Champions Trophy diary 2013

2013-06-15 00:00

June 10

Along with the dismal Australians, the Proteas look like one of the teams that may not qualify for the final stages of this competition. Over the weekend the Aussies gave another awful display against the host country that is probably a harbinger of the horror show that awaits them this English summer, which has given an indication that it might have arrived albeit as the cooler cousin of a highveld winter.

To add to Australian troubles is the growing concern that their captain and only world-class batsman, Michael Clarke, might not be fit enough to take part in the Ashes series let alone this mini, but better, version of the World Cup. There is also the suspicion that Clarke, having realised the grim outlook for his team, has decided he wants no part in it and would prefer to be a bystander rather than a participant in a team with little hope.

Like the South Africans, the Aussies now have to win both their next two matches to stay in the tournament. Their remaining opponents, Sri Lanka and New Zealand, fought out the best match of the tournament so far with the Kiwis inching home by virtue of a shocking LBW decision by umpire Bruce Oxenford, who failed to give Tim Southee out when the ball would have hit the middle stump.

The interesting thing about this exciting match is that it was a low-scoring affair on a pitch that gave enough help to the bowlers to make life difficult for batsmen. Under these conditions, all the artificial conditions introduced to make 50 over cricket more interesting count for very little. From the start, the match resembled a proper game of cricket, which is all that most people want to see. How much better it would be if groundsmen were instructed to prepare sporting pitches for these games rather than fiddling about with ridiculous restraints on the fielding side.

Today, the Proteas play Pakistan, who look a confident team who seem to have shrugged off the memories of their recent troubles in South Africa. Not withstanding Pakistan’s frailty with the bat, if Steyn is unable to play, one wonders whether the Proteas can do enough with the ball to win this match. It may require some intelligent and disciplined batting for the Proteas to give themselves a chance to reach the semi-finals.

June 11

Thanks to another fine innings by Hashim Amla, some excellent bowling by the reserve pace attack and some flaccid batting by Pakistan, the Proteas live to fight another day. One felt that, Amla apart, the South Africans had delivered a sub-par performance with the bat and that Pakistan might make a good match of it.

What one did not anticipate is how well Morris and McLaren would bowl. These two got the Proteas off to such a splendid start with the ball that the Pakistanis were unable to capitalise against some ordinary spin bowling by the three spinners. They bowled with good pace and control throughout the innings, and showed that when Steyn returns, if he does, the absence of Morkel will not be such a blow.

This will leave the team management with a ticklish selection problem. Tsotsobe also bowled well enough with the new ball and returned to take a valuable wicket, but his bowling lacked the pace and intensity of the other two who both offer more with the bat and in the field.

I thought that the middle order batting was again disappointing and needs to improve a great deal if the team are to be genuine contenders for the trophy. Once again, run-outs proved very costly. When will the batsmen in this team learn that they cannot afford to present such gifts to their opponents? Have they not observed that most of the trouble is due to ball watching when the ball is hit in the arc between backward square leg and mid-wicket?

June 12

It’s a shoot-out for the South Africans on Friday against the Windies, who were easily defeated by an increasingly confident Indian team. One of the really good things about this tournament in this multi-cultural country has been the well-attended matches not involving England. Whenever any of the subcontinent teams and the Windies have been playing, the atmosphere has been terrific. The ICC could do worse than to reconsider its decision to make this the last Champions Trophy and to hold it in England every four years — or even to use this format for the World Cup that has become too long and too full of empty matches.

The smart money is backing India to beat England in the final, which will be played at Edgbaston where the pitches have assisted the spinners. Several peculiar reasons have been put forward to explain the absence of green early summer pitches that the faster bowlers were expecting.

I think that the most likely explanation is that the ECB is using this tournament as a trial run for the Ashes when, in the absence of quality spinners in the Australian team, it would suit the home team to prepare turning pitches. Accordingly, local groundsmen have been instructed to see what they can do to help the cause of the England team. Personally, I think that England could beat this Aussie team if all five Tests were played in Trafalgar Square.

Meanwhile, the English summer, having made a brief appearance, has retreated behind a wall of lousy weather.

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