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A Game Apart


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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

England choose to bowl as stubborn Steyn is removed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, 14 December 2009

Kallis comeback a blow for England

ENGLAND received a significant blow to their chances of winning the Test series in South Africa this morning when the hosts confirmed the world’s top all-rounder Jacques Kallis has declared himself fit for Centurion tomorrow.

Day one of the first Test would have been far more comfortable for Andrew Strauss’s men had Kallis’s rib injury ruled him out, but it appears a programme of oxygen-chamber treatment has been enough to get South Africa’s key man ready in a four-match series they need to win 2-0 to return to the top of the world rankings.

The good news? Kallis (left) may only be able to bat and there are signs of tension within the South African camp over the call up of paceman Friedel de Wet on standby for Kallis or Dale Steyn, South Africa’s highest ranked bowler.

Mike Procter, the former Gloucestershire all-rounder and current head of selectors here, sent opening bat Alvrio Petersen, all-rounder Ryan McLaren and – much to chagrin of coach Mickey Arthur – paceman Wayne Parnell back to their provinces today after yet another stormy afternoon in Centurion.

Despite allegations in this week’s Johannesburg Sunday Times that he didn’t see eye to eye with Procter over the selection of De Wet, Arthur said: "We are happy with the state of readiness of all squad members to play in the first Test on Wednesday. Both Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn should be fit to take their places.

"We are keeping Friedel de Wet on standby as a like-for-like replacement for Dale. There is always the chance with bowlers that Dale could wake up on the morning of the match with a recurrence of his hamstring problem and we don't want to have to scramble around for a last-minute replacement."

Procter defended his choice of De Wet ahead of Parnell insisting: "Friedel had a good season last year and I've seen him bowl recently on some pretty flat tracks at East London and at Johannesburg so he's a player worth looking at and we'll see what comes out of it.”

If Kallis can’t bowl and Steyn’s hamstring is still dodgy, De Wet could be a vital part of the South African attack next to Makhaya Ntini, the near-legendary seamer who makes his 100th Test appearance on Wednesday.

Despite yesterday’s broadside from England’s Stuart Broad, suggesting the South Africans may be a little rusty after three months without Test cricket, Ntini – who became the first black man to play for South Africa against Sri Lanka at Newlands in 1998 aged 20 - insisted: "Of course we favourites. We are on our home grounds and will have a lot of support."

Ntini, hoping to add to the 388 Test wickets which have put him 11th best in the history of Test cricket, insists: “Guys these days are not working hard enough to take their chances. They don’t have to work as hard as I did. It would be nice to see black cricketers given more opportunities – and taking them.

“They are not hungry enough to do well. They play one or two games and think they are part and parcel of the team. When I started out, I was the fifth choice. I took advice and practiced to get in the team.”

But turning to England without his old foe Andrew Flintoff, he said: "They've lost one of their major players in Freddie. He was the one who made a huge impact. Losing the pillar of the team means we have a better chance - because he was always the guy that intimidated us.'' England appear to be injury free after the early spate of problems on tour. James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who have both snubbed the IPL circus once more, looked lethal out in the middle yesterday after shoulder and knee problems.

After Broad’s rousing rallying cry (see below), the only England player under the weather – and it’s pretty bad weather here – is Yorkshire leg spinner Adil Rashid.

He was given a tough time in the nets by Kevin Pietersen and the big hitters at Pretoria University and that was followed by the news that uncapped Kent off-spinner James Tredwell has been called up to the Test squad, leaving Rashid to languish in the Performance Programme squad. Tredwell will make his debut on Wednesday if the in-form, full-of-life Graeme Swann has a recurrence of his back injury.

Coach Andy Flower said: “Graeme’s injury is improving and we expect him to be available for Wednesday. But with a further three Tests to come after Centurion we have decided that we need a ‘like for like’ replacement on hand for Graeme should this be required later in the tour.” While Rashid has been struggling with bat and ball Tredwell made 70 for the Performance squad against Nashua Titans President’s Xl last week.

Oh... and my blog on Stuart Broad yesterday was the back page lead on the London Evening Standard yesterday... see

Labels: , england test series, first test, injury, , mickey arthur,

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,

Monday, 23 November 2009

Trott the all-rounder? A revelation from Botham

IAN BOTHAM, who knows a thing or two about all-rounders, picked out Jonathan Trott’s performance in the thumping seven-wicket win over South Africa yesterday as “a revelation”
While the immediate headlines surrounded the performance of Paul Collingwood, who took two wickets, a superb catch and scored an undefeated 105 in his record 171st one-day international for England, Botham went straight to Trott’s performance with bat and ball in his post-match analysis.
The Sky Sports commentator and former England captain said: “You have to look carefully at what Trott (pictured) did out there. He scored 87 and bowled seven overs for nothing (21, the most economical England bowler). England are having to learn to live without Andrew Flintoff and Trott will help them do that.
“It’s been a real revelation for England. South Africa are struggling without their all-rounder Jacques Kallis (broken rib) but we have Trott, Paul Collingwood, Luke Wright and Tim Bresnan who can do both now.”
Botham appears genuinely optimistic about England’s chances after they eased past South Africa’s 250-9 with seven wickets and four overs to spare.
With South African captain Graeme Smith admitting: “There is a realisation we’re in for a long, hard summer of cricket,” Beefy argues: “We all want to see a vibrant and punchy England side going at it hammer and tongs with the opposition.
“The best one-day teams in the world are front runners - the Australians and the Indians. I think Andrew Strauss finally recognises that. He was conservative in the West Indies, but he has been captain for a year now and I expect to see him blossom in charge.”
Collingwood, who overtook Alec Stewart as his country's most capped player in the ODIs, said: "It was a big day for me on a personal note.We were quite comfortable in the end. It was a special performance by all the boys really."
But the Durham dynamo also picked out Trott after their 162-run third-wicket partnership. Trott opened for the first time, replacing Kent’s Joe Denly, and fell just 13 runs short of a maiden one-day ton.
Collingwood purred: "It was a top knock by Trotty. He really played the anchor role. "Credit to him, all the international innings he's played so far have been special ones and hopefully that continues. He’s taken his county game to the international level."
England captain Strauss, who dropped three catches and scored just 16 off a sluggish 26 balls, did the vital thing - winning the toss - and said: "Jonathan and Paul both played exceptionally well. We always felt we could chase down 250 but we needed to get stuck in and build a partnership.
The great disappointment yesterday? Adil Rashid, once more England's least economical bowler. The young Yorkshire spinner, hit for four sixes in the only over allowed him in last week’s crushing Twenty20 defeat on the same ground, bowled just three overs for 27, leaving the door open for Kent’s James Tredwell to make his debut in the third one-day international at Newlands in Cape Town on Friday.
Tredwell, England’s Under 19 captain back in 2002, took 95 wickets in all forms of the game last season and he can bat a bit as well, with two first class tons and a 16 fifties for Kent.
The only other thing England need to worry about on Friday? The captain’s hands. After dropping those three catches, Strauss said: "That was the one negative. My hands went missing somewhere. I'll have to do some practice before Newlands on Friday."

Labels: , , , , , , world cup

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Record-breaking Collingwood's clout of Africa

PAUL COLLINGWOOD take a bow. Two wickets and an undefeated century as he broke Alec Stewart's record of 170 England one-day international appearances - and South Africa crushed by seven wickets. What a day for the Man of the Match. Oh, and typically, a flying catch at backward point to dismiss danger man AB De Villiers for two.
The Durham dynamo (left, with me at The Oval earlier this year) ended with 2-24 off six overs with the ball as South Africa could only manage 250-9 off their 50 overs at Centurion. Then, with a little help from Jonathan Trott, 87, and Eoin Morgan, 27 off just 18 balls, Colly scored a magnificent 105 off 110 to see England home.
Home captain Graeme Smith, who gets more articulate by the day since his early, clumsy attempts at verbalising on his first tour in charge here back in 2005, was left admitting candidly: "I think the realisation has dawned that we're in for a long, hard summer of cricket against England.
"Credit to them, they bowled well and we were 30 runs short. I think we were a little soft with a few dismissals in the middle. I'd like to congratulate Paul Collingwood...and we will have to be at out best from now on."
How's that for a change of mood? Just a week ago, South Africa raced to a record Twenty20 victory at the same ground (curiously the hero of that game, Loots Bosman, was left out in the longer form of the game) and injury-hit England looked in all sorts of trouble despite somehow contriving to draw the two-match wham-bam series.
The 50 over game made the South Africans look impatient and under-prepared. Collingwood said: "To be fair this was a completely different track today. Last week was a quick track, the ball was coming onto the bat. I thought we bowled really well and I had great support from Trotty and Morgs.
"Jonathan just took was he does in county cricket and did it here. To be fair, his international innings so far have all been magnificent.
"It was a big day for me, but I thought the team were fantastic all the way through. I had a bad back last week but the medical staff did a great job and hopefully I'll be fine now."
As a Sunday cricketer lucky enough to have netted with Collingwood, and ghosted newspaper columns with him, you can rest assured a day like today couldn't happen to a finer fellow. A handy golfer and all-round sporting genius, Collingwood has often been lambasted for being something less than Andrew Flintoff as an all-rounder. If England are to live without Freddie, we have to start loving Colly more.
Lifted by a warm-up win against South Africa A in Potchefstroom, England were magnificent today, apart from a couple of dropped catches from captain Andrew Strauss, who also failed with the bat.
But as he picked up the magnificent R15,000 winners' cheque (that's about £1,000, which won't go far back home), Strauss was all smiles. He did all the captain had to today, winning the toss before play had even started. He said: "It was an imporant toss to win, I think the pitch flattened out a bit for us. But I was very happy with how we bowled. It was a professional performance. Paul and Jonathan played very well and hopefully we can take this forward. We aren't going to get carried away, but we're fairly happy with where we are at the moment."
With three more one-dayers to go - the first was rained off in Johannesburg on Friday - followed by the four Tests, we're all fairly happy Straussie. And as Collingwood said: "We'll just have to give the captain some catching practice."

Labels: , , , , , one-day international, , , test series

Friday, 13 November 2009

Grim Smith 1, Strauss 0... and Swannie's moustache

GRIM SMITH won the opening battle of the Boer War in Johannesburg yesterday, blasting England captain Andrew Strauss for not wanting to play in tonight’s Twenty20clash at the Wanderers.
Grim, spelt Graeme, may just have done his rivals a favour by calling Strauss’s non-playing role into question yesterday — England’s Johannesburg-born captain Strauss is now considering playing after opening bat Alistair Cook succumbed to a virus overnight.
Smith will no doubt take the credit for that. He’s that sort of bloke.
He has been in charge of the Proteas since the departure of the disgraced and now-departed Hansie Cronje five years ago. And he has come a long way since his first clash with England at the tender age of 22, when his record-breaking batting spoke louder than his clumsy words.
As the two nations go into a torrid schedule of 11 showdowns in 10 weeks, Smith — who has taken his team to No1 in the world rankings in both forms of the game — saw fit yesterday to have a go at Strauss’s decision to miss the two Twenty20 internationals this weekend and give the captain’s armband (if only cricketers had them) to Paul Collingwood.
Having scored 72 and 117 not out in England’s opening two tour wins, there are those who feel Strauss might have made the difference when England were all out for 89 and crushed by four wickets in a Twenty20 warm-up against South Africa A on Tuesday night.
Smith, who averages over 50 in Tests, said when asked about Strauss’s reluctance to play in the shortest form of the game: “It does surprise me. It’s very difficult to keep chopping and changing and I think it will be difficult for your coach Andy Flower to be working with a different captain with a different outlook.
“Who handles team meetings, who runs the show? Those are questions it’s difficult for me to answer but it must be an interesting dynamic within the side.
“He’s scoring runs, he has been successful in one-day cricket over a period of time, maybe it’s something he is reassessing in his own mind but it does surprise me that on a tour like this having started so well that he’s not playing a part.”
Smith won’t have it all his own way on this tour though. The last time the pair met, Strauss was the runaway winner.
It was a Champions Trophy qualifier at Centurion last month, an injured Smith needed a runner and the England captain said no.
Despite a Grim ton, South Africa were comperhensively beaten and the hosts crashed out of the competition.
Smith insists: “There are no personal hard feelings. It is going to be competitive. I guess we’re trying to work out at the moment how Andrew is going to go about things. He has been a very quiet individual whenever we have played against him, almost stuck in the background, a clean and tidy type of character.
“I think he is trying to be a lot sterner and tougher in his ways and maybe he thinks the England environment needs that. He is much more outspoken now, I guess the captaincy does that to you so it will be interesting to see how he goes this summer.”
On a less serious note comes news of Graeme Swann’s moustache, another stunning exclusive. You may need a magnifying glass and spectacles, but it IS there, stubbornly clinging on just above the top lip as England warmed up for tonight’s Twenty20 clash against South Africa in Johannesburg. Swann himself twittered last night: “Oh dear, my so-called ’tache is a disgrace. A semi-ginger, patchy disgrace! Still I must stick with it... at least until ordered to shave!” A less light-hearted twitter from Swannie this week reads: “‘This part of Joburg is safe as houses,’ said our liaison officer. Round the next corner? Bullet-ridden car, news crews, body bags!” Paceman Jimmy Anderson echoed that sentiment: “Just seen the aftermath of a shooting near the hotel. Cars full of bullet holes. Very scary.”

Labels: andy flower, england cricket, , , james anderson, , ,