England in SA

SA pace blitz cows tourists

2010-01-17 17:22
Andrew Strauss and Graeme Smith pose with the trophies. (Gallo Images)
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – It was the sort of dismantling any of Allan Donald, Brian McMillan, Brett Schultz and Lance Klusener, no-nonsense South African throat-hunters of some 10 or 15 years ago, would have heartily endorsed.

South Africa reignited their claims to be atop the pile for strike-bowling bullies in Test cricket as they demolished England in the fourth Test at the Wanderers on Sunday, claiming seven wickets in an explosive session to complete the innings-win job before lunch on day four.

So they shared the series 1-1, retained the Basil D’Oliveira Trophy, and basically saved their best for last in what might – quite kindly, many would counter – be described as a patchy home summer of international cricket.

The trouble, of course, with being so utterly and impressively dominant in a single outing is that it only gets you ruefully thinking how the overall outcome could have been so much more satisfying if the Proteas had played more cohesively and urgently earlier in the series.

That they didn’t must remain a critical item on the agenda of any detailed review and “way forward” pow-wow.

South African supporters are entitled to believe their team, for all the testosterone-laced aggression and heartening ruthlessness in the final Test, ought to have done better on home soil against a bitter old foe than split this series, lose the one-dayers and also play second fiddle to England in a crucial Champions Trophy encounter at Centurion much earlier in 2009/10.

But at least in terms of the five-day format, Graeme Smith’s outfit finally played to exciting potential again at the Bullring, on a pitch which similarly harked back to the sort they loved to do business on in this country in the mid-1990s and thereabouts.

Instead the lion’s share of this series, up to the Johannesburg game, was contested largely on strips that showed a change of character for these climes, where pace bowlers had to bend their backs and toil a bit more, and spin surprisingly came well into its own – England’s Graeme Swann topped the wicket-taking column for either side with 21 scalps at 31.38 and a share of player-of-the-series with Mark Boucher.

Come the third Test at Newlands (to a lesser extent) and then the Wanderers, and the Proteas found conditions progressively more to their traditional, pace-punctuated liking.

This is reflected in the fact that the strike pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel crept up stealthily through the bunch in those Tests, claiming a remarkable 26 wickets between them over the two outings: Morkel ended second-highest wicket-taker in the series with 19 at an excellent 21.47 (this for someone who used to leak runs an awful lot more) and his partner 15 at 23.80.

Remember that Steyn only entered the fray for the second Test, where he still looked noticeably short of fitness and rhythm in the eminently forgettable Durban drubbing, and just got sharper and sharper toward the summer’s climax.

I am told that even the swollen ranks of the British media, at the post-match press conference, seemed unusually reverent toward South Africa’s latest new-ball pair – almost certainly the regular staffing now, post-Ntini – as if to hail the arrival of some fresh Lillee-Thomson or Ambrose-Walsh tag team.

It is clear from their respective rates of knots yet very different methods of attack that they are going to give the Proteas great venom and variety up front for years to come.

England generally showed little stomach for any rearguard defiance on Sunday, as the ball routinely whizzed past ears and over heads, with Paul Collingwood a notable exception – he has demonstrated great “bottle” throughout the series at No 5 for them.

Most of their other batsmen appeared obsessed with playing expansive shots to try to pull the tourists out of the mire, but that is so often simply a sign of reluctance to actually get in line, take the bruises and weather the bombardment, isn’t it?

Still, tour fatigue can creep involuntarily into the equation in circumstances like this, and England do warrant credit for their altogether sterner resilience earlier in the series.

Under Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower a new unity is gradually taking shape, after a period of coaching and captaincy upheaval which certainly appears to have left some psychological debris to key batsman Kevin Pietersen.

Another plus for the Proteas on a collectively memorable day was that debutant Wayne Parnell played his part in the mop-up, too.

The left-arm seamer looked a lot more incisive and multi-skilled in England’s second innings than he had in the first, where he had been eclipsed by the other rookie in Ryan McLaren.

As with Steyn and Morkel, these two are contrasting bowlers – Parnell the mercurial, McLaren perhaps more the patient, nagging pressure-builder – who simply give South Africa further new components to their fast bowling armoury on the road ahead.

England’s second knock was done and dusted in 42.5 overs, without even a need for seasoned Jacques Kallis to enter the attack.
It spoke volumes…

Read more on:    rob houwing  |  england in sa

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