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Thursday, 28 January 2010

Putting things straight... just written this for a South African magazine while watching Andy Murray struggle in Australia

STRANGE being a sports writer in London as we gear up to the World Cup in South Africa in June. You read all these stories about a country you know so well and think... how can these guys be writing that? How can they pretend to know what's going on, what's gone on? Where's their perspective? But you have no choice.
This week Martin Samuel - the best-paid sportswriter in England, and something of a heavyweight in my world (left, with yet another trophy for his writing) - wrote a piece in the heavily conservative Daily Mail talking about how dangerous the Rainbow Nation is, about how nobody would dare walk down the road to a restaurant. Oh, and he complained about the shanties on the way to the airport and had a go at "PC journalists" who held a different view.
He's a bright lad Martin, but he'd just joined 'let's knock Africa' brigade led by the snobbish private school types in London who dominate the media and push it towards the fascist fringes.
The BBC's Andrew Harding does little better in his scare-mongering piece, which includes a visit to Hillbrow in Johannesburg Still, at least there's a positive closing sequence. But all this talk of flak jackets and videos of violence. What about London, with the Olympics coming up in two years? No stabbings in our capital? Couldn't foreign journalists do the same kind of muck raking.
Then there's Uli Hoeness, the arrogant German saying he never liked the idea of a World Cup in South Africa. How about flying him out there Rich? Let me take him around the country, see the stadia, witness the miracle?
I'm fuming. I've just spent six weeks in South Africa covering the absorbing Test series from which England escaped with a highly-fortunate draw. Martin had been here a week. I had a long chat to him while we watched England warm up for the last Test at the Wanderers. Didn't seem right or fair to produce a piece like that.
I'd told him my experiences. Centurion, Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg... I walked everywhere, didn't hire a car. Wandered along the beach front in Durban, celebrated with the masses on Long Street as the New Year dawned in Cape Town, drank with old friends at the Radium Beer Hall in Orange Grove. Never a problem. The country improves every time I visit.
But the international media - apparently even the bright ones like Sammy - prefer to focus on the crime figures, African poverty, political corruption... even the tragic shootings in Cabinda, where Togo's team bus was attacked before the African Cup of Nations. But Cabinda, I keep telling everyone, is further from Johannesburg than Moscow to London. It's always been a troubled area.
I've been on 702, Sky News and opened lines of communication to Rich Mkhondo, my old university mate, at the World Cup communications office. Somebody has to redress the balance. Somebody with a knowledge of South Africa, a feeling for the country. But somebody offering enough detachment to come up with an objective view. And having an English accent helps too.
If you look at my blog,, you'll see my arguments, my musings on the subject - and my visit to England's hidden training camp in Rustenburg with exclusive pictures. You may also read about where the other big European teams are staying - the German hotel in Erasmia has only just got around the building their training ground while the Italians will be preparing on a local high school pitch specially re-surfaced for their billionaire footballers. It's my way of helping fans find their feet when they get to South Africa in June.
And perhaps you'll find my first novel, A GAME APART, of use too. It's based largely on what I witnessed myself as a student, footballer and very junior sports journalist from 1979 to 1985.
But it takes us right up to date with current events, to the point when England are about to kick off against the USA at the Bafokeng Sports Palace on June 12.
Since leaving the country in something of a hurry during the Apartheid years, I have made numerous return visits to South Africa to cover the Lions rugby tour (1997), the cricket World Cup (2003) as well as a three-month England cricket tour (1999/2000) before the most recent Test series. My father still lives there and we visit, as a family, at least once a year, travelling widely and without fear other than when we come across big cats and rogue elephants in the game parks.
These frequent trips have, I hope, given me a special insight into a fascinating nation, so unique in Africa… and the world, when you consider how quickly it has changed.
In all my years resident there from 1970 to 1985, and on over two dozen subsequent visits, I never been mugged or car-jacked, or even rudely spoken to by a black man, though my university days were marked by constant conflict with the police, which reflects itself in the book I guess.
Some of my South Africa friends are outraged by it. One, my old head boy from school in Verwoerdburg (now Centurion) suggested I mentioned the betrayal of the Boers and said his wife couldn't finish the book, it was too vitriolic. But that's what journalists are isn't it? Vitriol is our merchandise.
And the events detailed in the book are largely factual, but condensed... names and places have been altered, some may feel they recognise themselves in certain of the characters, but in truth the characters are a compilation of the people I have met, the life I experienced. It's not just about football. It's about women, beaches, resettlement camps, brutality, national service. The whole gamut.
I judge nobody who lived in South Africa at that time, where so many were forced into certain roles by the incredible pressures of a violent, divisive society. A lot of the publicity surrounding the upcoming World Cup has been negative, with the focus on crime and corruption in South Africa since democracy arrived in 1994.
My perception is very different to that... I believe the country has changed massively for the better in 16 short years. I’ve waited all that time to let my memories loose, and the World Cup seems an appropriate time to produce a novel which will help people to remember exactly what the Rainbow Nation has been through in the last 20 years. My memories, my distortions in terms of time and emphasis, will annoy some, please others.
All I ask is that the reader recognizes this is how a young Englishman might have viewed the South Africa I grew up in. A strange but beautiful country riven by cruelty and mistrust and headed for a bloody revolution… until the release of a certain Nelson Mandela in 1990.
That South Africa is now in a position to bid for a major sports event, let alone host an operation of this scale, is little short of a miracle given what I lived through there. And that really is the point. For those who visit the country, for those who view it on a television screen, for those who read about it in the newspapers, I hope to offer some perspective.
Apartheid, like the Holocaust, should never be forgotten, swept under the carpet. Otherwise somebody will simply repeat the process. And that must never be allowed to happen.

Labels: a game apart, , , daily mail, , England in Johannesburg, fascist, , media, poverty, right wing, snobbish

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

England fire as South Africa are tied up in Notts... with a little help from Hoggy

MATTHEW HOGGARD did the trick for England today. With a little help from the Barmy Army. Yes Hoggy, the Ashes-winning former Yorkshire paceman, played his part today as Andrew Strauss's mighty men took a stranglehold on the second Test in muggy Durban.
Did I say muggy? England have mugged the mugs on day four, rattling up a mammoth 575-9 declared to take a 231 lead over the hosts, then reducing the South Africans to 76-6. Yes, that's SIX. They still need another 156 to make England bat again. Incredible scenes, amazing stuff.
Half-a-dozen wickets for 23 runs in 12 overs with county team-mates Stuart Broad (3-18) and Graeme Swann (3-22) tying 'em up in Notts
Hoggy, in his pink South African Broadcasting Corporation top, chose the perfect moment to join the Barmy Army, massed in the south corner of the East Stand. South Africa were 27-0 after nine overs and apparently cruising.
While Hoggy stood beneath Vic "Jimmy Saville" Flower's waving Union Jack (see picture above, you can just make him out, I'm no photographer!) the volume rose and rose. First "Jerusalem", then "There's Only One Matthew Hoggard". Then, as England turned to Graeme Swann, they began a chorus of "Never Trust A Spinner", with Hoggy, the subject of a thousand flashing cameras and Test Match Special, in full voice.
And lo, it came to pass on Swann's second ball of the day Ashwell Prince failed to deal with the turn, getting an inside edge on to his pad which was brilliantly picked up by Ian Bell, back in his favourite position at short leg. Bell, who scored a magnificent 141 to give England the impetus today, went potty. Some catch. Some bloke.
Suddenly South Africa, who had been cruising, were vulnerable. Hoggy had worked the magic.
And it only got better. Hashim Amla, the local hero who refuses to profit from his side's brewery sponsors because of his Muslim roots, went just before tea, bowled by the magnificent Swann for 6. Two failures on his home ground. Unthinkable for Amla, whose century turned the drawn first Test South Africa's way in Centurion.
With Jacques Kallis joining captain Graeme Smith, South Africa were firmly up against the wall. But these were their two go-to guys, the old warhorses. Stubborn, reliable. And then came the ball of the day. Stuart Broad, in from the Umgeni end, got the ball to nip back a veritable mile off the seam and Kallis's off-stump flew out of the ground. The poor bloke didn't even get to play a shot. Did it happen because the tide was in? Locals say it helps. And it was high tide at 1.40pm.
What a moment though, what a turning of the tide. The Barmy Army lapped it up. South Africa were 40-3 and sinking fast.
AB De Villiers was next, he got out twice. First he survived on review after touching Swann to Prior - the replay showed deviation though apparently not conclusively - but an over later he was gone for good after a second review, LBW to Broad.
That left South Africa 44-4. Broad had his tail up. Kaboom! The once prolific JP Duminy came, saw and was conquered in a single ball, clean bowled for a golden duck. Another one to go without playing a shot. These South Africans are quacking up!
Then, the big one. Captain Smith goes down with his ship. Swann got one through, rapped the pads plumb in front and though he waited for a desperate review, he knew... and was gone for 22 off 56 balls.
With South Africa 50-6 and the floodlights on, the stereo-typical last gasp resistance came from Mark Boucher, impressive throughout this series, and Morne Morkel, South Africa's best bowler in both Tests so far.
At 76-6 with 16 overs still to come, the umpires, those lords of darkness, decided it was too dark to continue at 22 minutes past four in the afternoon. Shocking!
But with a day to play and "partly cloudy, little chance of rain" the forecast for Durban tomorrow, surely this can only end one way - and England will go to Cape Town for the New Year Test 1-0 up in the series.

Labels: collapse, , , , , hashim amla, , incredible, , matthew hoggard, neal collins in durban,

South Africa can't live with England, Living with the Lions is more comfortable!

ENGLAND have declared for 575-9 just after lunch on day four of the second Test in Durban and the South Africans trail by nearly 231 with Ian Bell just out for a magnificent 141.
The hosts will have to bat a day-and-a-half to save this Test, the tide's coming in, the clouds are low and anything could happen - apart from England losing. Brilliant, despite Paul Collingwood dislocating a finger during the warm-up this morning. The good news? It's not fractured. The bad news, his back's still bad too.
But this game is all about Alastair Cook and Bell - both desperate for a bit of form - joining the centurions on the honours board here at Kingsmead. Since the Apartheid isolation from1970-1992, the board shows Nasser Hussain, Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss from 1999 and 2004.
To that, add the gritty Cook and ding-dong Bell. In the margins, remember the fifty-plus contributions of Strauss, Collingwood and Prior, who went for 60 this morning. The wicket-keeper batsman is back.
After missing out on a win by one wicket in the first clash at Centurion, Graeme Smith's men could yet find themselves 1-0 down when we get to Cape Town for the New Year Test at Newlands next week. We can but hope. The cloud is back and the light could shorten the day, even if they put the floodlights on, given the way the dark lords of umpiring have behaved so far at Kingsmead.
But before we get into all that, let me introduce my party of tourists from Living With The Lions. Hardy souls, able to sit through hour after hour of tedium and appreciate the subtleties over five days. And good company over an evening meal here in Durban too.
From the left, Colin from York, who still plays for his local club with his son, Fred the umpire and wife Sylvia who makes the big decisions, Mike and Mary, who know everything about Somerset, Claire, who always wants a burger even in the finest restaurants, and husband Mark, who constantly advises me to wear long trousers. What's wrong with my knees?
Then we've got big Brett Lingley, our superb tour leader from Living With The Lions who grew up around here, followed by the Burnley foursome, Andy, wife Allison and the boys, who all insist on supporting the Premier League nonentities. At the front? That's me. Pratt. Oh, Mary and Roger had gone for lunch. Sorry!

Labels: , , century, , , , , living with the lions, new year test, second Test,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 28 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Barmy Army fury as 'Jimmy Saville' takes a hit... England remove stubborn Steyn and get off to a good start

BELOW is a picture of Jimmy Saville's right arm. Bruised and swollen from yesterday's unprovoked attack at the hands of a drunken South African "cricket fan" during yesterday's Boxing Day action at Kingsmead during the second Test.
Barmy Army general Jimmy, real name Vic Flowers, insists: "Today I will show you bouncebackability. I don't want to make too much of yesterday's incident. But I was pretty shocked when the lad attacked me. I don't really know what happened. All I know is one minute I was singing, the next I was on the floor. Then another one of them was hitting me with a flag or something.
"The old arm's a bit bruised (see picture) today but I'll be okay. I got straight back up and sang a song when it happened just after tea. And then we took three quick wickets!
"I'll be up and singing again today when the wickets start to fall."
While Jimmy (pictured above, with me, there's nothing of him, he estimates his age at 59) was fairly sanguine about the incident, which is the talk of the Durban hotels this morning, the platoons of Barmy Army fans around their cheerleader-in-chief are far from happy.
A blonde female supporter behind us said: "They were two very drunk fans. The one who knocked Jimmy over was about 25, not that big. The second one, who was hitting him with the flag, was a big lad, about thirty.
"Security should have reacted more quickly. At first they did nothing. Then the other South African fans got hold of them and persuaded security to throw them out. It was a nasty incident. It started a huge argument between drunk South African fans and sober ones."
Another fan behind us pointed out: "If this had been at The Oval, 12 very large men would have dealt with it and those idiots would have spent the night in a police cell.
"I hate to think what will happen if South Africans behave like this when our football fans are over for the World Cup next year. But these weren't cricket fans, they were just here for the beer. And it's not very good beer."
Security admit they apprehended a man and ejected him but are unsure whether he has entered the ground again today.
Thoroughly subdued by the incident, the 300-strong Barmy Army - and a sparse sprinkling of around 3,000 local fans - hardly reacted to the wicket of Mark Boucher in the middle.
England's first victim of the controversial umpire review system fell lbw to Graeme Swann for 39, leaving South Africa 238-6 after a partnership of 69 with AB De Villiers.
They began to recover their voices when De Villiers, having just reached his 50, got an edge to Stuart Broad and Matt Prior took the catch. Spinner Paul Harris didn't trouble the scorers for long, he went for two, also lbw off Swann.
South Africa went to lunch at 284-8 off 95 largely hum-drum overs. They appear to be using their desperately pedestrian run-rate as a way of avoiding crowd trouble. Who'd turn up to watch this and be knocked about by drunken louts?
Swann took his tally to four wickets in the innings when he caught Morne Morkel in front for 23 but then Dale Steyn, the world's No1 Test bowler, showed his batsmen how to take the attack to England. With Makhaya Ntini (6 off 30 balls) holding up he other end, Steyn took the score from 285-9 to 343 all out with a remarkable knock of 47 off 58 balls featuring three sixes before he was caught behind by Prior off Anderson.
Andrew Strauss then took the battle to the South Africans, scoring a quickfire 50 off 49 balls to guide England to 59-0 at tea while Alastair Cook had scored just eight. Strauss survived being given out lbw by umpire Aleem Dar when he opted for a review, but with England on 71 after a short shower at tea, he got an inside edge to a straight one and was bowled for 54 off 67 balls by Morne Morkel.
That brought Jonathan Trott to the crease. And after his usual protracted preparation, with the crowd shake out of their lethargy, he survived his first ball. England had moved to 103-1 by the time the umpires took the players off for bad light at around 4.34pm local time. The floodlights, on since the early hours this morning, were apparently not good enough. With Trott on 17 off 26 and Cook a cautious 31 off 66, there was nearly time to get back to watch the second half of the Arsenal game.
Looking at the Australians in Melbourne on Boxing Day (Pakistan are 109-4 in reply to their 454-5 declared), this is a damp squib... though not as bad as India versus Sri Lanka in Kotla, which was called off after 23.3 overs because of a "dangerous pitch"!

Labels: barmy army, boxing day test, , , exclusive pictures, Jimmy Saville, Vic Flowers

Barmy Army on the warpath... and England on top in cloudy Durban

AND today's big question is... who knocked over the Barmy Army general Jimmy Saville at Kingsmead yesterday?
The fall of England's talismanic cheerleader (right) is the talk of the hotels in Durban this morning. Disgraceful behaviour! There were plenty of drunken South Africans around after a long, hot day yesterday... but to dethrone King Jimmy - real name Vic Flowers - just isn't on.
Apparently the incident happened at the junction of the East and South Stands, where the England fans were in fine voice yesterday. The offending weapon? A drunken lunge or rugby tackle according to witnesses.
The Barmy site reports: "It was stupidity of the highest order and while the perpetrator was ushered from the ground, someone else decided that while he did sing his song it was acceptable behaviour to whip him with the plastic end of a flag. Idiots are alive and well and living in South Africa. How they'll get on with England's football fans remains to be seen."
Whether than incident caused the huge punch-up at Castle Corner after play was called off, I'm not sure. But the Barmy faithful are seething. Jimmy took quite a while to recover.
Woke up this morning, looked out of the window at 8am... and the floodlights were already on at Kingsmead. Unlike day one, day two will start under overcast with England dominant at 175-5.
Graeme Smith, who won the toss and elected to bat, is none too happy with that after his men came off for bad light - also under the floodlights - far too early as the umpires fiddled with their light meters.
Smith and Jacques Kallis - who both scored solid 75s - saw South Africa from a wobbly 10-2 to 160-2turned a shaky 10/2 into a far more comfortable 160/3 but then, as the clouds rolled in, England snatched three wickets for 15 before the light meters ended the day.
Kallis said: “It was frustrating to lose those quick wickets after we had batted ourselves into a strong position. We will have to see what we can do now to get close to 350.”
They'll be lucky. This looks like a perfect day for English swing bowlers at the moment - though the locals and the old England bowler JK Lever, who I chatted to at breakfast in the Hilton Hotel this morning, believe the tides here also have an impact.
On top of the Smith is struggling with a swollen finger while Kallis admits he can only bowl at “about 80 percent” as he continued to return from a rib injury.

Labels: barmy army, , , Jimmy Saville, , Vic Flowers

Saturday, 26 December 2009

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

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

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

Boxing Day Test. Tea, day one. Kallis and Smith, No1 and 2 in the little-known Most Boring Test Batsmen rankings, sponsored by Slumberland

THE beer queues now stretch all the way across the back of the South Stand at Kingsmead. And most of the way around the ground. It's Boxing Day and amid the festive hats, there are fat men dressed as fairies, fatter men with women's panties on.
Personally I'd like to see England captain Andrew Strauss out there in the pinkest of pink briefs... and coach Andy Flower in the finest fairy wings. Their reward for refusing to pick Ryan Sidebottom in place of batsman Ian Bell, thus adding a fifth bowler to their sweltering attack on day one of the second Test.
It might have felt great when England had South Africa 10-2 this morning. First Jimmy Anderson got opener Ashwell Prince for two, caught at second slip by Graeme Swann. Then Stuart Broad rapped Hashim Amla on the pads dead in front for the same score.
But once the stubborn Jacques Kallis came out to join captain Graeme Smith, who won the toss and opted to bat, the fun stopped. Abruptly. These are, respectively, the world's 10th and 11th best Test batsmen. They are also No1 and 2 in the rankings of the little appreciated Most Boring Men In Test Cricket category, sponsored by Slumberland.
Chances have been few and far between as the world's two least exciting, but technically proficient, batsmen grind out a stand now worth 140 for the third wicket. At tea, South Africa are gradually going away from us, as I predicted this morning, with the score moving on from 67-2 at lunch to 151-2 after 56 excruciating overs.
Michael Owen-Smith, the fabulously deadpan Cricket South Africa spokesman, has just told a hushed press box Smith is bravely batting on despite "a contusion on his index finger".
And, distressingly, England resorted to giving Jonathan Trott a bowl before lunch. A part-time bowler who once took seven wickets in an innings against Kent, Trott is by no means a rip-em-up paceman. A dibbly-dobbler at best, though Matt Prior, by no means a wicket-keeper-batsman, chose to stand back to his plodding pace, allowing Smith and Kallis the space to make hay while the sun shines, though the clouds are closing in.
Then, before tea, we had Kevin Pietersen on. He was a bit of a bowler here in his early days as a Pietermaritzburg-born local lad. Took four big wickets for the Dolphins against Nasser Hussain's England in 1999. He obviously believes he's still a bowler. He opened with himself when he captaineed an IPL franchise last year, with some success. Sadly, even the magical talents of KP failed to eke a wicket out of the increasingly lifeless Kingsmead track, though his arrival did awaken the crowd from their drunken, sun-induced slumber for a second.
Apparently, when he came on to bowl, Matt Prior, another South African-born Englishman, shouted: "Come on People's Champion!"
Swann finally ended the partnership on 160, getting Kallis, on 75, to edge one to Collingwood. In came AB De Villiers and immediately dispatched Swann to the boundary, skipping up the pitch on his first ball. Now that's entertainment - if you're a South African!
Still, there are reasons to be cheerful, apart from the bikini-clad beauties, mostly female, striding around the ground as their sunburnt men get too drunk to stand.
Up in the second tier of the South Stand, the Dashing Dozen from Living With The Lions are standing firm (see picture above). I'll try to get these names right... Mark and Mary, the big Somerset fans, Colin from York who spent Christmas Eve and most of Christmas Day in an airport after a cancelled flight, Fred the umpire and Sylvia, also from the west, Mark and Claire, who wears a hotel shower cap in the pool (which is not good when the South African team are looking down from their hotel rooms). Then there's the Burnley-shirt wearing family and Brett Lingley, our faithful tour leader.
They seem to be having a good time despite England's demise. And they haven't got air-conditioning... or those ubiquitous jugs of beer.
Good solid Barmy Army fans. Hoping for a wicket. Hoping England aren't too hot and bothered with just four real bowlers to rotate. We live in hope... official attendance today? 17,364.

Labels: barmy army, boring, boxing day test, , , , , living with the lions, summer heat, test rankings

England unchanged for Boxing Day Test. It's hot, it's sunny and South Africa chose to bat

JUST as it did in Centurion, the sun has come out for the Test in Durban. And the locals are peering at it like somebody just turned the bright lights on.
After weeks of mid-summer rain, England have emerged for the Boxing Day Test with conditions all changed from their bizarre, high-energy training session on Christmas Day.
Yesterday it was cloudy, humid, wet. The pitch looked damp, plenty of swing in the air, tide coming in... put them in!
Today, under blue skies, it's apparently a batting track. Drying fast, heat exhaustion for the fielding side... get in and bat!
These conditions favour five bowlers. If James Anderson, Graeme Swann, Stuart Broad and Graham Onions were knackered in the dry heat of Centurion, 450 miles inland, a couple of days in Durban's tropical humidity will push them to the limit.
Yesterday Luke Wright got a cheer for something or other in the huddle. Today nothing. Just a 25th cap for Matt Prior and a 50th cap for Alastair Cook.
With Ryan Sidebottom and Liam Plunkett working out harder than the others - suggesting they won't play - and England have confirmed they're going into this one unchanged.
South Africa, bizarrely, have dropped the man who nearly won the first Test with the new ball, Friedel De Wet, despite taking five wickets on his debut. At 29, he must be gutted. But the world's top ranked bowler, Dale Steyn, is back after his hamstring problem.
Tomorrow, there's scattered thunderstorms predicted with a 60 percent chance of showers. Today, according to the weather gurus is going to be "mostly summer".
But looking at the track yesterday... I wonder. Is this England's chance to extract a little early life? In the 80s they used to talk about the effect of the wind and the tide here, how it influenced the swing.
There's hardly a breeze out there, I can't see the tide and it's bloody hot for England in the field... but I just wonder if this might be Jimmy Anderson's morning.

Labels: boxing day test, , , liam plunkett, luke wright, neal collins at kingsmead, ryan sidebottom

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

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."

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