Ball One – The First Test between South Africa and Australia produced two hard fought days of typically tough Test cricket. On a shortened Day One, Australia, led in every sense by Michael Clarke, made 214-8 off 55 overs in tricky, but hardly unplayable conditions. Day Three, also shortened, saw South Africa progress serenely to their target, making 155 runs for the loss of one wicket from 33.2 overs. Day Two – as surely everyone reading this knows – was the cricketing equivalent of the first twenty-four hours of the Battle of the Somme, with 294 runs scored for the loss of 23 wickets. Test cricket is 134 years old and its capacity to surprise is diminished not an iota over 2016 matches.
Ball Two – Dale Steyn, ranked number one in ICC Bowling Rankings for nearly two years, breached the 900 point barrier with his brilliant display at Newlands. Moving the ball through the air and off the seam at extreme pace and with plenty of nous, he has the 17th highest rating ever and is surely worthy of consideration as an all-time great. Amongst currently active bowlers with 100 Test wickets, his career average of 22.96 is almost six runs ahead of the next best (Graeme Swann’s 28.82). Though England’s recent successes have pushed Jimmy Anderson up the bowling lists, the question of who is the best bowler in the world is as settled as it has ever been in my thirty five years watching cricket.
Ball Three – Test cricket needs its chroniclers and they come in many different formats and styles these days (I wrote of some of them prior to The Ashes), but there’s a pleasure to be taken in the old-fashioned report of a day’s play. While Australia’s batsmen weren’t exactly pulling up trees in Cape Town, Greg Baum in the Sydney Morning Herald was peppering the pickets with hit after hit. On Ponting’s travails, he was pithy “He missed what he once would have hit; it was as simple as that. It is now 25 innings since his last century for Australia, and a distant drum is beating.” On Steyn’s menace, he favoured the poetic “Steyn was like an exotic snake, at once beautiful to behold and deadly.” On Day Two’s events, he reached for the apocalyptic “Like an earthquake, there was no forewarning. Like religion, it could not be rationalised. ” And on the impact of the shambolic performance on Australia’s star players, he was damning “Johnson is one of several players whose place will come under critical review between now and the start of the Australian summer. They include Ricky Ponting, Phil Hughes and wicketkeeper Brad Haddin, who had an abjectly poor match. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon bowled only three overs here, but was a victim of circumstances. And he did top-score in Australia’s second innings, so-called.” Read Baum’s majestic reporting in full here.
Ball Four – Not every tall England speedster of the last ten years has shown the fitness or the desire to get on to the paddock and have a bowl. Steven Finn lacks neither fitness nor desire to get on with his job and pitched up at Ragiora, New Zealand to play for Otago in his 43rd match of 2011. He was soon pitching them up too; snaring three Kiwis clean bowled, one LBW and another caught behind. With Ryan Harris and Shane Watson running through the South Africans in their first innings, it was a good week for bowlers who favour attacking the stumps. Perhaps more might try this inexplicably oft-ignored tactic.
Ball Five – As I’m writing this, Peter Roebuck’s death, first reported on Twitter, is confirmed. He was only seven years older than me and I can still see him in my mind’s eye, an awkwardly stiff presence in the glamorous Somerset side of the Seventies and Eighties – Beefy Botham, Big Bird Joel Garner, King Viv, Dasher Denning, The Demon of Frome, Colin Dredge. John Arlott, Jim Laker and Richie would be commentating and I would be desperate for Roebuck to get out to get the stars in. All too soon, I was older and Roebuck was writing all over the media, at times brilliantly, at times eccentrically, even for an Englishman. He had adopted a strange Anglo-Australian accent to give his side of the controversies in which he found himself, making his home Down Under in a country in which he seemed more comfortable, if not actually at ease. And now, only a couple of glides to Third Man after raising his half-century, he is gone. I hope he found peace.
Ball Six – It seems churlish to use the word depressing after writing the previous delivery, but who can read this heading to a scorecard and not wince – for the spectators, the players and the future of cricket in its developing nations:
8th unofficial T20I: Namibia v Kenya at Windhoek, Nov 13, 2011.