Typical England – Day Five at Newlands

Blogging about cricket is more difficult than you might think. We’ve got to differentiate ourselves from the mainstream journos. One way to do that is to write purely from the heart. Let all those familiar emotions – the hopes, fears, blind optimism and excessive pessimism – run rampant. Nobody comes to sports blogs to read comparatively bland copy that strives for professional objectivity. It’s the visceral nature of blogs, with their strong opinions and heart-on-their-sleeve honesty, that attracts their core audience.

Unfortunately however, this leaves bloggers more vulnerable than most to the absurdities of cricket: when thoroughly unexpected and inexplicable events make bold predictions and emotional assumptions seem foolish. Today was just the latest example. No sooner had I expressed what many England supporters were thinking yesterday – that this awful pitch had condemned the game to a boring draw – than a flurry of wickets set up a tense and enthralling finale … until the weather buggered it all up, of course.

I guess we should’ve known. We’ve been around long enough to know that anything is possible with the England cricket team. We’re past masters at turning impregnable positions into shaky ones. The most surprising thing about today’s events was that I was even remotely surprised we collapsed pitifully and almost lost. I guess I forgot myself.

Anyway, at least this latest (near) disaster could be somewhat explained. The pitch might have been the same one that made batting stupidly easy on the first four days, but conditions were entirely different this morning: the weather rolled in and the ball started to swing. Having played its part in reducing England to 159-6, at the least the weather had the common decency to rescue us though. We might have been within touching distance of safety when the rain arrived anyway, but it was still a relief to see the final session wiped out. Phew! That was too close.

Because of today’s batting collapse, it’s hard to tell which side has more momentum heading into Joburg. England obviously bossed the first two days, and it was South Africa hanging on for survival for most of this match, but their batsmen would’ve gained a lot of confidence from days three and four.

I fear the most important aspect of this match was the return to form of Hashim Amla. He’s a quality player and England really needed to keep him quiet. It gives teams so much confidence when the captain is in good nick.

England’s captain, on the other hand, might be heading in the wrong direction. Cook’s head position doesn’t seem quite right again, and he’s leaning over to the offside a little too much. Let’s hope he can correct the issue before the third test. With Dale Steyn likely to return at Joburg, we’ll need our best players back in form.

Both teams can take a lot of positives from this game. England will be delighted with Stokes and Bairstow, and pleased that Anderson came through a tough match unscathed. he should swing the ball at the Wanderers and could play a crucial role.

South Africa meanwhile will be absolutely delighted with their fightback. They’ve finally managed to score collective runs – even if they came on something of a featherbed – and they might be spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting their attack for Joburg. I was actually very impressed with Harris’s debut, so it will be interesting who they pick if both Steyn and Abbott are fit.

*** Just in: Hashim Alma has stepped down as South Africa’s captain. He wants to concentrate on his batting. I feel it’s the right decision. He didn’t seem like a natural captain at all and has obviously come to realise his limitations. AB de Villiers is taking over for the rest of the series.

Personally I think this move will strengthen the Cricket Boks and reinvigorate them further for the 3rd test. It’s going to be a great series from here. Thoughts?

James Morgan


  • Even nailed-on draws, we always do the hard way! To be fair, it’s never easy going into a 3rd innings with only time to bat for – almost inevitable we’d get caught between attack and defence. The spectre of Adelaide 2006 still haunts us, but it would have been a travesty if we’d lost.

    Agree Amla has struggled as captain, but still a bit of a surprise he’s stepped down mid-series. AB was probably the only other option, though will he find the captaincy as much of a burden and affects his batting too? Let’s hope so …

  • Your first para is a gem. I don’t believe there is an unfortunately. As I say to Dmitri, when he has doubts, a blog is a blog. It’s not supposed to line up with Wisden, Cricket Monthly. For me it’s equivalent to cricket followers chatting in the pub, the office or the pavilion.

    That test was so enjoyable for a spectator. A proper cricket match. Not sure it gives any clues what will happen in the next match but I suspect we’re all looking forward to it – and to reading the blogs

    • Cheers Benny. I should add that as bloggers we don’t have the pressure of professional reputations to uphold. I can let it all out, and use the blog as a kind of outlet or therapy, without worrying that I might make myself look stupid by predicting things wrongly. I just call it as I see it (like other bloggers).

      I like to think I know a thing or two about this great game, but I think my approach would be somewhat different if I was a professional full time journo. I’ve written about cricket and rugby on a freelance basis, and when I do I take a more objective and serious tone, but the joy of running your own blog is that you can let rip. And laugh about it when you get things wrong! When England collapse like they did today, all one can do is laugh anyway :-)

  • No doubt as a seasoned England-watcher that you should have known better! Then again, until yesterday, it was very easy to get the two sides mixed up… at Durban, was that England, put in, making 300 when par was about 200? Was that SA, 160-odd behind for 4 down overnight, conceding a first innings lead of nearly 100? Was that SA’s best bowler coming back from injury and breaking down again? Was it SA’s captain looking utterly clueless? And at Cape Town, was that really England making over 600 having stumbled to 220 for 5 on the flattest track in years? You’re excused…

    I don’t think the concept of “momentum” means much between Test matches – it’s primarily an intra-match thing for me. Bavuma’s innings was a great momentum-shifter at Cape Town. I thought England would win, or get close to it, when SA were 190-behind for 6 down, but Bavuma and Morris wrenched away the initiative and within 2 hours SA became the only possible winners. This year’s Ashes was the most extreme illustration of how meaningless “momentum” can be between matches. What matters is how you perform in the first session of the next Test, and the result of the previous does’t influence that nearly as much as the toss and the conditions the teams encounter. Ricky Ponting tried to be a smart-arse at Edgbaston in 2005 and rely on the “momentum” from Australia’s win at Lord’s. By midday it was gone. Oh happy day… :)

  • Agree about momentum; I don’t think England have any more reason to fear it after the second than they did be buoyed by it after the first.

    Slightly more ominous is form (which I think it subtly different) particularly when certain SA batsmen seem to be returning to some. Next test will be more interesting particularly after Amla’s 200.

    • Good point. But let’s see how SA bat when there’s something in the pitch for the bowlers though. The Newlands pitch was so true. Maybe it’s lulled them into a false sense of security? ;-) we can hope!

    • On a very flat track Amla scratched his way to 76 before he was dropped, was dropped again on 120 and also just before he was out (as well as putting up a skier that landed between fielders in the 190s). So I wouldn’t say he’s in form just yet after such a miserable run. That said, I fear the removal of the burden of captaincy will make a real difference to him. He’s a super player when in good nick.

  • Interesting to note that Rashid is now the top wicket taker in the Big Bash.
    Might he have made a difference in the SA innings ?


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