Test series catches fire

2009-12-21 07:59

Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Centurion – So who takes that much-loved term “momentum” into the second Test at Kingsmead on Boxing Day?

The answer is fairly simple: South Africa and England in pretty equal measure, with the four-Test series now exquisitely set up after the tourists’ earlier presence for the one-day portion of the tour had somehow struggled to capture public imagination.

GALLERY: South Africa vs England 1st Test

Ironically it took an inconclusive yet classic encounter at SuperSport Park here, in the format of the game that supposedly has its back to the wall, to do the trick.

It’s all square with three to play, and the combat will be spiced further by several thousand English fans apparently arriving very shortly for the business end of the series from their frigid homeland: a mass-ranked Barmy Army was barely visible or audible for the first Test.

They will feel they missed out on a killer opening game, too … one which was engrossing in large dollops for all five days even at times when the scoring rate became necessarily sedentary and those deluded souls who think wham-bam is king went off to watch their paint dry.

The rest of us stayed and revelled instead in what Andrew Strauss so rightly labelled “a great advertisement” for the five-day brand.

Disappointed Proteas enthusiasts, who saw their team fail by one agonising wicket to get their noses in front after a dramatic, Friedel de Wet-engineered assault in the lengthening shadows on Sunday, may well mutter that Strauss would say that, considering his side’s escape by a whisker.

England will of course, be gleeful indeed, and almost certainly bang the Ashes 2009 drum loudly from a “good omen” point of view: they dug out a barely deserved draw in the first Test of that series at Cardiff, with Monty Panesar surprisingly to the fore as a barnacle batsman on the final evening, and went on to recapture the urn.

Will No 11 Graham Onions be remembered in a few weeks, to some degree, as the Panesar equivalent for rearguard heroism that did much to sway the balance in this series? We shall see.

The visitors will also remind themselves that, for all their chewed fingernails deep in the final session of this Test, there were times in this intriguing contest when they had South Africa in some disarray too.

This England side, the Proteas now know all too well, are a genuinely hard nut to crack.

They are motivated, professional, more admirably conditioned than any previous party from their ranks to these shores - it shows in their fielding, where they no longer carry any Teletubbies or Tufnells - and possess some gifted individual players.

Here’s a statistic to ponder, by way of demonstrating England’s discipline under the Strauss-Flower brains trust: in the almost 240 overs they bowled in this match, there was not a single no-ball.

Compare this with South Africa who, despite sending down 40 overs fewer, amassed a tally of 23.

Take heart

But before this begins to sound too much like a eulogy to the tourists, there is a great deal for the Proteas to take heart from as well - and certainly a case for saying they are the ones, instead, who might be entitled to contemplate Durban with greater relish.

If you had suggested a couple of hours before the start of the Centurion Test - with Jacques Kallis basically out of the primary bowling equation and Dale Steyn, last year’s Test cricketer of the year, a shock late withdrawal - that the Proteas would not repeat the 2004/05 occurrence of quickly going 1-0 down in the series, I think many in their camp would have secretly banked a stalemate, anticipating a fuller pack of cards at Graeme Smith’s disposal for the Kingsmead Test and beyond.

Don’t any ignoramus dare venture that South Africa somehow “choked” in failing to win, either … it was to their eternal credit that, rookie fast bowler to the fore, they suddenly converted England’s apparently unfussed meander through placid late-afternoon waters into a tempest of panic and near-despair.

The Proteas, remember, went into this game with the disquieting knowledge that their record in first Tests of home series had hitherto been an oddly dismal one.

Smith was justified in saying that after more than eight months of Test-level inactivity by his side, effectively holding sway to varying degrees for the lion’s share of the match had to be perceived as a good sign.

South Africa’s campaign could be said to be up and running, happily minus the customary early defeat to grapple with – and of course Fortress Newlands is now just two matches ahead.

The pleasing thing about the Proteas’ batting at SuperSport Park was that all but Smith of their mainline batsmen made at least one significant score in the game, Mark Boucher was magnificent with both bat and gloves, and that whenever a wobble occurred, it was fairly swiftly and decisively rectified.

And a mostly pleasant problem now presents itself for Kingsmead bowling-wise, with Steyn likely to return and Kallis set to do a lot more than trundle down two or three gentle, exploratory overs by then.

Paul Harris was the leading wicket-taker on either side in the first Test, and it is the seam options that will have the wise men scratching their heads most as an array of good candidates offer themselves for deployment.

What is the correct make-up of the South African attack in muggy Durban? Sport24 will examine this separately.

Post-isolation series between these rivals have never been decided by more than one Test. This one looks like being no different.

The last one in South Africa was really decided by Matthew Hoggard’s dream second-innings spell at the Wanderers; the last one in England by Smith’s amazing innings on a near-raging turner at Edgbaston.

Who will tilt this one? Your best bet at finding out is perhaps by booking your seats for the rollercoaster ride early. It deserves decent viewership.


  • Hein - Centurion - 2009-12-21 08:23

    Congratulations to the "Blommetjies" - you actually surprised me, but I am not convinced that you can do it. Good luck for the next test.

  • Rl - 2009-12-21 08:28

    What a briliant test! At about 16:00 I started channel hopping, then suddenly eveything turn and we were watching on the edge of our seats chearing our boys. Just one critisim is why Ntini bowled the last over when Friedel were so fired up? I know its his 100th but I just feel Friedel had a better chance of taking the poms down...

  • Twisted - 2009-12-21 08:50

    What do you do to stop our bowlers from bowling no-balls? If Pietersen had gone for 26 their would have been a lot more time. Do you play a spinner at Kingsmead? If you don't you need six players that can bowl (and that's not counting Duminy). England look as if they are going to depend too heavily on Collingwood and Pietersen - so my ammo is on the Proteas to eventually get it right.

  • jay - 2009-12-21 08:54

    If de Wet took 4 wickets and Ntini none, how come de Wet didn't bowl the final over? Otherwise it was good stuff.

  • Tieho - 2009-12-21 08:55

    @RI you make a lot of sense with your comments, none the less the boys played well and give it go...the English well done for sticking it out. Test cricket is surely still entertianing...look at what the Windies did to the Aussies...pushed them all the way! luck for the second test proteas!

  • Len - 2009-12-21 08:58

    Another monumental blunder by Smith. All respect to Makaya but it would have been the ultimate for Friedel in his debut. Smith, we hope can only do better in the remaining games - he could have been one-up in the series.

  • kevin - 2009-12-21 09:13

    i agree totally , ntini looked the most ineffective bowler on the park , he hardly made the batsmen play , and to make it worse was entrusted with the final over . did the sponsers have a little word i wonder , either way it was a poor decision from smith. but a cracker effort by de wet , bring on durban.

  • NAM - 2009-12-21 09:19

    Great advert for the five day game, SA need to bring back Steyn if they have any chance of taking 20 wickets in a match. England on the other hand need to build decent partnerships at the begining of there innings if this happens i think England could edge this series.Either way i have my tickets for the Cape town test and cannot wait.

  • Peter - 2009-12-21 09:24

    Any chance , any of the readers of this this article , got some contacts to convince Jonathin Trott to play for South Africa . I think he is going to be the next Kallis .( Quietly doing the job right for his country ).Good Game and good competion to the end . ( Although I dont really like draws. )

  • phillip harding - 2009-12-21 09:41

    Viva Friede De Wet. i grew up with him and let me tell you...could'nt have happened to a nicer guy.

  • aml - 2009-12-21 10:01

    Great test, even in a draw. I agree that De Wet should have bowled the last over. Also why did GS take the new ball at 81st over in England's first innings when Harris and Duminy {who took his wicket in the 79th over) were doing a great job. GS please stop playing CORRECT cricket and show some innovation. Bring back Steyn for Ntini if we play Harris which I would do.

  • cammie - 2009-12-21 10:05

    The 20/20 vision armchair critics are at it again. Wonder what your comments would have been had Ntini taken that last wicket in the last over on the last day; guaranteed Smith would not have been given the credit. All the glory and credit would have gone to Ntini, and little, if any, thought given to Smith. Smith may not have scored runs in this Test, but his captaincy was brilliant. The bottom line is that the Smith detractors will never, regardless of what the man does, give him his due. To Friedel de Wet accolades all round for an outstanding debutant performance - your last spell was awesome!! Here's to the Durban Test and my very best wishes to the Proteas!

  • Kolkas - 2009-12-21 10:16

    Pietersen was lbw in the morning, but it was another of SA's No Balls. All the England bowlers stock deliveries have their toes on, or behind the line, all the SA bowlers stock deliveries have their hill on the line, one inch from a No Ball. No Balls have been costing us matches in all forms of the game for way too long now. Come on guys, can't they just move their makers back 3 inches. It cannot make that much of a difference. 6 inches would be better.

  • Kube$ - 2009-12-21 10:20

    Great game, WHO SAID TESTS ARE DYING. I am a soccer fan but 5 days watching a test and downing some draughts, thats a bliss man. However we could have declared 5-10 overs earlier.

  • Gary - 2009-12-21 10:49

    So, a whole bunch of people raving about what a good test match this was....I wonder if the likes of BillyG, Larry, Mr Bored etc will comment. On that performance, SA have the edge going to the Durban test - go boys, show those Pmmies a thing or two...from a supporter all the way from New Zealand

  • GC - 2009-12-21 11:47

    Great test - Ntini is a legend and will always be but I think his time has come. There is a new boy on the block that will rattle some cages with the new ball- play De Wet, Steyn, harris, kallis, morkel and watch the 20 wickets come.

  • Anti protea - 2009-12-21 14:16

    England to win Durban test,if it dont rain.BARMY ARMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anti protea - 2009-12-21 14:28

    Goooooooooo England,eat them up in Durban. BARMY ARMY BARMY ARMY BARMY ARMY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Alien - 2009-12-28 11:56

    Hi, Matthew Hoggard went on at length yersterday about how he would have sworn that he had hit the ball once when he was given LBW. To his surprise on a slo mo he saw his bat was no where near the ball. Now when Cook was given out caught he tells us that a batsman knows when he has hit the ball or not. Then on the review when he and Niel johnsen both agree that there was no conclusive eveidence that he had NOT hit the ball the right decision was made when the umpire was over ruled. My question is does the review system give the batsman the benefit of the doubt or does there have to be conclusive evidence to over rule the on field umpire. These guys must make up their minds. I don't mind too much either way but for goodness sake be consistant. PLEEEEZZZEE do me a big favour and get rid on Niel Johnsen who does not have an original comment in his brain. He must be a bozone

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