We haven’t had many good days to celebrate in Test cricket recently so today’s definitely one to savour. In fact, I’ve just settled down at my keyboard with a nice glass of something fizzy. It’s not champagne – we haven’t won yet – but it will do nicely in the circumstances.
England bowled beautifully today, and with the pitch looking increasingly dry and the odd delivery already breaking up the surface, we really should dominate the game from here.
I’m even chewing some Biltong as I write this – a nice metaphor for eating South Africans for breakfast (or in this case a pre-dinner appetiser). I might tuck into the Chenin Blanc later on too.
So where did it all go so right? The morning session really set the tone with Stuart Broad to the fore. And as we’ve seen over his 135 Test matches, Broad’s a different proposition when his legs are pumping and he’s charging in.
Stuart can look innocuous when he’s bowling at 80mph. But when he’s 85mph plus he’s a real handful with his height and accuracy. Today was classic SB at his very best. It’s amazing what talk of being dropped can do for a bowler (wink, wink).
Jimmy Anderson was also a star. The bloke’s pure class. A freak. His Test wickets have cost approximately 21 runs each since his 35th birthday. Age doesn’t wither him nor stale his infinite variety.
Of all of the great seam bowlers I’ve seen only Ambrose and Walsh seemed equally effective after their 35th birthdays (although they lost a yard of pace). Even the great Glenn McGrath lost a step in his last year of Test cricket at the age of 36.
It was a pleasure to watch England in the field today. I particularly enjoyed the makeup of England’s attack: the two old warhorses and the coming men. Sam Curran looks young enough to be Jimmy’s son. Although he lacked a bit of venom in his first spell, he came back well to pick up the key wickets of van der Dussen and de Kock in the evening session.
Dom Bess also gave the impression that he could be around for some time. The young spinner looked composed, gave the ball some air, and looks much improved from the limited off-spinner we saw a couple of years ago. I thought he played his part really well – despite some head-scratching field placings from Root at the start. Jack Leach might be sweating on his place because England seem desperate to find a spinner who can bat.
It was actually Bess who made the vital breakthrough of the day. Dean Elgar and van der Dussen had put on 117 for the 4th wicket when the Somerset twirler claimed the former. It was a nice piece of bowling actually. Root had mid-off up (daring the batsmen to hit over the top for once) and Elgar fell into the trap. Before this Root was happy to give the Saffers easy singles off Bess’s bowling – an odd strategy when they were 3 down and two hundred behind.
The other talking point of the day was the number of no balls missed by the umpires. This came back to bite England when Broad had van der Dussen caught behind only to see the wicket overturned. Broad had overstepped a number of times before this but the umpires simply hadn’t noticed. So how on earth was Stuart supposed to know that he was getting too close?
It’s hard to criticise the standing umpires too much. They’ve got a hell of a job to do and a million things to think about. However, the status quo cannot go on.
Fortunately they trialled a new system in the India versus West Indies ODI series last year whereby the 3rd umpire was in charge of spotting no balls on a ball-by-ball basis. When the bowler overstepped he simply gave the on-field umpires a buzz. Apparently the trial was a success so it might not be long before they make this system mandatory.
So where does this Test go from here? Although it’s still a pretty good batting pitch there’s just enough assistance if bowlers bend their backs. Therefore I’d expect England to wrap up the South African innings in the first half hour, make another score of around 250, and then set the Cricket Boks around 300 to win. This should produce an exciting finish with England coming out on top – just.
However, regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been wrong before. In fact, I’m sure hundreds of TFT readers come here just to watch me lick egg of my face on a daily basis.
But before the doomsters and the gloomsters say I’m going to get it wrong again, just remember this … South Africa are a bit like England. They can’t bat for toffee either. Which is perhaps why this Test match has been so entertaining.
I want to sign off by saying how much I’ve enjoyed this game. Newlands is a picture perfect ground, the atmosphere has been great, it’s a good pitch, and we’ve seen some fantastic bowling by both sides.
ODIs and T20s are increasingly batsmen’s formats so it’s really refreshing to see the bowlers on top in what remains by far the best form of the game.
Bloody fantastic. Let’s hope that Jimmy and Broady can keep this up. They looked like different bowlers for most of their spells when compared to last week. It begs the question though, have they just ‘switched on’ because of the threat to their places. Really?!?! Do international players with 150 matches under their belt get lazy??? It doesn’t make sense for Jimmy especially, he either wants to play games and win or he doesn’t…. the bloke could retire at any moment – he already has one foot in a pretty cushy media career
The pitch really doesn’t seem to be the featherbed that some (Shaun Pollock?) predicted. I did enjoy watching Bess bowl – he rather reminded me of Swann, praise indeed!
Give them a break, Shaune. Both of them were rusty at Centurion, for obvious reasons, and improved as the match wore on. Broad has altered his run-up, seam presentation and delivery position in the last 12 months, which suggests he’s constantly trying to learn new things even as he approaches the 500-wicket mark in Tests. Both could retire at any moment, and I suggest that Broad will forge a more fruitful media career than Anderson, judging from their respective performances to date. It’s Archer that we really need to worry about. Why go through the rigours of five (or four) day tests when he can earn zillions bowling four overs every few days at the IPL, Big Bash etc? If Root keeps over-using him for England, he could end up being another Mark Wood.
Seems that the bowlers got it right today – Broad, Anderson and Curran all getting wickets, and Bess being economical and bagging the prize scalp of Dean Elgar. As we all know England are capable of stuffing almost anything up, but I would expect a series levelling victory from here. Whoever gives way for Archer when that worthy is fit again England must play a genuine spinner, be it Bess, Leach or Parkinson, another all-seam “attack” would be a travesty.
The umpires missing no balls is ridiculous. Yes they have many things to think about but this was always the case. Delegating this to a 3rd umpire changes the game because, back when umpires were good enough to spot them themselves, they would call no ball in time for the batsman to know he has a free hit that ball. That tiny aspect of the game has virtually disappeared simply because the umpires can’t be bothered as they know that it will be checked if a wicket falls. Shame.
It’s been difficult, if not impossible, for batsmen to adjust their shot to a no-ball since no balling became a front-foot call.
True but still a possibility, and that’s really what I find sad, the loss of little details like this from cricket, replaced by batsmen being recalled when they are virtually off the pitch.
When bowlers are bowling at 85+ batters have about 0.3 seconds to react, to suggest that they could hear a no-ball call and change their shot accordingly is a little absurd to be honest.
Ultimately, this a contest between two top-class bowling sides against two weak batting line-ups. Unsurprising therefore that scores on what look like 400+ wickets are falling over 100 short.
Today’s play also highlighted the absurdity of the suggestions that either Broad or Anderson might be dropped for this game, with Curran being retained, presumably because the latter’s a bit better with the bat. Broad has been immense in the last year, by far England’s best bowler, while England have moved heaven and earth to get Anderson fit for 6 months then seemed willing to drop him after one game! Pretty obvious he was always likely to improve with more overs under his belt. Curran’s batting, meanwhile, has dropped off predictably because bowlers have worked out his weaknesses. 6 scores over 40 in his first dozen or so innings; top score of 37 in his next 15. It’s a much simpler game if you pick the batsmen most likely to score runs, and the bowlers most likely to take wickets.
Curran has been massively over hyped. Simple as that
We do it with all our players sadly, hence why they become super stars who are undropable and yet avg 30’s
Regarding no-balls, I agree that it is almost impossible to adjust your shot, if the umpires start calling no-balls on the field. However, I am more concerned that the no balls being missed is costing the batting side extra runs and the extra deliveries where more runs could be scored.
Surely, the umpires could go back to doing their job and call no-balls on the field or if necessary, use the 3rd umpire to call the no-balls. Thought England bounced back well today and if they bat well tomorrow, they could set up a win but knowing England’s fragile batting …….
A machine should be able to do it in this day and age. I don’t think it helps decision-making on LBWs if the umpire has to look down at the bowler’s feet then adjust his eyes down the pitch.
Regarding extra balls and runs, I’ve long held the view that the batting side should be able to choose whether an additional ball is bowled after a no-ball. There are plenty of times where it’s the last thing you want e.g. when a No 11 is facing the last ball of the over with a specialist batsman at the other end. Same applies when a batsman’s being worked over by a bowler – Flintoff’s famous over to Ponting in 2005 is one instance that springs to mind, where the 6th ball was a no-ball and the 7th got him out.
Confucius he say ‘wait till both teams have had use of wicket before making judgment’
Confucius was a left arm spinner with a wicked chinaman.
Oh well, start the year as you mean to go on, that’s my motto.
One note of caution. Elgar looked immoveable. During the afternoon session England were bordering on the innocuous, Maybe the pitch on day 4 will be more difficult 5than it was at Centurion but the way Burns, Sibley and Denly batted on the 4th evening there is more than a nagging doubt. England are fabvourites noe, but only just!
Glad you’re enjoying Newlands James. Special place. My sixth time seeing England here – one win (2003 CWC v Pakistan). Jimmy was playing in that one too. The two sides are evenly matched and I wouldn’t make a prediction. Suffice to say there are few if any better places in the world to watch cricket. Enjoy!
I’m not quite buying this “heroic bowlers bail out hopeless batsmen again” narrative. It’s not taking the conditions nor the opposition into account enough.
Firstly, the conditions. We were told this was going to be a good pitch and people don’t like to admit they were wrong after Day One. However there is a big crack running down the pitch at one end just outside the RHB’s off-stump on a good length. Any reasonable international bowler just needs to keep hammering away at it and will get results. This is a 250-300 pitch.
Secondly, the weakness of the SA batting would be difficult to overstate. Four of their top eight have played less than ten matches combined. Only one has a Test average over 40 (the time-honoured benchmark of a good Test batsman) and he’s in his mid 30s and going downhill rapidly. To use another measure, SA only have one batsman in the top twenty of the Test batting rankings (QDK). Elgar is a decent player but people keep likening him to Gary Kirsten and Graeme Smith and they both were significantly better players as their Test records prove. When England played NZ who had five of their top six averaging over 40 we saw how the attack struggled.
As for the match, SA needed a lead of over a 100 so England are massively ahead. A series standing at 1-1 is probably a fair reflection that neither team deserves to be winning – but it’s also not exactly inconvenient for the authorities and the broadcasters either (if there’s a diference these days).
When England win, I’m looking forward to reading Chris Stocks withdrawing his hatchet job on Root’s captaincy and reading how Root inspired his men to victory.