Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to Joburg we go. And there’s lots of hard work ahead. I sense this is a vitally important test match for England. It should tell us whether our new team is actually making progress, or whether we’re afflicted by the same infuriating inconsistences.
If England really are improving we should win this upcoming test match – or at least put in a really good performance. Everything, absolutely everything, is in our favour. South Africa are missing their two opening bowlers (Steyn and Philander) and the pitch should be the kind we excel on: reports indicate there will be some seam movement and swing.
This match should also tell us a great deal about the new players who have done reasonably well so far. Has Nick Compton really matured into a reliable test number three? Average players can often look good in spells; it’s what happens when bowlers adjust that counts. Will he return to his mean – a serviceable test batsman at best – or will he show that he’s the real deal these days.
The same could be said of James Taylor. He had a quiet match at Newlands and will be desperate to score some runs. A lot of England supports really rate Taylor (I’ve certainly warmed to his cocksure persona and willingness to battle) but can he bring stability to an entertaining but somewhat erratic middle-order? We’ll wait and see.
England have also been buoyed by the news that James Anderson intends to keep playing test cricket (rather than disappearing to the IPL). This is good news indeed. He’s a fit lad so although he’s 33 years old I can see him playing for at least another two years.
However, with all due respect to Jimmy, I don’t think his decision is quite as benevolent as some have made out. Let’s face it. Anderson isn’t a particularly good T20 bowler. Even his domestic T20 record (41 wickets at 32 with an economy rate of 8.5) is relatively poor. Meanwhile his international record is pretty similar to Jade Dernbach’s.
The truth is that Jimmy and test cricket are the perfect fit. Like Alastair Cook he’s a bit of a throwback – a dedicated pro whose method isn’t really suited to the smash, bang, slogathon of T20. Both cricketers are admired around the world but I doubt big IPL deals have ever been on the table for them. And it’s a good thing too!
In other news, you might have seen that Allen Stanford, the mega rich Texan who owned three planes, several boats, and landed on the Lord’s outfield in a helicopter before being banged up for fraudulent activities has spoken to the BBC this week. Apparently he’s completely innocent and will be a free man soon … according to, errr, himself. Good luck with that, Allen.
Other than his surreal interpretation of past events – he blames the US Security Exchange Commission for failing to compensate the victims of his scams – cricket fans will be interested by his comments about Giles Clarke and David Collier. According to Stanford he got on famously with both men and his relationship with the ECB was characterised by ‘professionalism and mutual respect’. I have to say I find this rather amusing. I mean, how much can a brash convicted crook and a posh, aloof, Brit really respect each other? It’s quite a grotesque chemistry.
Despite failing to admit any wrongdoing (and failing to recognise the word ‘opulent’ when referring to his former lifestyle) Stanford did actually show some contrition when it came to cricket though. He said it ‘breaks his heart’ that he embarrassed both the ECB and world cricket. He also claimed that he always had the West Indies’ best interests at heart. The saint.
The whole Stanford saga back in 2008 seems utterly bizarre now. The IPL is so big, and so entrenched, that it’s hard to believe someone actually thought they could challenge it. It’s also weird that the ECB are now firmly in bed with their Indian counterparts. A few years ago they were still trying to cling to world power themselves.
A few interesting subplots from within the England dressing room have also emerged over the years. Did you know how Stanford’s $20 million was going to be divided if England had won that game? It wasn’t all going to the players after all.
According to this report each member of England’s XI was going to receive $1 million each, with a further $1 million being shared amongst England’s four non-playing reserves (which included both James Anderson and Alastair Cook). The rest of the dosh would be shared between the ECB and the West Indies Cricket Board for ‘development purposes’.
However, on the eve of the match Andrew Flintoff, who wasn’t even captain at that point, arranged a team meeting and proposed that all the England players donate $100,000 of their winnings to the non-playing members of the squad – so those who missed out on selection would earn a little more. Bless.
Apparently Fred’s plan received no objections, but I’m surprised nobody made the case for sharing the pot with cricket bloggers. Their ensuing ten-wicket defeat was therefore surely the result of bad karma. The only winner from the whole affair was Matt Prior’s wife, who got a free pony ride on Stanford’s knee. What a lucky, lucky girl.