Tuesday, August 21, 2012

South Africa Ascend to the Top

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South Africa is the new number one test team. In hindsight, England gave in rather tamely, though they had a good chance at Lords. Their panicked response to the chase was in stark contrast to their attritional bowling plans which seek out unforced errors from opposing batsmen. These things are probably more likely to happen when a team is distracted.

The unfortunate axing of Kevin Pietersen, followed by premature ejaculations of proclaiming Jonny Bairstow as having “test match temperament” is strange, but highly English. Justifying “proper” behavior is probably higher priority than celebrating flair and irreverence. Pietersen may as well feel like one of Putin’s punk protestors. Jonny Bairstow is anything but test class. Lashing at bowlers and getting lucky isn’t test match batting. Jonny will "be good” in due course. He has the attitude and the heart, but temperament? – nein!

South Africa may keep the number one ranking for a while yet, but only if they beat Australia in Australia in what is looking like another mouth watering contest. In Philander, they have a player who brings luck as well as skill to the middle. This was my first series watching Philander bowl. I felt he was under-bowled at times. But that’s probably how Smith and Kirsten have figured out he’s best utilized to breach the opposing line up. Morne Morkel coming of age has been great news for South Africa and Dale Steyn’s continuing excellence is a sight to behold. On the Morkel subject, he seems to have found his mojo in the IPL this year.

Teams are probably looking to keep out these two bowlers and see a chance to relax just that wee bit against Philander. His pace is inviting after the hammering from Steyn and Morkel’s testing bounce. But Philander is also a skilled bowler who seems to just know where and what to bowl. He just seems to have that x-factor or instinct. All in all, it’s great fun watching him bowl because something happens every ball. Plus, he’s a good-lucking, athletic, expressive cricketer, unlike the robotic Steyn. He has all the ingredients to become a popular cricketer world-wide.

South Africa has another unwritten good story. This series and perhaps ranking was delivered due to huge contributions by colored players. Amla, Petersen and Philander played exceptionally well. In fact Amla's performance in this series signals his transition from good to possibly a future great. Duminy stood tall in ruins at times. While Smith, Kallis and Steyn played consistently as always, Amla and Philander turned the screws on and delivered “those” performances that change the test match tides. Tahir too bowled reasonably well to continue to merit his place in the side. The sole disappointment has to be Rudolph who despite a lot of experience in English conditions was unable to flourish. ABDV too probably needs to rethink his approach to test match batting.

From the ruins of the apartheid era, this is a great place to be for a country with so much tragic history. Reconciliation has brought about its rightful fruit. The road has been a little rocky with some missteps and misguided selection policies at times, but there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

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