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A Game Apart


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Monday, 4 January 2010

Matt finish adds gloss to a tough day for England

THE trusty trio of Matt Prior, Ian Bell and Alastair Cook were left to pick up the pieces today as England struggled for survival under the blazing sun in Cape Town.

After a rip-roaring start with the ball, Andrew Strauss's men, 1-0 up in the four-match series, slumped to 73-4 and 174-6 as first Cook (65), then Bell (48) and finally Prior (52 not out - he reached his fifty off the penultimate ball of the day) urged their ailing team towards the South African total of 291.

By the close of a dramatic second day, England are 241-7, still 50 behind, with Stuart Broad, 25, the last man out.

Graeme Swann, the England spinner who can bat a bit (he's only got five but he got a Test best 85 in Centurion) keeping Bell company against a South African attack showing far more urgency than they managed in the innings defeat in Durban after Christmas.

Bell finally buckled after 121 balls, falling just two runs short of a brave half-century. Essex opener Cook kept his head on an incredible morning when the sound of wickets falling echoed constantly off the dramatic cliffs of neighbouring Table Mountain.

Cook, who scored a much-needed century in Durban, survived the loss of current leader Andrew Strauss, the fiddling Jonathan Trott and the reckless Kevin Pietersen before losing a fourth partner in Paul Collingwood with the score a wobbly 73-4.

But Cookie didn’t crumble and when he was joined by Bell, who also produced a much-needed 140 at Kingsmead, the South African attack hit the wall. Bell needed 14 balls before he scored his first runs – a four off Morne Morkel – and he produced his second scoring shot off his 37th ball. Hardly sparkling stuff.

But they survived a torrid session before tea to frustrate the South Africans, who were skittled for 291 this morning. Cook was finally out – Morkel’s third victim – caught by Ashwell Prince off a weak pull shot after 136 balls and nearly four hours of resistance.

England's chances of building a lead are diminishing rapidly. The South Africans were 127-5 at one stage and rallied around centurion Jacques Kallis. Prior needs to do the same with Swann, Graham Onions and Jimmy Anderson at the other end.

But at least this Test has returned to some sort of sanity. At the start of this dramatic day, the cliffs of neighbouring Table Mountain were echoing to the sound of clattering wickets.

South Africa lost four in the first 17 balls for 12 runs to slump from 279-6 to 291 all out. If all Tests went the way of this morning’s first four overs we’d see all four innings completed by lunch-time on day one with just over 100 runs on the board.

But Jimmy Anderson’s five wicket haul was soon forgotten as captain Strauss fell first over to Morkel for two. Trott stayed for 36 balls before he was bowled by Dale Steyn – the world’s top ranked bowler who doesn’t even open for South Africa any more – for 20. The eternally disappointing Pietersen lasted just two balls before Steyn completed a neat caught-and-bowled duck. The first seven wickets of the day had all belonged to men born in South Africa.

And when Morkel finally got rid of Collingwood, lbw, for 19 off 44 balls, England were in deep trouble at 73-4. Cook showed them how to do it, refusing to nibble outside the off-stump and relying largely on the odd flick around the corner to add to his tally. Just twice in 136 balls he actually played with any force on the off-side, and he had to wait until the arrival of non-spinning Paul Harris to slap two fours and raise the tempo with Bell often becalmed at the other end.

But with the wicket offering little, the South Africans, particularly Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn, the world's top ranked Test bowler, never let England get comfortable as Cook, Bell and Broad were winkled out. And that's why England spent all day on the back foot - apart from the first 17 balls.

Tomorrow they're promising further heat, with temperatures rising into the 40s. South Africa may just be in the right place at the right time by lunch tomorrow, and we could head for the final Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on January 14 with the series locked at 1-1.

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Thursday, 26 November 2009

Fancy glasses, flashy cars and England's South Africans

GRAEME SMITH came perilously close to accusing England's four South African-born players of being too keen on "fancy glasses and flashy cars" before tomorrow's massive third One-Day International at Newlands.
The no-nonsense Proteas captain (pictured), possibly in shock at finding himself 1-0 down in the series with three to play, said: "Look, for me I always had a dream of playing for South Africa and it has worked out. I think it's a good job now, being a cricketer for your country. I feel playing for South Africa has brought a nation together, it's carried the nation.
"The only thing we need to work on is the value of the Rand!"
And turning to those like Andrew Strauss, Matt Prior, Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott who were born in South Africa but chose to pursue a career with England, he said: "There are some players not ready to just do the work, to wait for it to happen like I did.
"It's more about the financial rewards. Some players want the fancy glasses, the fancy cars."
But he insisted the drain of talent is coming to an end, adding: "What's really encouraging is we've seen lately a lot of players are coming back into our system from the County game where they were Kolpak players, it's encouraging from out perspective."
Though Smith's comments were not directly aimed at the quartet of expats, there's no doubt the South Africans will be keeping an extra-close eye on their former countrymen over the next two months.
With the four-Test series starting on December 16, this One-Day war is seen as vital for momentum after England were highly fortunate to grab a 1-1 draw in the Twenty20 showdowns. South Africa have a great record in Cape Town, but the side batting first has won 20 of the last 25 ODIs in the shadow of Table Mountain.
The good news for England is that injured Nottinghamshire pair Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann may both be back for Newlands tomorrow.
Last Sunday at Centurion, rampant England might have had just two weak links - inconsistent seamer Sajit Mahmood and woefully out-of-form spinner Adil Rashid. Broad and Swann will slot in easily to strengthen the attack - and both can bat a bit too.
A stronger, fitter England will worry the South Africas with captain Andrew Strauss saying: "Broadie looks 100 percent now after the shoulder injury and it will be great to have him back.
"Swannie bowled for the first time in the nets, so he may be ready too. To be honest he's been a pain in the dressing-room. Too much energy! It would be great to have him back too.
"There is a long-term plan in improving our one-day cricket - and these sorts of games are the ones that can really take us forward
"We've said in the past we've always responded well to defeat, but we have not been quite so great on building on a good performance. We're going to try to put ourselves under a bit of pressure this game to make sure we build on that."
The only bad news on the England front? Former coach and Sky commentator David "Bumble" Lloyd, clearly a Lancastrian as opposed to archetypal Yorkshireman Geoffrey Boycott, complains on Twitter: "Mortified..bloke just come up and said ,“ Hi, Geoffrey." Ouch.

Labels: , david lloyd, england world, geoffrey boycott, , , , ,

Monday, 23 November 2009

Trott's colours nailed firmly to the England mast

JONATHAN TROTT'S creed, his mantra, may help to explain how he is able to return to Newlands, Cape Town's magnificent cricketing bowl in the shadow of Table Mountain, with such confidence... batting, if you'll pardon the expression, for the other side.
The former Western Province batsman - perhaps we should call him an all-rounder after his performance in the second One-Day International triumph over South Africa on Sunday - plays at his old home ground for the tourists on Friday expressing this philosophy: "I'm always trying to better myself."
So far, Trott (pictured) is successfully treading the path broken so controversially by Pietermaritzburg-born Kevin Pietersen in 2005. And he is bettering himself with every innings
Trott scored 87 at Centurion over the weekend to help Paul Collingwood put England 1-0 up in the five-match ODI series after the opening game at The Wanderers on Friday was monsooned-off.
He also bowled seven overs for 21 runs, earning Ian Botham's heartfelt praise: "As an all-rounder, he was a revelation."
And who can forget his Test debut in the summer when, with KP in hospital and Ricky Ponting on the sledge, he scored 41 and 119 in the final Test at The Oval against Australia to help seal the Ashes for his adopted country? Instant runs, instant confidence at the heart of the storm.
Between those two innings, while he was mysteriously left out of the one-day humiliation against the Aussies, he was accused by former captain Michael Vaughan of celebrating with the South Africans after their Test series win in England last year, a week after being 12th man for the home side.
Nasty stuff which put huge pressure on a tour rookie, but it sold books, I guess.
Ian Jonathan Leonard Trott, who also managed 33 and 51 in the drawn Twenty20 series last week, appears unfazed. He says before Friday's showdown in the town of his birth: "It adds a little edge to it for me. But I'm going to have to put the emotions of coming back here to one side. Everyone wants to play at Lord's and the SCG but for me, I always wanted to come and play back at Newlands and be part of a winning England side."
So South Africans - including coach Mickey Arthur who insists Trott wouldn't make his current top six batters - can now rearrange these words into a commonly used phrase: "Colours, mast, nailed, firmly, the, to."
Promoted to opener in place of Kent's Joe Denly, Warwickshire's Trott, whose father Ian coaches in Leatherhead, nails things down still further, insisting in his still-heavy Seffeffriken accent: "I'm really happy to be sitting here part of an England team which has just won in South Africa.
"It's just the same as when I walked out against Australia in that first Test match. I try not to get too wound up about it. I just try to bring my Warwickshire processes into playing for England. Just like all the other guys in the team, I'm always trying to better myself."
Let's just get the Trott story right. Yes, he went to Rondebosch High on the slopes of Table Mountain. Yes, he attended Stellenbosch University, home of the Afrikaner intellectual and yes, he captained South Africa's Under 19s.
But like so many others in South Africa, he grew up with the knowledge that his grandparents were solidly British. England were not necessarily the enemy. Remember Basil D'Oliveira, Tony Greig, Robin Smith and Allan Lamb had gone there before, not to mention Zola Budd and Gary Bailey, long before KP. It's tough to understand that if you haven't lived over there.
Trott's two early Twenty20s against the West Indies in 2007 didn't go too well but after averaging 90 in the County game last year, he was always going to be the next up once Pietersen had gone down with an Achilles problem and Ravi Bopara had failed one too many times.
Forget Mark Ramprakash and Marcus Trescothick, at 28, Trott had to be the future. Has been ever since he made his debut for the Warwickshire 2nd XI in 2002 and scored 245. A year later he scored 134 on his first team debut. And along the way he grabbed a seven-wicket haul with the seamers the South Africans failed to deal with last Sunday.
Trottsky is likely to be joined the fit-again Pietersen, Matt Prior and Andrew Strauss over the coming weeks. But, like the other three South African-born Englishmen, he has nailed those colours to the mast.
The man who came through the South African schoolboy ranks with currently injured Jacques Kallis, Protea's captain Graeme Smith, Herschelle Gibbs - recalled to the South African side today - and Ashwell Prince leaves no room for doubt: "I won't let any outside emotions affect my decision-making on the field. I'm looking forward to contributing to another win. For England."

Labels: allan lamb, , , ian botham, , , , robin smith, , tony greig, zola budd

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Time to end England's misery. Not.

TIME for a quick review of the last week for English sports fans before we begin to discuss this weekend's international showdowns.
On Saturday Martin Johnson's rugby union hopefuls produced what former World Cup-winner Matt Dawson described as "the worst half of rugby I have ever seen" as they scraped to a 16-9 win over Argentina at Twickenham. Soon afterwards, Fabio Capello's all-conquering World Cup group winners were given a severe reality check by Brazil in Doha, losing 1-0 when really, they were lucky to get nil.
And so to Sunday, with Andy Flower's cricketers treated to a record-breaking Twenty20 defeat by South Africa at Centurion and Tony Smith resigning after his side were soundly walloped by the Wallabies in the Four Nations final at an even-quieter-than-usual Old Trafford.
Not a great weekend then. Oh, perhaps we should mention that all four of our international bosses, particularly Johnson and Capello, were hit by injuries to 341 members of their squads.
And no doubt the excuses will be hauled out again this weekend, with England launching their five-match ODI campaign at the Wanderers with only 13 fit players and New Zealand arriving for the final Autumn International at Twickenham with Simon Shaw back in the squad at 35.
The cricketers did manage a win over South Africa A at Potchefstroom yesterday with Andrew Strauss, Matt Prior and Jonathan Trott all getting half centuries and yes, all three of them were born in South Africa. Alistair Cook pulled out with a sore back to add to the injury list which already features Paul Collingwood, Stuart Broad, James Anderson and Graeme Swann.
Adil Rashid? The man taken off after one over when he was hit for four sixes last Sunday, bowled eight overs and ended with 0-44.
Trott was wheeled out for the post-match quotes. He said: "I think it was a nicely measured innings from us. Andrew Strauss set it up nicely at the beginning and along with Joe Denly gave us a good start.
"I then came in and sort of got going. There was then a little period where the guys came in, getting themselves in and then getting themselves out unfortunately.
"But Matt Prior came in and played an awesome innings - I just batted around him and then Luke Wright came in and played his part, the way we know he can, and we got ourselves home."
I can't see England beating South Africa on Friday at the bull-ring... though I notice their rugby Springboks fell to a third successive defeat on tour, this time by a point to one of their colonies, Saracens, at Wembley.
If only England were playing the Boks on Saturday we might have a chance. The All Blacks, beaten by South Africa in the Tri-Nations, may be too much for England's depleted side, even with the resurgent Shaw.
It's going to be another tough weekend for England fans.

Labels: , , , denly, , , new zealand, Potchefstroom, rugby, saracens, wanderers