Monday, July 23, 2012

South Africa v England

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A summer ago, a team, bruised and battered by the IPL, came to defend its No.1 status in Test matches. A well-rested and purposeful English team humiliated India’s batsmen, toyed with its bowlers and left the team making excuses that stun its ardent fans even to this day. The England team left the India team in disarray and destroyed its unity - Unity that had resulted in a number one ranking and a World Cup.
South Africa arrived in England as the putative number one team. A team that was prone to choking and perennially flattered to deceive. Graeme Smith was the bad boy among cricket captains and struggled to earn respect for his captaincy and batting. Much like Ganguly arrived in Australia in 2003 with a team that was hopeful, yet not expected to give the mighty Australians a run for their money, Smith’s team too was expected to give a tough fight, but probably not win.
In a matter of a week, the world has changed. England was seemingly invincible at home. Anderson, Broad and Bresnan were masters of the conditions in England. With the wettest summer on record, the conditions favored them. English batsmen were in form with all of them doing well, with the possible exception of tyro Bopara.
Morne Morkel’s improvement into a strike bowler from a stock bowler has probably played a large hand in South Africa’s bowling performance. Morkel enjoyed the IPL like never before and carried on. Vernon Philander, a huge find for South Africa, did not give anything away on his maiden tour to England. Imran Tahir who is bringing much needed balance to the South Africa attack is reasonably effective. And Dale Steyn, the fiercest of competitors, master fast bowler, the best since Dennis Lillee, in my book, when it comes to text book fast bowling, delivered like he always has.
England may have fancied their chances after extending their first innings to score 385 on the back of Cook’s brilliant hundred and Bell and Prior’s resilience. Graeme Smith, however, knew that if there was ever a time to show up, this was it. Watching him bat is somewhat painful. He is ungainly and brutal. He played a Matt Hayden-like innings (from 2001). It wasn’t all easy when Anderson was fired up getting Peterson. The ball was moving some and Anderson and Broad were effective. But Smith and Amla slowly bled the English bowling out. When South Africa were finished after the epic from Amla and the master class from Kallis, all talk of variety, pace and penetration of the English attack was over. Broad was delivering pies at a pace that would have made Madan Lal look fast in comparison. Anderson’s heart was nowhere to be seen and Bresnan, trying hard was helpless because his heart is not matched by his talent.
Pakistan had exposed England in UAE, but no one thought there would be a repeat in England. What South Africa has perhaps shown us is that India was vastly over-rated when they arrived in England. And a 4-0 thrashing shows how badly India is off the rails and needs to rebuild and ready a team for the new order in test match cricket. Clinging to an aging icon and a formula from early 2000s, India, will likely not even win matches at home anymore. They might blame bowlers, but its aging batsmen are not putting up runs.
Hashim Amla is playing at a level that only Rahul Dravid and Mohammed Yousuf have attained in recent times. He too, like the other two, is modest, studious, and reflective and channels his intensity into his batting. He came in early and made it count. He may never get an opportunity to score another triple hundred, but for sure, the way he is batting, he can score test cricket’s first 500. His concentration, desire, serenity, endurance and technique are all worthy of praise. His humility has an endearing quality to it.
Dale Steyn delivered the death blows to a demoralized English batting line up in the second innings a day after another South African Ernie Els won the British Open. England seemed to have an endless line of batsmen and South Africa had only three (not including Smith). But the shoe is on the other foot now. With Amla and Kallis immovable, what will England’s plan B be? Can they breach through these guys and test AB, Duminy and the rest?
The second test match is going to tell us if the England team is real. It’s going to tell us whether the spirit of 2005 is still around. South Africa have showed up in style. 

1 comment:

pph free trial said...

I recall this game and it was very good, at least to me because I saw a different England that day!