Under Pressure

2008-08-01 00:00

The interval between the Test matches gave the English media plenty of time to purge itself of the fury that inevitably follows a defeat of their cricket team.

Their chief target this time was the panel of selectors that arrived at the curious decision to pick an unknown and untested Australian as the fourth fast bowler in England’s ill-fated match at Headingley.

Having praised the selectors for their consistency over the previous six Tests, the media had a real crack at them for both the omission of Collingwood and the selection of Pattinson.

The selectors, however, did not prove to be an easy target. The final eleven, they said, was determined by the captain and coach. They had merely given them a squad of 13 from whom those 11 were chosen. The implication was that the real villains were Michael Vaughan and Peter Moores, the England captain and coach.

Consequently, the heat has been turned up on the English captain, whose lack of runs thus far has made him vulnerable to accusations that he is the weak link in his own batting order.

He has struggled against the pace and swing of Dale Steyn, for whom he has become something of a bunny. It must have been a relief for Vaughan that an injury to Steyn forced him out of the third Test — and probably the series — though Andre Nel immediately added to his misery at Edgbaston with a first-ball dismissal on Thursday.

The outcome of the series may well depend on whether the South African attack can keep Vaughan under pressure. There is no doubt that he is a formidable captain even when he is batting poorly, but when he is making runs he seems to assume the mantle of tsar over all he surveys.

Confidence oozes from him, his leadership grows in stature and his team thrive under his leadership. He then reaps dividends from his ability to keep his opponents under the sustained pressure that brings mistakes.

It is ironic that it was a blow from Jimmy Anderson’s bat that broke Steyn’s thumb. It was the English fast bowler whom Steyn had targeted and then felled with a fearful blow to the head when Anderson began to hold up South Africa in his role as night watchman. Had it not been for his helmet, not only would Anderson have missed the Edgbaston Test, his career might have been over.

As it is, Steyn has been the one to miss out, thus giving Andre Nel the chance to put right the hurt caused by Norman Arendse’s rejection of his place in the squad that toured India. It also put Nel head to head with Ntini, and immediately the big man showed that he has more to offer than Makhaya. If Steyn is out of the tour, and the “selectors” persist with Ntini, the Proteas will have a tough task to hang on to their lead in this series. This is the fifth straight English tour on which the SA team have gone one up, but it was only back in 1965 that South Africa went on to win the series.

Talking of Arendse, I bumped into him in the corridors at Lord’s. It was clear that he had no idea who I was, to my slight chagrin. I also came across Joubert Strydom, the convenor of selectors, who did recognise me. He told me the scarcely credible fact that he has no part in the selection of the Test teams on this tour. Furthermore, he is not allowed in either the team’s dressing room or on its bus.

Strydom believes these weird directives originated from within the team rather than CSA. This seems to be an impertinence that would not have been tolerated when Peter Pollock was convenor and South Africa was another country. It may, however, be an attempt by captain and coach to protect the team from further political interference. If that is so, they are dreaming of a land that has not been promised to them. The dreaded Arendse is only a phone call away.

Whatever the reason, it is a poor idea for Arthur and Smith to forego the opportunity to exchange views with the convenor of selectors.

For myself, I have spent the interval between Tests watching some junior county cricket in the south of England. As I have written before, this cricket is impressively organised, but the big change from a couple of years ago is the large number of South Africans who are making their way through the system. Every team that I have seen has several of these lads together with youngsters of Asian origin. The England teams of the future are certain to be more cosmopolitan than even that side that took the field at Headingley, when nearly half had external connections.

I also wrote a while ago about Braam Erasmus, whose talent as a batsman is the talking point of the junior circuit. He has morphed into Bradley Erasmus (this may have been an error on my part), but his star continues to rise. At the age of 10 he is playing in a representative South West England U13 team.

We may mourn the loss of Pietersen but, trust me, the grieving for the loss of South African talent, in all walks of life, has only just begun.

•RAY WHITE, currently in England, is a former UCB president.

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