mohd Yousuf Pak 761 53.07 933 v WI at Karachi 2006

14 (-1) Younus Khan Pak 754 50.09 880 v SL at Lahore 2009

15 (-1) AB de Villiers SA 735 43.67 745 v Eng at Centurion 2009

16 (-1) Rahul Dravid Ind 720 53.75 892 v Pak at Kolkata 2005

17 (-1) Mike Hussey Aus 709 53.04 921 v WI at Kingston 2008

18 (-1) T Samaraweera SL 707 51.14 747 v Ind at Kanpur 2009

19 (-1) Simon Katich Aus 706 44.91 720 v Eng at Cardiff 2009

20 (-1) VVS Laxman Ind 696 45.70 753 v Aus at Sydney 2004


Rank (+/-) Player Team Points Ave HS Rating

1 ( - ) Dale Steyn SA 891 23.04 897 v Ind at Ahmedabad 2008

2 ( - ) Mitchell Johnson Aus 780 28.45 825 v Eng at Cardiff 2009

3 ( - ) Mohammad Asif Pak 757* 23.20 792 v Aus at Sydney 2010

4 ( - ) M Muralidaran SL 752 22.71 920 v Ban at Kandy 2007

5 ( - ) Graeme Swann Eng 732* 30.69 756 v SA at Durban 2009

6 ( - ) Zaheer Khan Ind 722 ! 33.02 722 v SA at Nagpur 2010

7 ( - ) Morne Morkel SA 680* 32.26 691 v Eng at Johannesburg 2010

8 (+1) Stuart Broad Eng 673* 35.38 697 v SA at Durban 2009

9 (+3) Paul Harris SA 671* 33.41 705 v Eng at Centurion 2009

10 (+1) Stuart Clark Aus 668* 23.86 863 v WI at Bridgetown 2008

11 (-1) Makhaya Ntini SA 665 28.82 863 v Ind at Durban 2006

12 (-4) Harbhajan Singh Ind 653 31.30 765 v NZ at Wellington 2002

13 ( - ) James Anderson Eng 639 34.80 710 v Aus at Edgbaston 2009

14 ( - ) Shakib Al Hasan Ban 626* 29.39 633 v Ind at Chittagong 2010

15 (+1) Daniel Vettori NZ 613 33.61 681 v Aus at Auckland 2000

16 (+1) Danish Kaneria Pak 599 34.27 723 v Eng at Multan 2005

17 (+1) Jerome Taylor WI 598* 35.64 717 v Eng at Kingston 2009

18 (+1) Peter Siddle Aus 597* 31.53 617 v Eng at The Oval 2009

19 (+1) Chris Martin NZ 592 33.61 643 v Eng at Lord's 2004

20 (+1) Ryan Sidebottom Eng 590* 28.24 769 v SA at Lord's 2008


Rank (+/-) Player Team Points HS Rating

1 ( - ) Jacques Kallis SA 469 616 v Pak at Durban 2002

2 ( - ) Daniel Vettori NZ 412! 412 v Pak at Napier 2009

3 ( - ) Graeme Swann Eng 306*/* 307 v SA at Durban 2009

4 ( - ) Mitchell Johnson Aus 302 384 v Eng at Cardiff 2009

5 ( - ) Shakib Al Hasan Ban 295*/* 303 v Ind at Chittagong 2010

*Indicates a provisional rating

! Indicates a career-best rating

For information on the ICC Player Rankings go to:

Labels: , , , , ,

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

Stubborn Steyn removes all doubt... and misses Onions

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

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

Thursday, 14 January 2010

England 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

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Second Test, final day: Two down, two to go. All over by lunch. Surely?

ENGLAND now need two more wickets on the final day of the second Test at Kingsmead. The county team-mates Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann have once more tied the home side up in Notts on the final day of the second Test, taken a wicket each.
Both now have four, South Africa are 118-8 still needing 112 to make England bat again.
South Africa needed another 155 when they finished on 76/6 last night - the umpires revised the score after play.
There was a bogus overthrow. The South African journalists in the box are calling, jokingly, for a replay. One precious run has been taken from Ian Bell's 141. One of unwanted single has been taken from Makhaya Ntini's bowling analysis of 29-4-115-0.
It won't make a difference. Graeme Swann has just got Morne Morkel plumb LBW, 86-7. Then, on review, Broad got Mark Boucher, clearly caught off the glove by Prior for 29 to make it 108-8.
This will be over by lunchtime and then it can rain as much as it likes and the umpires can wave their light meters about all they like.
Begone all those who said last night: "We can't lose from here." Of course we can't! It was always a win. Sure, Dale Steyn and JP Duminy turned the Boxing Day Test against Australian in Melbourne last year from a surefire defeat into an epic victory.
But not here, not now. England are made of sterner stuff.
Boucher and Morkel walked out to resume the partnership they began when their nation was teetering on the brink at 50-6 with the captain Graeme Smith shuffling back to the pavilion last night.
They added 36. As Graeme Swann began the second over of the morning, it was overcast but bright. England had a short leg, a gully, slip and a silly point. One squeezed through the gap. Agony. But then escstasy, Morkel goes, bang in front. Swann always takes a wicket in his first over on this tour. As Ian Bell said last night: "He can always make things happen, he's proved it again and again." In fact, Swann has struck four times in his first over and we're only two Tests in.
Boucher was next, gloving to Prior off the superb Broad (pictured above, asking unpicked Adil Rashid for a drink this morning) who is consistently beating the bat.
Paul Collingwood, who dislocated his left index finger in the warm-up yesterday, is apparently going to be fit for the New Year Test but Luke Wright is on for him. I've just seen him watching, powerless to intervene, from the dressing room.
Don't worry Colly. England are heading to Cape Town 1-0 up in the series. Fact.

Labels: , dramatic win, , , , , , neal collins in durban, second Test, sensational collapse, , worst day

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

My worst day: Steyn. My best day in an England shirt: Bell

SOUTH AFRICA'S Dale Steyn sat in the bowels of the Kingsmead Stadium tonight looking slightly shell-shocked and said: "Yes, that has to be the worst day of my cricketing career."
A few minutes later Ian Bell, with 141 to his name plus a sharp catch at short leg, said: "That's got to be one of my best days in an England shirt."
And that sums it up nicely after a sensational day four of the second Test in Durban when England ran up a score of 575-9 declared and then sent South Africa plunging to 76-6, still 156 runs short of making England bat again if they are to save this pulsating second Test.
Steyn did his best to put a positive spin on his nation's terrible demise. He recalled last year's Boxing Day Test in Melbourne, where South Africa were in a similar state, he and JP Duminy produced a great late rally and turned the game around.
Steyn, who got his Test-best 76 that day and a second-best 47 in the first innings here, grinned: "I'll be watching videos of Melbourne tonight. We just have to go out and try to stay there tomorrow. Morne Morkel can bat a bit and Mark Boucher is one of the best wicket-keeper-batsmen in the world.
"But to be honest, the weather is our best chance."
Fair play to the South African, it was a thankless task talking to the media today.
Bell, whose century today was described as "career-saving" by his former Warwickshire county team-mate, said: "Of course Dale's right. I knew I was under the pump. It was very satisfying. Nobody expected things to go as perfectly today as they have."
After Bell's efforts were added to Alastair Cook's century, plus fifties from Andrew Strauss, Paul Collingwood - who picked up a dislocated left index finger in the warm-up and didn't field - and Matt Prior, the bowlers had the perfect platform.
At 27-0, South African captain Graeme Smith and fellow opener Ashwell Prince looked comfortable enough. Then former Ashes-winner Matthew Hoggard (in his pink shirt, pictured above under Jimmy Saville's flag) joined the Barmy Army. And when England called for Swann's turn in the 10th over, Hoggy joined the Army with a rendition of their old classic: "Never trust a spinner."
Swannie's second ball resulted in a sharp bat-pad catch for Bell and the collapse began.
Half-a-dozen wickets for 23 runs in 12 overs with county team-mates Broad (3-18) and Swann (3-22) tying 'em up in Notts.
Bell said: "Swannie always seems to make things happen. He's proved that again and again on this tour. And when Broadie's bowling like that, with his height, he's very hard to play. They're brilliant together."
Usually reliable Proteas like Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis and AB De Villiers folded under the pressure, barely offering shots. JP Duminy went first ball, getting an inside edge to Broad as the South Africans quacked up. And then captain Smith fell lbw to Swann, made a desperate request for a review, and departed, head bowed.
Only the resistance of Mark Boucher (20 not out) and Morkel (7) prevented a quick finish... and then the umpires called play off for bad light at 4.22pm local time with 16 overs left in the day. The floodlights had been on since 3.15pm. That's what it's like here, what England have to watch for tomorrow.
The forecast? Partly cloudy, showers in the evening. Bell said: "We'll be fired up for the first ball," but Steyn painted the nightmare scenario for England: "Who knows in cricket? We could get a few runs and it could be England hanging on at 50-5, 50-6 at the end of the day."
Surely not. Four wickets. That's all they need to head off to Cape Town for the New Year Test with a 1-0 lead in the four-match
series. Pray for sunshine.Or as David "Bumble" Lloyd has just twittered: "Call to prayer in Mosque opposite hotel."

Labels: best day, collapse, crisis, , , , neal collins in durban, second Test, worst ever

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas in Durban, is the force with Luke Wright?

NO rest for the wicket on Christmas Day. There we were, the hardiest of journalistic souls, down at Kingsmead at 8.30am English time, 10.30 local time... and the England team bus was just pulling after the short trip from the hotel in Umhlanga.
While most of England were nestled all snug in their beds and visions of sugar plums danced in their heads, we were offering Xmas greetings to the squad preparing for the Boxing Day Test in Durban tomorrow.
Immediate discussion centred on the team huddle. Alastair Cook was given a bit of a roar, but then it's his birthday. Funnily enough, the uncapped all-rounder Luke Wright was also singled out for collective appreciation.
And immediately we were wondering: is Wright being lauded for winning his first cap, drafted in for the out-of-form Ian Bell, so woeful at No6 in the drawn first Test in Centurion?
Does this mean England, rather than playing another seamer in Ryan Sidebottom, will take the middle role of a batsman who can bowl?
We shall find out tomorrow, around 9.30am local time, 7.30am in England, though coach Andy Flower seemed to suggest he was supportive of Bell and England would stick with an unchanged side.
Wright looked charged up during Christmas Day training though - but then the entire squad has looked lively in practice on this tour. Little wonder. The losing team of four in the fielding disciplines were subjected to a unique torture. Five England players, including the squealing Alastair Cook, were forced to bend over and have the bowling machine, operated mostly by Paul Collingwood, fire real cricket balls at them from 30 yards. Whatever gets you going on Christmas Day I guess!
Next to the loud England warm-ups, South Africa's pace bowlers were going through their paces on a strip next to the dangerous-looking track being prepared for the Test.
Dale Steyn looks set to play, though his hamstring stiffened up late to rule him out of the first Test at the last minute. Will he come in for Makhaya Ntini, who won his 100th cap in Centurion, or for Friedel De Wet, the debutant who nearly destroyed England with the new ball? Or perhaps Morne Morkel, who bowled as well as either of them and can bat a bit?
Again, we shall have to wait until the morning to find out.
But I popped over to speak to Ntini anyway, offering Christmas wishes from the England press corps. "And to you sir," he said in his disarming Xhosa way, and we went on to discuss his room in the Hilton Hotel ("You can see it from here," he said, "On the 12th floor," and then we discussed local football. Lovely fellow. Hope he plays, though there are political considerations surrounding his selection.
After training it was off to Ballito Bay for lunch with the dozen-strong Living With The Lions tour party, brilliantly led by local lad Brett. Great lunch, swam in my underpants, walk on the beach and back to the Hilton for a swim in the evening rain.
And so to tomorrow's great showdown. The only problem? Persistent drizzle again here in mid-summer. And it's been that way for weeks apparently. This one could be a damp squib... either way, given the state of the pitch, the cloud and the conditions, I wouldn't like to bat first tomorrow.

Labels: , , , , , second Test

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

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

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

England choose to bowl as stubborn Steyn is removed

SOUTH AFRICA lost the world’s best bowler on the eve of the first Test against England in a sizzling hot Centurion (see my super snap, right) this morning.

Paceman Dale Steyn, currently No1 in the world Test rankings, pulled up complaining that his hamstring injury had “tightened” over night.

Having lost the month-long battle to get Steyn fit, South Africa were forced to opt for 29-year-old debutant Friedel De Wet in the pace department - he didn't even make the glossy match programme, so late was his call-up to the Test squad. The Highveld Lions seamer's sudden appearance has reportedly created tension in the camp between head of selectors Mike Procter and coach Mickey Arthur, who prefers Wayne Parnell, who was sent back to his province on Monday.

Moments after hearing the news, England captain Andrew Strauss won the toss and – surprisingly - opted to bowl despite the searing heat.

After six weeks of rain and cloud, England had awoken on the Day of Reconciliation – a public holiday in South Africa – to find the sky cloudless for the first time in weeks. With no rain forecast until the weekend, England decided to go without a fifth bowler, sticking with Ian Bell to bat at No6.

But as they awarded Bell his 50th cap, huddled in a circle while the locals poured into a ground heading for a capacity 14,000 crowd, they would have felt the sweat building on a day where temperatures are likely to his the high 80s. Not the best conditions for a side containing three paceman - Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Graeme Onions – who have not come across that sort of heat on this tour so far.

Ryan Sidebottom, the Nottinghamshire seamer who took five wickets in the last warm-up in East London, will sit it out in Centurion with Durham’s Onions preferred. Luke Wright, who may have come in as an all-rounder for Bell, might have been a fall-back option if the heat overwhelmed the attack.

After winning the toss, Strauss said: “We think it might do a little bit this morning, so it's a good opportunity to get stuck in and put some pressure on the South Africans. We’ve gone with six batsmen and four bowlers. We don’t know much about De Wet, but it won’t make a massive difference.”

Graeme Smith responded: “It’s a blow to lose somebody of Dale’s calibre, but it’s a big opportunity for De Wet. If I’d won the toss, I would have had a bat.”

With South Africa’s leading wicket-taker Makhaya Ntini winning his 100th cap amid much hullabaloo before the start, Smith added: “He deserves it. Obviously we wish him all the best over the next five days!”

SOUTH AFRICA: Smith (capt), Prince, Amla, Kallis, De Villiers, Duminy, Boucher, M Morkel, P Harris, M Ntini,F de Wet
England : Cook, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Prior, Broad, Swann, Anderson, Onions.

EARLIER: UNBELIEVABLE here in Centurion for the first day of the first Test between South Africa and England. Clear blue skies for the first time in a month (see my brilliant snap, right).
And it's Reconciliation Day.
Yes, a public holiday on December 16, just before Christmas. Used to be called the Day of the Covenant under the old Apartheid government. That was to celebrate the Boers seeing off the Zulu at Blood River.
The new government thought it prudent to celebrate reconciliation rather than massacre.
Expect little in the way of reconciliation at Centurion today. It's going to get bloody tough.
For the first time on tour, England will face steepling temperatures and - according to the weather forecast - little in the way of relief until Saturday. You can never say when a tropical storm will loom over the horizon but it looks unlikely at this point.
We're waiting for the final teams to be named and the coin to be tossed. Me? I'd bat. The pitch will dry out, the fielders will wilt in the heat.
The pitch looks a lot less green today... and when the clouds return over the weekend, we'll want Jimmy Anderson to be swinging it.
We'll wait and see. England looked in fine fettle getting out of the bus, rarely have we gone into an away series overseas with such hope against such a strong side. But as the sun climbs in the African sky, they'll feel the heat. And after over a month of rain and cloud, they may not be ready for it.
Back in 1999 at The Wanderers, England batted and lost four wickets in the first hour. Let's hope there's no repeat.

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