Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

A Game Apart

Previous Posts


original feed Subscribe to my feed

A Game Apart


London Evening Standard



Paddy Power

Oakwood Estates

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Kneesy does it for Benni, Pienaar gets drunk on success

SOUTH AFRICA'S already frail World Cup hopes took an alarming turn for the
worse today with the news that West Ham striker Benni McCarthy's
31-year-old knee is showing little sign of being ready for the big kick off against Mexico in
Johannesburg on June 11.
McCarthy, who completed his controversial £2.5m move from Blackburn days
before the January transfer window closed, is "seriously doubtful" for tonight's clash with Manchester United and has yet to complete a game for the Hammers since his £2.5m move from Blackburn.
McCarthy limped off during his debut at Burnley - he had a glorious chance saved off the line in
a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat on 10 February - and has been unavailable ever since.
My Upton Park source tells me: "Benni's not looking good. That knee is a
problem. South Arica may be in trouble if they think he's going to be their
major World Cup striker."
The injury is not believed to be related to the knee problem McCarthy
suffered for Rovers against Fulham in November 2007 or any of the long-running problems
which have ruled him out of so many internationals for South Africa in
recent years.
But Carlos Alberto Parreira is insisting he will only pick a fully-fit
McCarthy after his repeated spats with the Bafana Bafana (The Boys, The
Boys) management.
When McCarthy left Ewood Park after refusing to train during his final days
at Blackburn, former boss Sam Allarydyce insisted: "Benni's not getting any
younger. The legs are not quite as good but the talent is still there.
"When he came to Blackburn he scored 23 goals in his first year and hasn't
quite replicated that since."
McCarthy's problems add to Parreira's woes - his side moved up from 85th to
81st in the FIFA rankings after friendly wins over Zimbabwe and
Swaziland in Durban last month, but they remain the lowest ranked World Cup
hosts in history.
While their cricket team held the world's best Test nation
India to a drawn series and their rugby Springboks hold the World Cup,
the football side faces abject failure as they prepare for the biggest
sporting event in the Rainbow Nation's history.
This week's news of their late move of World Cup training camp from Esselen Park's School of Excellence to Sandown High School has left the hosts facing further ridicule.
Kevin Pienaar remains South Africa's real beacon of hope despite being charged with drink driving today. Perhaps understandably, he was pulled over by the police on Merseyside after starring in Everton's shock 3-1 win over champions Manchester Unitedc on Saturday.
A police spokesman said: ''Merseyside Police can confirm that a 27-year-old man has been charged with drink driving and failure to comply with a traffic sign.
''He was arrested in the early hours of Sunday morning and charged later that day.
''Steven Pienaar from Woolton will appear at Liverpool City Magistrates Court on March 9, 2010.''
On a brighter note, Jamie Redknapp, the former Liverpool and England midfielder, said after Pienaar's display: "He won't be among the contenders for Footballer of the Year, but there haven't been too many more consistent players.
"He travels all over the pitch, left and right, wants the ball and makes things happen.
"He has good balance, can pass and dribble with both feet and scores goals. I'm not surprised other clubs are looking at him."

Oh, and I received this by email from my old University pal Rich this morning:

Media reports suggesting that the Royal Bafokeng Sports Palace facilities will not be completed on time are untrue and false.

We are confident that the facilities are on track to meet all of the national team and FIFA’s obligations.

Rich Mkhondo

Chief Communications Officer

2010 FIFA World Cup Organising Committee South Africa

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

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7 January 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boycott furious as Kevin Pietersen sings "My Way"

AND now, the time is near, England have to face the final curtain... eek. Not Frank Sinatra, not now at the climax of the crucial third Test at Newlands, where England face defeat on the final day.

No, if it’s “My Way” echoing through the stands as the table cloth of cloud creeps over Table Mountain, it has to be sung by Kevin Pietersen, who got out last night just when his adopted nation needed him most.

The old batting sage “Sir” Geoffrey Boycott is tired of KP’s eternal anthem. When he got out last night, taking any gloss off a stirring opening partnership of 100 between captain Andrew Strauss (46) and Alastair Cook (55), the chase for 466 in 146 overs was rendered hopeless.

England resumed on 132-3 and nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson lasted for a long-than-expected 45 minutes before he was brilliantly caught off his boot by Ashwell Prince off the eternally fortunate South African spinner Paul Harris.

Capetonian Englishman Jonathan Trott is on 36 and has been joined by Paul Collingwood, who knows a thing or two about stubborn resistance. England are 153-4 with Collingwood surviving a dodgy catch on review off his first ball. Phew. But this will be over by tea-time and we'll go to The Wanderers on Thursday for the decider with the four-match series locked at 1-1.

This is what former Test batsman Boycott had to say about petulant Pietersen’s problems after scores of 0 and 6 at Newlands: “He’s walking at the ball instead of taking a big stride. By the time he plays at the ball, he’s lunging at it, falling over. If you watch carefully, it makes him play across the line. His right side comes round. His right arm comes round.

“I can explain it but he’ll probably take no notice of anybody. He just says: ‘That’s the way I play,’ and then carries on. It’s nonsense. If you’re 6ft 4in and as talented as him, you have to use that stride properly, you don't shuffle. He stands up with a stiff left leg, walking all over it. It’s a very poor defensive shot.

“Getting booed is no excuse for not playing forward. Coming back after his operation is no excuse. If he’d listen, it would help. I love him to bits. He has all the talent in the world. But he never listens to anybody. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

Boycott got in a real stew on the South African Broadcasting Corporation’s television coverage when Pietersen was out lbw last night. “No, no, no,” he shouted, furious after KP had survived one lbw dismissal on a review only to be rapped plum in front a couple of balls later by a delirious Dale Steyn.

As Collingwood and Trott fiddle while England’s 1-0 series lead burns after the heavy roller was on this morning (above), Pietersen sits in the dressing room with no role to play. The Sun said he threw beer on the fans after his first innings failure. England deny emphatically that he did anything of the sort. But the pressure is on. It’s not as if he isn’t our best batsman, our highest ranked Test run-getter.

At Centurion, where he ran himself out suicidally on 81 and nearly cost England the draw, he looked comfortable when all about him were jumpy in both innings. At Kingsmead, he looked supremely confident but never produced the big one as England won by an innings and 98 runs.

In the field, he is the least competent of England’s fielders. And with Paul Collingwood suffering with his bad back and dislocated finger, he’s been thrown the ball for a couple of overs of off-spin but never looks like the change bowler he was as a youngster in Durban, where they considered him a bit of an all-rounder.

Anybody else showing his apparent lack of focus, his ability to get out to bad shots, his lacklustre performance in the field, would be in the firing line, the sacrificial lamb before the decider at The Wanderers next Thursday. But not KP. Not against the land of his birth.

As Boycott says, we love him to bits. But please KP, offer us hope for Johannesburg, or this series is going down the u-bend.

Labels: , , fourth test decider, , sir geoffrey boycott, the wanderers, third test defeat

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

England under fire from sun and The Sun, but emphatically deny KP threw beer at fans

ENGLAND came out fighting this morning after Kevin Pietersen was accused of throwing beer over South African fans.

While Andrew Strauss’s men fought for survival on the hottest day in Cape Town this summer, back home in freezing England they were under attack in The Sun newspaper after they ran a story headlined: “KP in beer fling fury at fans.”

Though today’s edition of The Sun will not be available in South Africa until next week, it is clearly flagged up in the on-line edition and has created a stir with over 5,000 Barmy Army fans in Cape Town for the closely contested third Test.

England’s media manager Andrew Walpole, a former Daily Mail journalist, told me: “Don’t go near that story, Neal. It’s a complete fabrication. Neither Kevin Pietersen nor any of the other England players were involved in any kind of incident.

“There was no beer thrown from our balcony. A freelance gave The Sun the story and we told them last night there was absolutely no truth in it.

“We are very angry and we are in contact with the ECB lawyers in London over this story. It is complete rubbish.”

But the story has been picked up by many of the cricketing web sites and respun, which will make life hard for the under pressure Pietersen, who was born in South Africa but chose to play for England.

The Sun quote a local fan, Socrates Georgiades, 37, as saying: " It was great to see him get out for a duck so we decided to give him some stick and sang 'Pietersen is a knob' a couple of times.

"Jonathan Trott and the other England boys were laughing at us. You could see they were treating it as good-natured banter. But Pietersen got nasty and retaliated by throwing beer all over us.

“Clearly the pressure is getting to him. Pietersen should have taken it on the chin. The Barmy Army do this sort of thing the whole day."

Jon Etheridge, the Sun journalist whose name appeared on the story, told me: "It was filed by a freelance and he's standing by it. But I think we're taking it off the website and it would be very out of character for KP. He's been on a charm offensive throughout this tour."

Pietersen has certainly taken more stick in Cape Town than he did in the drawn first Test in Centurion or during England’s huge win at his former home ground in Durban after Christmas.

And though the former captain has scored a few runs – including a fine 81 in Centurion which was ended by a suicidal run-out – he has succeeded in getting himself out again and again in this series just when he looked set to dominate. Yesterday’s second-ball duck came at a particularly bad time for England, who slumped to 36-3 with his dismissal.

Matt Prior’s unbeaten 76 helped push the tourists to within 18 of South Africa’s first innings 291 this morning and the ever-reliable Graeme Swann, toiling in the heat, dislodged an unhappy Ashwell Prince lbw for 15.

Prince, who had earlier survived on a referral after being given out caught behind, went to the television umpire Aleem Dar again but the electronic finger was firmly raised and South Africa were 31-1, 58 ahead with nine wickets in hand.
By lunch, they had moved on, worryingly, to 56-1 with Smith on 22 and Hashim Amla 14. The local Red Cross are saying "our biggest fear is a death in the crowd" as the temperatures soar.

Labels: beer, , fans, , summer heat,

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

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day Test: Lunch, day one: Two wickets then too hot as England face the Durban hothouse

WELCOME to a world where thousands of people lug jugs of lager around in the blazing sun at 8am Greenwich Meantime on Boxing Day.
To a city where you sweat in the shade, melt in the sun. To a ground where England are being baked into submission after a promising start to the second Test at Kingsmead.
Durban when the sun comes out in summer is a tropical paradise. If you have constant access to air-conditioning or a swimming pool.
For pale British cricketers, it can be hell. For the first 12 overs, as I predicted, James Anderson, Graham Onions and Stuart Broad were able to bowl their hearts out on a track which had a bit of life in it.
Then, on the hottest day of the summer so far - just as it had been in Centurion - the withering heat and 90 percent humidity began to tell.
Anderson got Ashwell Prince (2) to nick to Graeme Swann at second slip in the third over. In the tenth, Broad came on after Onions' impressive opening spell, and immediately trapped the Centurion centurion and local hero Hashim Amla (2) bang in front LBW.
At 1-3 and 2-10, South Africa were in all sorts of trouble after Graeme Smith had won the toss and elected to bat. But they were assisted by touring coach Andy Flower as England refused to change their side and kept the lamentable Ian Bell as non-scoring batsman No6 instead of drafting in another seamer in Ryan Sidebottom or the all-rounder Luke Wright.
And for the rest of the morning spell, they paid for that. By lunch we had Jonathan Trott, at best an occasional Test bowler, coming on from the Hilton Hotel end with his wobbly dobblers. Ridiculous.
This was a day for four seamers, with a bit of swing in the air early on and hellish conditions to come this afternoon. Smith (29) and the old warhorse Jacques Kallis (28) have added 67 for the third wicket.
England only managed 25 overs rather than the expected 30 this morning, and they face two torrid sessions before the blazing sun goes down over the Berea ridge overlooking the city.
Down in the bowels of the main stand, the honours boards, Lord's-style, show the centurions and five-wicket bowlers going back to 1923, when, like Wembley, Kingsmead first staged an international.
Then this curious gap between 1970 and 1992. Those are the 22 years local cricketers gave up to Apartheid. Barry Richards, Mike Procter and dozens of other talented South Africans were forced to miss the best Test years of their careers because of their nation's disgraceful political system. Just before isolation, they whipped Australia 4-0 with Richards, Procter and both Pollocks tearing the convicts apart.
Things have changed, they've even dug up the old pictures of local Indian and black cricket to adorn the walls, where once it was all white on the night.
Outside though, few of the local Zulus can be bothered with the men in white who spend five days in the sun eking out a draw. They prefer the brand new Moses Madibe Stadium a mile away, purpose-built for the World Cup next year.
Kingsmead remains a typically old-school South African crowd, though the cricket-mad Asians, a massive presence in Durban, once restricted to a small section of the east stand, can now mingle as they wish.
A packed crowd of nearly 20,000, around 5,000 of them British, have been downing jugs of lager since 8am British time. Castle Corner, the notorious Kingsmead nook, are waiting to laugh at us. It has been packed since 9.30am this morning with big, red-backed men and scantily clad women (see above) and the odd surfer dude.
This is what Boxing Day cricket should be all about. Us larking about in the sun while England freezes over.
If only we'd picked Sidebottom. If only Andrew Strauss had won the toss. Meanwhile, we shall make the best of it. Where's that sunscreen...?

Labels: boxing day test, castle corner, , , graham onions, jimmy anderson, , , neal collins cricket,

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, , , ,

Monday, 21 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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