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Kane Williamson bats with the strength of many men

The sequence was completed: 292, 237, 133, 108. Descending scores as batting conditions became tougher and tougher.

Wait a minute. The first three of those are team scores. The last one isn’t. The sequence actually reads: 292, 237, 133, 189 – of which Kane Williamson alone contributed 108.

Fourth innings hundreds are rare. Fourth innings hundreds to win matches are rarer still. You might get a couple of declarations and then find yourself batting out time in the fourth innings and reach three figures in the process, but to achieve it when sides are being bowled out is another matter altogether.

Kane Williamson basically contributed an entire team’s performance as New Zealand won the second Test against Sri Lanka. Some would call this Herculean, but if you’re our age, it’s another man who’s synonymous with feats of strength. Kane Williamson’s performance was truly Capesian.

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More rehearsals before England face South Africa

A friend of ours once played the finest bum note we’ve ever heard while performing Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight at a wedding. It was the very last note and it only sounded so marvellously hideous because he’d played everything flawlessly up until that point. That’s how to get something wrong. Really build up to it. Lay the groundwork first.

South Africa have been in India, England have been in the UAE. Both sides will now do a light spot of shape-shifting ahead of what will almost certainly be a more seam-dominated series in Southafricaland.

If cricket is music – which it isn’t – this will be rather more than a key change. It’ll be more like the end of one track and the start of the next. The majority of the instruments will remain the same, but the tempo will change; there’ll be a bit more lead guitar and a little less emphasis on rhythm.

Dale Steyn has emerged from extensive groin-testing. Rumour has it he did upwards of nine star jumps. He will almost certainly be brilliant should he play and Steven Finn could also return for England. Finn being Finn that poses the perennial question as to whether he’ll do the thing that makes everyone fawn over him or simply lollop in and flop down 83mph disappointment.

The rumour is that England want to rescind first-class status for this week’s second warm-up match and make it another 13-a-side sham. What’s the first rule of training? Specificity. Try and ensure your preparation is as similar as possible to your target event. As close as you can get to a Test would be first-class cricket. The rules are one thing, but the threat to players’ batting and bowling averages also brings just the faintest whiff of the pressures they will subjected to during the grown-up stuff.

It’s easy to shrug off the odd bum note in rehearsals, but the stakes are higher when things are being recorded. It’s worth noting that we only know about the Not Quite So Wonderful Tonight aberration because it was caught on film.

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Neil Wagner isn’t perfect

There aren’t many media outlets where this would be headline news. It is here though. New Zealand’s fourth seamer isn’t flawless. Stop the press!

It may only have been the day before yesterday, but it already seems a long, long time since we suggested that Neil Wagner never lets you down. The ‘never’ was always an exaggeration; rhetoric, if you will. Now it’s hollow, empty rhetoric that doesn’t really seem to make much sense. The Wagnermeister, as no-one calls him, took 0-49 off seven overs on the first day of the second Test against Sri Lanka. That, ladies and gentlemen, is gash.

So not content with merely failing to back up our claims, it seems Wagner went out of his way to actively disprove them. He didn’t even manage to run in all day. Brendon McCullum didn’t let him, what with all the runs he was conceding.

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Alex Hales isn’t very warm

alex-hales

By all accounts, the door to Test selection has now been opened by Alex Hales. Barring injury he will take his place in the England side that will face South Africa on Boxing Day. He could do with warming up a bit though.

England’s first warm-up match, against a South African Invitational “XI”, saw him start lukewarm before cooling to tepid. Or maybe he started tepid and cooled to lukewarm. We’re not sure. He ended up at the cooler one though – eight off 42 balls (second innings) being limper than eight off 10 balls (first innings).

There are two ways of looking at this. Firstly, has Hales come down with a case of the Jos Buttlers even before making his Test debut?

The self-aware, ruminative part of Jos Buttler’s brain increasingly paralysed him in Test cricket over the last year, denying him the ability to play the natural game which apparently didn’t come quite as naturally to him as everyone seemed to believe. Is Hales suffering from something similar?

We always maintain that there is no pressure quite so intense as that which is self-applied. If Alex Hales considers Test cricket to be the real deal and his major ambition, maybe he’s already feeling the weight of his own expectations. Perhaps this pair of fat ladies foreshadows Test subsidence to come.

The second way of looking at things is of course that warm-up matches are a meaningless load of balls and so performances within them are also a meaningless load of balls. This does of course beg the question why they are played at all, but who’s to say that isn’t a perfectly valid question to ask?

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Neil Wagner never lets you down

He’s like an old pair of walking socks, a sturdy side table or a functioning fridge. He doesn’t set your world alight, but at least your feet are warm, your brew is well supported and your veg hasn’t gone off.

Last week, against Sri Lanka, Neil Wagner took 3-87 and 2-56. This is pretty much the archetypal Wagnerian performance: plenty of legwork, a handful of wickets, but nothing too headline grabbing. At one point he was clocked at 160km/h but it turned out to be interference from a seagull. No, really.

We once gave Neil Wagner an award for his commitment to bustling fast-medium bowling in the face of being stereotyped as a bustling fast-medium bowler. He’d run through a wall for you would Neil. He just keeps on running in.

Sometimes, in his boisterousness, he bowls himself off his feet and onto the floor, seemingly unaware that in doing so he’s flirting with self parody. Good on him. Who cares if people think you’re Angus Fraser with a surfeit of enthusiasm. Being Angus Fraser with a surfeit of enthusiasm is a good thing.

He’s not in the first XI, but Wagner never really seems to let New Zealand down. He comes in when someone’s injured and he does a job. It’s not necessarily an eye-catching job, but it’s a job. It’s putting petrol in the car. It’s taking the recycling out. It’s scouring that oven tray with all the burnt-on crud. You may only have middling expectations, but Neil Wagner reliably meets them.

Neil Wagner.

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