It was like they were running late, had got onto the motorway heading in the wrong direction and had to race to the next exit so that they could turn round and race back again. Batsman One made 107, Batsman Two made 66 and then the next highest score was six.
That big opening partnership built the tension and then, for the rest of the day, it was released one spurt at a time until the stores were dry. It was glorious stuff all round and crammed full of the oddities that make Test cricket so great.
David Warner’s dismissal led to a prolonged spell of braking while Alex Doolan was at the crease and then the U-turn came when the ball started reverse swinging. We got Dale Steyn’s red-faced fist pumping celebration four times after a prolonged Waqar Younis impression with the old ball. Umpire Dharmasena inadvertently revving his celebrations up further on one occasion by delaying the finger raise.
We got Chris Rogers munting a magnificent hundred before being run out – the third umpire taking several minutes to determine whether the bails were out of their groove or not. What other sport even has something like ‘the bails being out of their groove’?
Shaun Marsh had lasted two balls in the first innings. In the second, he halved his stay at the crease. Then Brad Haddin recreated his first innings dismissal exactly. Haddin knows precisely where his off stump is. If someone can now inform him that the middle stump is immediately inside it, he’ll be fine.
Towards the end, we got Graeme Smith saying “It’s another warm-up if you don’t oblige,” to Nathan Lyon when South Africa needed one wicket to win – alluding to the fact that there could still have been a fifth day of this match. Fortunately for everyone, Nathan Lyon did oblige and then we even got bathos as relentlessly high quality cricket made way for a Dean Elgar lbw to finish things. Needless to say, Lyon had got an edge on it.
The score had been 141-1 at tea.
Sometimes they say of a match that ‘it had everything’. But you can never have everything in a Test match. There are simply too many things to have. However, this one had a nice selection.9 Appeals
No, he did. One of the three deliveries he faced in this Test match didn’t see the fall of his wicket. He really hung around.
When Shaun Marsh was brought back into the Test side, we wrote:
“Whether you think he’s good or not largely depends on whether you consider ‘his best’ to be the norm or an occasional aberrative state.”
Sometimes it’s nice when someone defies your expectations, but there are also occasions when all you want is for someone to carry on exactly as they have been doing. For example, it was impressive to see Hugh Laurie somehow become an American leading man in House, whereas if something’s got Matt Berry in it, you pretty much know what you want from him.
We’ve highlighted this before, but it’s worth linking to Shaun Marsh’s Test scores again in light of recent performances. Six ducks and two 140-plus scores in 15 innings. Majestic stuff.12 Appeals
We’ve not actually seen it yet, but we’re hearing great things about Quinton de Kock’s dismissal; that maybe it was the stupidest in a winter which has seen its fair share of stupid dismissals. It’s surely no coincidence that Steve Smith was the bowler.
Much is made of the fact that Steve Smith makes the most of his occasionally freakish batting technique. He also makes the most of what he has as a bowler.
Here is a list of Steve Smith’s bowling attributes:
- Quite bad bowling
- An annoying face
- A stupid, double-elbowed chicken dance action
The combination of these things appears to incense batsmen into rash behaviour. Many players seem intent on hitting Smith out of the attack just so that they don’t have to look at him any more. Then they flat-bat a full toss to midwicket.15 Appeals
Cricinfo are making reference to ‘toss drama’ but don’t be misled. The second Test between South Africa and Australia demands your attention in a relentless, whinging, shirt-tugging way. We briefly wondered why we hadn’t really latched onto the Under-19 World Cup or why we didn’t feel moved to write anything about Ireland’s victory over the West Indies, but the answer’s obvious. It’s this.
The South African team
- Alviro Peterson OUT – Dean Elgar IN
- Ryan McLaren OUT – Quinton de Kock IN
- Robin Peterson OUT – Wayne Parnell IN
It’s also worth noting that Quinton de Kock, a wicketkeeper, will not be keeping wicket. AB de Villiers – who isn’t really a wicketkeeper – will retain the gloves. They’re his gloves. Stop looking at his gloves. Get your own gloves.
The South African scorecard
In the time it took us to write that last section, South Africa lost two wickets. We’re going to come up with a terrible headline and click publish now so that there’s somewhere relevant to leave comments for the rest of the day.
Update: Dean Elgar wasn’t out by the time we clicked ‘publish’, opening up the possibility that this headline could appear less and less appropriate as the day wears on. Remember kids, don’t headline articles in haste. It could come back to haunt you, like a low-key ghost which is faintly irritating without being in any way scary.32 Appeals
Ordinarily we don’t report on injuries – and not just because we don’t report on anything in any meaningful sense. However, Ryan McLaren’s rattled brain is more significant in that it will shine a light on the impact Mitchell Johnson has had on the South Africans.
We’re not talking about the physical impact. McLaren has mild concussion after unwittingly nodding a bouncer into the back of some imaginary net, so the physical impact is obvious. We’re talking about the impact Johnson has had on the home team’s approach.
“We feel we need to strengthen the…”
McLaren’s selection gave South Africa a fourth seam bowler and a middling batsman. In a sense, he gave them neither one thing nor the other – although that’s harsh because he’s a good, if unremarkable player. However, in replacing him, they will need to choose which side to land when dropping down off the fence.
Option one is to go for Wayne Parnell. Parnell’s being talked up as an all-rounder these days, but he’s the kind of all-rounder who’s good for a few on a flat one-day pitch. In short, he’s exactly the sort of all-rounder who’s an out-and-out bowler when Mitchell Johnson’s involved. However, it’s being reported that he’s been bowling at over 150km/h (93mph) this season, so he’d give them something with the ball.
Option two would be to pick another batsman. South Africa have long had a reputation for reverting to conservatism when threatened, shortening their tail however they can. This has seemed unfair in recent years when Imran Tahir has been given a fair few matches when he could long ago have been discarded for being a liability. But with the pressure on, will they revert to type?
We’re not saying that either option is the right one because, on the evidence of the first Test, there is no right answer. It’ll just be interesting to see how South Africa go about putting together their jigsaw now that they’ve accepted that the big Kallis-shaped piece won’t ever be recovered from down the back of the sofa.18 Appeals
Brendon McCullum is a positive person; the kind of irritating, upbeat character who can’t understand everyone else’s entirely logical can’t-do attitude to things. When he was joined at the crease by BJ Watling in the second Test against India on day three, he’ll have thought: ‘Okay, if we can just put on 352 runs for this wicket, we’ll be in with a shout.’
So he and BJ promptly put on 352 runs for the sixth wicket. When the two came together, New Zealand were 94-5 and 152 runs away from making India back again. 123 overs later, when Watling was finally dismissed, they were 200 ahead. At this point, McCullum thought to himself: ‘Okay, if we can just put on at least 125 runs for this wicket…’32 Appeals
That’s a reference to his name cropping up in talk of IPL match fixing and the fact that he’s won 12 international tosses in a row, including all of them on this tour of New Zealand (without yet winning a match). Top tossing, Mahendra. Top tossing.
Even if the perfect toss record continues, the winless streak might end, as India are in a very strong position after day one of the second Test. Ross Taylor’s missus has a lot ot answer for. He’s away for the birth of a new Taylor and New Zealand’s seemingly-resilient middle-order looked rather more wonky without him. Kane Williamson couldn’t even benefit from twice being dismissed off a no-ball.
As for the match-fixing thing, is anyone else surprised by how little coverage there’s been, even if things haven’t yet got past the question marks in headlines stage.15 Appeals
It’s not just England then. South Africa have been forcefully Johnsonned and are probably already considering reverting to a more conservative team for the second Test. Five bowlers is great when you’re top of the world and full of confidence, but let’s just see what happens now that they’re rattled.
But bring in a batsman and it’s over. The problem for South Africa wasn’t the sixth wicket partnership, it was that they were 43-4. Even Australia aren’t happy with that kind of batting score – and they’ve been winning from that position.
Vehement letter-C denier, AB de Villiers, has been the only man to show resistance thus far. He may have averaged almost 80 in 2013, but for how much longer is he going to keep wicket? We can’t see it lasting. Not sure why. We just can’t.11 Appeals
If there’s one thing Australia have been lacking, it’s dull, steady, three-an-over partnerships in the middle order. Today they got one and they look like a proper team again.
Even while gaily twerking atop England’s comatose body, there was a fragility about the Aussie Test team. How odd that they should give the impression of solidity through Shaun Marsh, the flakiest cricketer since… well, since Shane Watson, who he replaced.
Marsh is a true all-rounder when it comes to flakiness. Physically, he’s only ever one ill-advised blink away from a major muscle strain and behaviour-wise, he’s been known to partake of liquid refreshment. He once made reference to having a favourite vodka. Honestly, who has a favourite vodka?
Then there’s performance. It takes real commitment to the art of making a balls of things to maintain an average of 35 in first-class cricket when you’re also capable of looking as skilled as Shaun Marsh. At the age of 30, this is only his ninth first-class hundred. And just look at this run of Test scores. It’s demented. It’s top form or no form and no middle ground. Yet somehow this is the man who delivered much-needed easy-not-to-watch functionality.15 Appeals
“We’ve got the best fast bowlers.”
“No, we’ve got the best fast bowlers.”
“Not being funny, but actually, I think you’ll find we’ve got the best fast bowlers.”
“Yeah, right, whatever. Have you even seen our fast bowlers?”
The build-up to what promises to be a fascinating Test series between South Africa and Australia has been a bit one-note and we haven’t really learnt much from it.
The Kallis-shaped, Kallis-sized hole
How did South Africa become the top-ranked Test side? They scored plenty of runs and they fielded four cracking seam bowlers as well as a spinner. Very few sides can manage this because very few sides can field a guy who averages eight runs more than Kevin Pietersen with the bat and who also happens to be a darn handy pace bowler in his spare time.
Of course Jacques Kallis is irreplaceable, which must therefore beg the question: how exactly are you going to replace Jacques Kallis?
Wayne Parnell and Ryan McLaren seem the most likely beneficiaries, which means shedding around 30 runs an innings and gaining precisely what in terms of bowling? Not a lot when you’re talking about a fourth or fifth bowler.
This South Africa side is not what it was.
Long handle deployment
Complete these two sequences:
- Steyn, Philander, Morkel…
- Johnson, Harris, Siddle…
What comes next is the word ‘attack’. If the main threat comes from the seamers, how will the batsmen approach the spinners? Probably with a fairly wild look in their eyes, you’d think.
But that goes both ways. A handful of spin bowlers can dismiss batsmen intent on survival, but there are plenty more who can outfox a psychopath who’s lost all perspective.
Robin Peterson isn’t even his mum’s favourite spin bowler, but he thinks he might profit from being underestimated and he might well be right. Nathan Lyon’s in a similar position and, as has been pointed out, how might the Ashes have gone in England had he been selected from the start?
Okay, it probably warrants a mention. The one thing we would say about this is that while Mitchell Johnson’s on a six-month hot streak, Dale Steyn’s maintained a pretty decent temperature for many years. We’re not sure whether that’ll prove pertinent, but we have greater faith in the latter ‘turning up’ and then remaining ‘up’ once there.20 Appeals