Proteas’ wins will be hard won

2012-05-26 00:00

For one thing he cannot have been impressed with the pitch produced by the groundsman, Mick Hunt. Well, Mick’s pitch was slow and lifeless making it difficult for all the bowlers notwithstanding Stuart Broad’s rich haul of wickets.

It was not the kind of pitch conducive to the attack the South Africans will be taking with them on their forthcoming tour to contest the number one spot on the Test match ladder.

One understands that Mick had a month’s worth of rain to contend with in the wettest of all UK springs, but this Lord’s pitch reminded me of that July in 2008 when Graeme Smith’s team spent nearly two days in the field watching England accumulate over 600 runs to the delight of the English press, who were scathing about the Protea’s “much vaunted attack”.

As readers may remember, the South Africans had the last laugh when they batted out the rest of the match, leaving the England bowlers too knackered to deliver the goods in the next match.

In that game the home team were given a hiding that precipitated the premature retirement of their captain, Michael Vaughan.

This year the Lord’s Test is the last in a truncated series and it will be a shame if a more bowler-friendly pitch is not prepared for what ought to be a spirited finale between two good teams.

The first thing Kirsten will have seen is that a bowler such as Imran Tahir would have struggled to make any kind of an impression on such a slow and low-bouncing pitch. I doubt if Tahir could even have kept one end quiet under such unhelpful conditions. Paul Harris made a good fist of it at Lord’s in 2008, despite the scorn poured on his bowling by the English cognoscenti. Do not be surprised to see Harris included in the team when it is eventually chosen.

Kirsten might have been encouraged that England took a long time to dispose of a mediocre West Indies side, but I expect that the home team will go on to win the remaining matches with ease.

The downside for the Proteas is that England’s players are likely to be in good form by the time the first Test at Leeds begins.

There is no better preparation for Test cricket than Test cricket — whoever the opposition might be.

In contrast, the South Africans will prepare for the first Test by playing a couple of two-day warm up matches. It strikes me as an absurd gamble to imagine that two casual games against unmotivated opponents will be enough to get our team into Test match mode.

Over the past few years we have battled to shake the rust off at home, never mind under unfamiliar conditions. Was this daft itinerary the final legacy of Gerald Majola or just problems caused by the need to sandwich this tour between the IPL and the Olympics?

It will not have escaped Kirsten that England have enough good players to win a Test match even when stars such as Pietersen and Anderson fail to fire. Victories in England against this team will be hard won. Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott are probably the best combination of numbers two and three batsmen in the world.

Neither of them give their wickets away and usually one or both sap a great deal of energy from the bowlers while at the crease.

Bell has become the accomplished batsman that all England hoped for when he first came into the team, and after him come the all-rounders with their ability to score runs quickly or stick around if so required.

Kevin Pietersen remains Pietersen. One never quite knows what to expect from him, but it would be surprising if he did not deliver at least one commanding performance over a three-match series.

Kirsten will have seen enough at Lord’s to know that a tough task awaits his team. He will be hoping that the endless IPL has not exacted a toll on the fitness of several of his key players, three of whom, including the ageless Jacques Kallis, will be expected to do a great deal of bowling in England. He will also know that it will be a near miracle if both Kallis and AB De Villiers are able to make a seamless transition from the T20 crash-bang mindset to the unwavering concentration that Test cricket requires from top batsmen.

All cricket lovers will be disappointed that the West Indies are now a far cry from the calypso cricketers that once made them the most eagerly awaited of all touring teams to England. It is a shame that the likes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and Sunil Narine are not in the current team, preferring instead to ply their trade in the IPL.

It is symptomatic of the Indian malaise that has infected cricket when the ICC have allowed the IPL to encroach into a major tour of England.

It shows precious little understanding of the deep trouble facing Test match cricket when a struggling team like the Windies have had to do without the services of some key players. It sends a message that Test match cricket ranks beneath the interests of the IPL’s privateers.

It may be too much to hope that Gayle and his IPL friends will be asked to join Darryl Sammy’s battling team.

If they could it would not only give something for the English public to look forward to, but it would also provide Kirsten with a clearer indication of the form or otherwise of this England team.

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