West Indies in England just a curtain raiser for Proteas tour

2012-05-17 00:00

WE’RE 65 matches into the Indian Premier League which began, would you believe, a month-and-a-half ago.

Sadly the announcement that five players have been suspended pending investigations into spot-betting has put a dampener on a tournament that on the face of it appears to have been a success.

There have been encouraging performances from a number of the South Africans, notably Morné Morkel whose 21-wicket haul at a miserly economy rate of 7,20 has helped guarantee his Delhi Daredevils franchise first position in the play-offs.

The sedate ripple of applause that will welcome the West Indies and English players on to the hallowed turf of Lord’s today as they begin their three-Test series will provide some welcome respite from the IPL batting bedlam.

The West Indies are mercurial, but have enjoyed better fortunes of late and are capable of surprise performances. West Indies coach Ottis Gibson has hinted that he might use a four-pronged bowling attack to exploit the seamer-friendly conditions at the Home of Cricket.

This series presents ideal preparation for Andrew Strauss and his men, but it’s all but a curtain raiser for the much anticipated contest between South Africa and England in July.

Already there is speculation as to who has the better bowling attack.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan believes England have the edge over SA because of the value Graeme Swann adds to their arsenal. But come July, Morkel, Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander will be chomping at the bit to turn their arm over on English wickets under cloudy skies.

There is still time to analyse the many possible team compositions ahead of the SA-England series, but for now let’s reflect on why Test cricket in England is so special.

Like Australia, England have fantastic spectator support, which adds atmosphere to every Test encounter.

English cricket fans are impressively knowledgeable about the game they love. Nicknamed “anoraks”, they arrive at the grounds armed with their pens and scorecards.

They never miss a partnership, a player’s milestone, the saving of a follow-on and the likes. Then there’s the Barmy Army, who bay from behind the boundary rope, and the dress-up days when Elvis impersonators and Shrek sit side by side swigging lager in the English sunshine.

At Lord’s it’s common to see a number of spectators disappear from the stands when a batsman is in the forties or the nineties, only to return, champagne bottle in hand, to acknowledge a fifty or a hundred with a pop from a bottle of Moet or Veuve Clicquot — further evidence that Test cricket is celebrated in England.

Add to this the manicured outfields, impeccably prepared wickets and the beauty of the Test venues, which are steeped in history — it really doesn’t get much better.

I won’t miss the play-offs of the IPL, but I have to admit that the muted tones of leather on willow signifying the start of an exciting summer of English Test cricket will be music to my ears.

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