Posted by: nestaquin | August 3, 2008

The Long & Winding Road

Golden Duck March

We begin our new season at 99.94 with a solemn and sincere article written while South Africa were still celebrating their first series win in England during my lifetime. Our obviously disappointed contributor, a man who skillfully extracts the objective from the subjective, The Tooting Trumpet, put fingertips to keyboard and produced the fine unemotional piece below despite, I suspect, the urge to throw his laptop out the window in a pique of frustration. That’s discipline, desire and dedication personified, something a few in the England shirt could emulate.

South Africa’s first series win in England since Beatlemania

If you’re a Son of the Voortrekkers or the Zulu or any other group of the Rainbow Nation, this is a proud day. Your captain, Graeme Smith, has emerged from the IPL winning Rajasthan Royals a less intense, but equally driven man, who has learned much from the greatest captain Test cricket never saw, one SK Warne, and delivered a series win in England for the first time since 1965. If you’re a Son of The Old Dart, it’s like the Fletcher years (1999-2006) never happened.

As series wins must, the South Africans’ success was built on solid batting from experienced men. Up front, in every sense, Graeme Smith is a more rounded batsmen than the bludgeoner of two double-hundreds the last time he was in England. He is supported by the second coming of Neil McKenzie, which has echoes of Justin Langer’s move up the order seven years ago. Amla at three is unorthodox, but effective; Kallis at four needs no introduction; then comes the counter-punching Prince at five and the mercurial de Villiers at six, backed up by South Africa’s very own Rod Marsh, Mark Boucher at seven. That’s an average of 67 Tests per man, with plenty of the ups and downs that build character – a batting unit to match any in the world right now.

The bowling was much vaunted before it arrived in England with wunderkind Dale Steyn leading a set of 140kph merchants. It didn’t turn out that way. Steyn was quick at times, but was rendered toothless by good pitches. Pick of the bowlers was Morne Morkel, raw-boned and raw, but with something of his fellow right-arm giant bowler / left-hand useful batsman, Curtly Ambrose about him. Ntini, in the twilight of his career and Nel offered little more than enthusiasm, Kallis offered craftiness and Harris offered temptation but no spin.

But the plain fact is that batting from the top echelon of the international game and bowling from its mid-ranks was plenty enough to see off a poor England side on their home turf. All the “glass half-empty” pessimists were proved right. Strauss isn’t over his technical problems, Cook is still more potential than results, Vaughan is in terminal decline, Bell and Collingwood capable of only one good knock per series and KP a great batsman who plays too many poor shots. Amongst the bowlers, Anderson and Sidebottom are no Harmison and Hoggard, Broad is no Jones (with the ball, though immensely promising with the bat) and Flintoff has too many demands placed upon his battered frame. Most disappointing amongst a disappointing bowling outfit, is Monty Panesar whose career, having stalled, is now in reverse with no discernible coaching offered to a still young and somewhat unworldly man.

Since the first innings of both teams in the Lord’s Test when South Africa were just getting their eyes in, Graeme Smith’s men have played some excellent cricket peppered with an occasional flat session. Conversely, Michael Vaughan’s men have played some flat cricket peppered with the occasional good session.

From here (after this week’s dead rubber at The Oval), South Africa go to Aus for an eagerly awaited series in December and January (alas only three Tests, with just three days of warm-up cricket). England, yet again, go back to the drawing board.

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Responses

  1. Nice work Toots.

    Some things I noticed during the final day.

    Sidebottom is clearly unfit.

    Panesar’s lack of variation is alarming. He also bowled six no-balls consecutively and wasn’t called!

    The windows above the sightscreen.

    Vaughan smacking Panesar crisply in the back of the head.

    Anderson looked frightened when called on to bowl.

    The weight on Flintoff’s shoulders.

    Smith’s obstinancy, intelligence and determination. A perfect captain’s knock.

    England’s general lack of vitality and imagination in the field.

    England need an injection of youth to revitalise the team.

    I expect England players and supporters are gutted. After a poor start they got themselves back into the match and halfway through the final day (SAF 93/4) with the ball turning square they looked like favourites to win. They didn’t even come close. Very disappointing and if I was a selector I’d wield the axe for the next Test.

  2. From the other side of the planet, you saw pretty much what I saw Nesta.

    Having shared the diagnosis, we do prescribe different cures however. I don’t feel we’re ready for a generational change and a wholesale clearout. First we must use the resources at our disposal and start winning Tests against full strength opposition (NZ weren’t). Whilst it would be follish to believe that any Englishman could play Smith’s knock, we need experience in the batting and bowling. We can start with that at The Oval (which England may well win, but the Saffers won’t celebrate too much with the antipathy towards KP and with Kallis with a burning desire to right a wrong).

    There’s some bitter pills may need to be swallowed. Harmison mustn’t tour, but must play at home. Tresco, for different reasons, likewise. The bowlers must be craftier and must have plans and, most importantly, must be the best four / five in the country. And we must have a resistant lower order.

    Here’s my team for the First Ashes Test (expect nothing like this from the selectors).

    Tresco
    Cook
    Key (Captain)
    Bell
    KP
    Bopara
    Prior
    Flintoff
    Broad
    Anderson
    Harmison
    Jones

    There’s hostility and nous in the bowling with enough back-up to avoid Flintoff being destroyed. There’s no spin, but Broad must become a holding bowler because he could become a 6 batting at 8 which is huge for a team. Prior is a poor keeper, but scores big runs quickly. The batsmen are probably the best five available.

  3. I’d be interested in readers’ comments re the window affair (and yours Nesta). I was in a minority of one in other discussions in saying that the authorities should have put up a sheet. It seems a fundamental to me that you present a ground fit for play and (for Boucher, Kallis and McKenzie – a few Tests there!) it wasn’t.

    I found the arguments that it’s the same for both sides or that it was only Flintoff spurious. If the sun was reflecting off a window, they would close it, or move a policeman from behind the bowler’s arm. The ground is sacrosanct (though they repair footholds) but outside the field of play, all should be done as the players reasonably request. “Put up a sheet because I can’t see the ball” is a reasonable request.

  4. I’m of the opinion that something should have been done about the offending window and I wonder what the reaction/inaction would have been if it was Strauss and Vaughan that were out to the invisible ball.

    It looked ugly and there should be an investigation into the sightboard and surrounds this morning.

    Also Aleem Dar should be hauled over the coals for failing to call over a dozen no-balls. That is, to put it midly, poor umpiring. He is quite fortunate the match wasn’t closer.

    And one more thing, wasn’t Smith’s decision to take the extra half hour an excellent and brave decision in fading light against a new ball?

    Makes a mockery of the other times during the series when the light has been adjudged as poor leaving paying spectators waiting.

    Has there ever been a cricket match without controversy? They seem to go hand in hand and that, in my mind, makes it all the more entertaining and interesting.

  5. Whoops – that’s squad, not team above!

  6. Smith got every last thing right in that innings and deserved the luck that came his way (there’s always a bit in a knock of 154).

    I find the light issue absurd. Light should be playable or unplayable (no “bad light” nor “unfit” light). Smith (perhaps learning from Warne) read the match situation perfectly, applied “gamecraft” (something often lacking in a Saffer) and crushed England in as bad a defeat as Adelaide 2006.

    Not good for my team!

  7. I thought the window thing was just bad management, plain disorganisation and didnt reflect well on the ECB or whomsoever. I would find it hard to state it as deliberate as a planned obstacle, but certainly, the decision to ignore the reasonable request was, but kudo’s to Smith for over riding the fury of that rejection.

  8. Pepp – I agree.

  9. Hi Nesta + Tooting!!! Great to see you back online!

    Agree with much of what you both said, particularly re. Sidebottom (saw him puffing hard on ‘TV’ after saving a boundary more than once – he looks a tad rounder, too) and undue pressure on Flintoff. Tooting’s team would be great! If only…

    Smith’s innings was magnificent for the RSA. Real ‘steel in the backbone’ stuff. And @pepp: agree re: balcony window incident. Several large sheets of A0 sized cartridge paper with some brown parcel tape would have solved the problem without too much fuss, and been generous to the visitors too. But they won anyway.


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