England tour is almost upon us

2008-05-07 00:00

South Africa’s tour of England is almost upon us and it is a truly exciting prospect.

Touring England as an international cricketer is a real privilege. Immaculate grounds, well prepared practice facilities, top-class hotels and superbly organised transport make touring there a pleasure. The spectators are keen and knowledgeable and they love Test cricket.

It’s hard to be unaffected by the history and tradition of the game there, especially at Lord’s, the home of cricket, where the first Test match is played.

Walking out at Lord’s, irrespective of your cricketing background, is very special. To walk from the dressing-room, down the stairs, through the Long Room, past the old members, out the glass doors, down the few rows of stairs and through the swinging gate has to be one of the greatest walks for any cricketer. I had goose bumps the first time I did and I know I am in illustrious company.

South Africa’s tour begins at Somerset’s county ground in Taunton on June 29 and team selection should be interesting.

The Indian tour gave AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla the opportunity to stake their claims with their fine performances with the bat. Neil McKenzie and Graeme Smith proved their abilities to dominate any attack, and Smith’s record in England speaks for itself. Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince missed out, but it will not be long before Kallis is back making mountains of runs.

Prince has had a couple of good seasons, but the swinging ball will test him, and perhaps his place could be up for grabs.

I cannot help thinking how strong South Africa would be if they had someone like Dale Benkenstein coming in at number six. With his positive brand of cricket and wealth of experience, he would be a dynamic asset to the Proteas. Mark Boucher at number seven definitely owes South Africa some runs, but there is no doubting his importance in the team.

The selection of the bowlers, and finding the right balance, is critical for the Proteas and there should be a few youngsters pushing for selection. Makhaya Ntini has no doubt felt the pressure from the emerging breed of bowlers, but he has worked really hard at his bowling and had a good Indian tour.

Dale Steyn picks himself and the fact that he has not yet reached his full potential is really exciting. Morne Morkel, in my opinion, oozes class and he had an excellent first tour of India. I believe Andre Nel still has much to offer South African cricket and I hope he has not been lost to the Proteas. Monde Zondeki, with his fine season in domestic cricket, is on a high and should find a place in the mix, although I cannot see him playing in the starting eleven, unless there are injuries.

Charl Langeveldt has signed a Kolpak deal, thus no longer available for selection, but perhaps his parting remarks aimed at the administrators will still reap positive rewards. His courage in standing up and speaking out against the selectors and quotas is to be admired. One hopes the administrators will have learnt from his experiences and understand the valid concerns of players.

I feel Paul Harris still has a way to go before he can claim the spinner’s berth as his own. He has been fortunate to bowl behind South Africa’s professional pace attack on bouncy wickets in South Africa, but was found wanting in India. What is concerning is that Proteas do not have a great deal of depth in the spin department and the many clinics have yielded little fruit over the last couple of years. Spinners usually develop later than pacemen and batsmen, but in South Africa we seem to write them off once they are over the age of 25.

So we await the final team selection with much anticipation.

Fortunately, I will be at Lord’s for the first Test in July — and I cannot wait. One hopes it will be goosebump time again, with the quality of South Africa’s cricket matching the occasion.

Neil Johnson is a former Natal, Western Province and Zimbawe all-rounder and lives in Pietermaritzburg.

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