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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

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

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 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

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,

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

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,

Monday, 21 December 2009

Trott happy to frustrate South Africa all over again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Two great events, one nation. And England expects...

A DISTANCE of 1,715km lies between two great sporting events tomorrow. In Cape Town, England's footballers will be unable to influence the World Cup draw but up the coast in Durban, our cricketers will do all they can to inflict an unexpected defeat on South Africa at Kingsmead.

The footballers will be happy to draw Slovenia, New Zealand and Algeria. They'll be devastated if they come out of the hat with France, Ivory Coast and the USA. Those are the two ends of the scale for Fabio Capello in Cape Town, where the sun is shining. Ultimately though, England have to be able to play anyone, anywhere to win the World Cup. They need to be unbeatable.

In tropical Durban, where it's been a little soggy of late, Andrew Strauss knows his side are already unbeatable, given they're 2-1 up in the One-Day International series with one to play. And they are within touching distance of being the only country apart from Australia to beat South Africa in an ODI series on home soil.

Strauss fully appreciates the significance of all this, going into his 100th ODI. In true Tiger Woods style he's trying to play it all down, pretend it's nothing major. He says: "We have to put them under pressure again, make sure we're at the races. It would be a bit naive to talk about series victories. We really want to come and win this series 3-1 but we have to expect another South African backlash."

This Jekyll and Hyde series has been all about backlashes. After the rained off opening game, England won by seven wickets in a crushing triumph in Centurion. Then South Africa broke all sorts of records as they got their revenge in Cape Town last Friday. But England produced another emphatic seven-wicket win in Port Elizabeth last Sunday to turn it all around again.

Given the roller-coaster that has gone before, you'd expect a massive South African win and the two sides will go into the four Test series having drawn both the Twenty20 series and the ODI contest. And that's a worst-case scenario for England. Which is confusing because South Africa have often looked a much better side, particularly with the bat.

But Strauss says: "It doesn't matter how good a side is, if you keep putting them under pressure then you are going to have success against them. We have been able to do that a couple of times this series and let's hope we do it one more.

"I think we've progressed quite a way but I am the last person to say we are the finished article. We still have a long way to go."

With South African born trio Jonathan Trott, Kevin Pietersen and Strauss threatening to ruin his summer, Proteas' captain Graeme Smith isn't too concerned about the reception awaiting the "English imports" from infamous Castle Corner.

Smith growls: "It happens round the world these days, I think a couple of England fans booed me on Sunday, so it's just something you become used to as an international cricketer.

"Fans are biased towards their teams. You have to learn to have a little bit of a thick skin. What we need to do is push England to perform under pressure. Disappointingly we haven't done that so far."

Dale Steyn's hamstring makes him a doubt for South Africa, who are also without key all-rounder Jacques Kallis, who has had an injection in his injured rib and is rated only 50-50 to be fit for the opening Test at Centurion 16 December. England are now injury free after their initial problems with Stuart Broad, Paul Collingwood, Graeme Swann and, crucially, Jimmy Anderson, who took a career-best 5-23 last Sunday.

I never thought I'd say this but England look like they've got the momentum to beat South Africa in their own backyard, their first ODI series defeat since 2002. Let's hope they don't waste it.

Labels: , , , , , south africa one day series

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Babies, boos and belligerence: now Kevin Pietersen needs runs

IT'S all happening for Kevin Pietersen in South Africa. Boos, babies and a boisterous homecoming at Kingsmead on Friday. All he needs now is a few runs.
With his wife Jessica Taylor, the Libertx singer and Ice Dancer (with KP, right), three months pregnant, the baby will wait until Bangladesh next year. Good tour to miss that.
The boos? He can do nothing about that. The Pietermaritzburg-born batsman will get plenty of stick when the final one-day international kicks off in Durban, 56km from his birthplace, on Friday with England an unbeatable 2-1 up with one to play. What do you expect? He played in KwaZulu Natal for the first 19 years of his life. Ask Paul Ince what it was like going back to West Ham for God's sake!
And anyway, the well-stacked Jessica has joined up with the squad this week, so he'll have comfort at hand. Not that he doesn't thrive on the boos anyway.
It's the runs he has to sort out. Otherwise, the way Jonathan Trott is playing, Pietersen won't be the most important ex-South African in the Test series when it gets underway at Centurion on 16 December.
So far, since arriving late following his infection-ridden mid-Ashes Achilles surgery, KP has managed five innings. His scores so far: 29, four, four, 45 and three. That last knock, during England emphatic win at Port Elizabeth on Sunday, came after he was badly dropped off his first ball. Not too impressive.
Coach Andy Flower concedes: "He is impatient because he's a high achiever and an outstanding sportsman. Four months is a long time off when you're used to playing cricket all the time, so we have to be patient with him. I expected him to be a bit rusty.
"I am sure he will score heavy runs at some stage on this tour."
And the boos? Flower said: "He's used to that. I don't think it affects him. It's really disappointing. I didn't like hearing boos when Ricky Ponting walked out to bat in England in the summer, I don't like hearing boos when someone is taking a conversion in rugby and I think it's sad to hear the booing of a great cricketer walking out to compete for his country."
Can't see Kingsmead's notorious Castle Corner changing that on Friday. Especially if KP comes good for Jessica and delivers a quick 50 to clinch the series, which would mark South Africa's first home ODI defeat since 2002.

Labels: , baby, , jessica, , , , libertyx, pregnancy,