Graeme Smith’s things are hitting the bulk of the runs in a fourth innings chase and winning Test series.
There were no miracles from Australia’s bowlers, because the bowlers who could perform them are gone. South Africa chased down 183 for the loss of one wicket, won the match, won the series and perhaps even won the right to be considered the best side in the world.
Graeme Smith is a hard man. Our hero, Neil Manthorp, describes a captain who takes fitness tests when injured and if he fails, tears up the results and plays anyway. Smith seems to play the majority of his cricket with a broken finger or rib. His team are made in his image.
They play to win and they do what’s necessary. They’ve got stroke players like AB de Villiers and fast bowlers like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. They’ve also got Paul Harris who everyone says is shite, but who doesn’t give a toss and just gets on with the business of going for hardly any runs and letting the fast bowlers storm in.
They’ve also got Neil McKenzie, whose batting is so hypnotically unspectacular, it doesn’t just sedate the crowd, it impairs their motor skills as well. Graeme Smith wants these players in his side because he wants his side to win and he doesn’t much care how that happens.
The proof is in the texture and succulence of the biltong.
Ricky Ponting, eh? He’s not likeable, because of the face, the face and also the face. However, he is admirable as a batsman.
Look Ponting in the face and it’s tricky to know whether to sigh and hope he goes away or to start with the punching. Watch him bat and it’s all simpler. You just think to yourself: “Man, this guy can bat. Wish I could punch him in the face.”
While we’ve written before about how we think that several Australian batting averages have been inflated by the match situations that were created by their exceptional bowlers, we wouldn’t want to knock Ponting’s status as a batsman down more than a single rung. He’s extraordinarily good and it’s inappropriate that he’s often mentioned in the same breath as that gobshite, Hayden.
Ricky Ponting’s scored a hundred in India this year, when everyone thought that he suffered subcontinental spazzeritis. In this match, he helped pick Australia up after a dispiriting first Test loss by scoring 101. That should have been a vital innings.
His captaincy’s famously feeble and the more Australia slide, the more he’s under pressure. They’ve been making a bit of a bollocks of this match and as his batsmen struggled in the second innings, you could have forgiven Ponting for folding under the weight of it all.
But he didn’t. He top scored with 99, while the rest of the batsmen failed to get out of the twenties (runs that is – they weren’t smearing their hair into side partings and doing the Charleston).
Neil McKenzie did something. Tony Greig called him brave, Mark Nicholas branded him stupid. We’d like to add ‘mental’ to the equation as well.
Of course, Neil McKenzie is known to be a bit mental, but this was a different kind of mental. He took up a fielding position maybe two yards from the bat, almost directly in front, wearing no protection whatsoever.
Entirely predictably, Ricky Ponting drove the next ball straight into him. It was hard to gauge whether Ponting had middled it or not in the yard and a half that the ball travelled, but he definitely didn’t hold back. It was a full backlift, full follow-through kind of a drive.
In slow motion replays you can see McKenzie’s arm flesh doing a macabre disco dance at the point of impact. He grimaced as the shot was being played, but ensured he didn’t really make much of a fuss afterwards. You know why? It’s because he’s hard.
This kind of thing irritates us. We all know that it hurt like hell. We’ve all got nerves. We know how they work. Being hit by a hard driven cricket ball causes pain and pain hurts – that’s very much its defining feature.
McKenzie moved out of that fielding position immediately afterwards, so perhaps he’s not as brave, stupid or mental as he’d have us believe.
JP Duminy’s Test record is improving: one in his first innings, 50 not out in his second and 166 in his third.
The 166 kicks in the balls that he gave Australia’s bowlers were particularly useful as they helped produce 275 ball kicks for South Africa’s last three wickets. Those are some heavily kicked balls in that Aussie bowling attack.
It strikes us that South Africa are turning into the kind of side who you can never quite get on top of. You think you’re on top of them, then you look away for a moment and suddenly they’re standing above you calmly hefting a huge club with a nail in it while giving you a raised eyebrow look that says ‘our turn now’.
We’re also struck by the fact that Australia’s bowling attack only ever seems to have the feeblest, soapiest grip on the opposition these days.
Arch woodchopper cum fourth choice Australian quick, Peter Siddle, can whang the ball at speeds up to about 150kph, which is about 93mph in old money and officially makes him a fast bowler on the King Cricket scale.
In light of this, we now want to see all young English quick bowlers spending their time chopping wood rather than playing on Xbox 360s or ‘conditioning’ themselves. If you spend all your time in the gym, that’s what you’re fit for – lifting things up and putting them down again inside a gym.
Bowl some balls and chop some wood, you fin-haired jessies.
Shakib al Hasan’s taken five wickets in three Test innings in a row. 5-70 against Sri Lanka follows 5-130 and 6-99 against South Africa.
He’s currently ranked the 27th best one-day bowler and the eighth best one-day all-rounder. The earth can consider itself safe from shattery, nor is it in any danger of being taken by storm or set alight, but it’s all very encouraging for Shakib all the same.
Matthew Hayden’s been getting a few rough decisions of late, as batsmen often do when the ball’s missing the bat time and time again.
“Hawkeye I think gives you a pretty good understanding of what line the ball pitched at, but take my lbw decision in the second innings, which Hawkeye had hitting the top of off. Now, unless I’m a really poor cricketer, I’m telling you that’s going nowhere near the stumps.”
So either Hawkeye’s wrong in this instance or Matthew Hayden is a really poor cricketer. Those are the two options, there’s no middle ground and you HAVE to choose.
Just what do they think they’re doing? There was a sign that the wheels had come off when Ricky Ponting said: “We’ve really got to pick horses for courses with our selections,” when the Australians were in India.
Selection is one of the Aussies’ greatest strengths. Historically, they’ve actually planned their selections. They’ll identify a player who they think will make the grade, they’ll ease them in and they’ll stick with them.
They don’t identify eight players – like England do – and chop and change them until there’s a new plan. They identify one player. They look at their side, they work out when they’ll need certain players and they try and work out who’ll best fit the role in advance. They don’t wait for a vacancy to arise. They plan ahead.
At least they did do. Earlier this year, they were still trying to do this. They were going to get two years out of Bryce McGain and then Beau Casson was hopefully going to be ready. Bryce McGain got injured and at this point they moved to Plan B: They tore up the team sheet and TOTALLY FREAKED OUT. Continue reading
South Africa could never have chased down 414 without a hundred from Graeme Smith. After he was out for 108, they couldn’t have won without a hundred from AB de Villiers.
What’s really impressed us about this South African win is not that they chased down such a huge total on the final day, or that they did it against what is nominally the best side in the world. (Interesting appearance of the word ‘nominally’ there, eh?).
What’s most impressive is that they managed to fight back so comprehensively after Mitchell Johnson’s spell of five wickets for five runs earlier in the match. A team should be pretty damn dispirited after that happens to them. To overcome it betrays a genuine confidence that is quite, quite sickening. It also makes Ricky Ponting’s traditional pre-match words about South African mental scars seem a bit meaningless.
It’s being said everywhere, but if Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne had been playing, South Africa never would have made it. We’ll go one further and say that if they had been playing, South Africa wouldn’t have won, even if the wisened greats had bowled a load of toss. Sometimes you earn wickets through more than just your performance on the day and that’s a quality that’s extremely hard to replace.
AB de Villiers is in the process of building a reputation that he’s hard to bowl at. He also has another reputation, it seems. It might have been removed by now, but at the time of writing, his Wikipedia page featured the following sentence:
“De Villiers enjoys late nights while on tour with some of the local talent.”
There’s no preamble to that. It’s just one of a series of urelated ‘facts’ about his personal life, in between some quotes about Jesus and the name of his high school.
We’d bet that there aren’t many reading this site, but there are nevertheless a great number of people out there who’d brand Kevin Pietersen’s switch hitting ‘irresponsible’.
It really isn’t. He doesn’t just do it on a whim. He decided it was a good way of scoring runs with a certain field in place and then he practised it until it was just another shot. Pietersen’s confident enough playing the stroke that he feels it’s no riskier than any other.
If you’ve any doubt about the worth of the stroke. Take Harbhajan Singh’s words about how to bowl at a man playing it:
“I don’t know how to react. I wish I could just hit him with the bat.”
After hitting 144 against India at Mohali, Pietersen was out playing a defensive stroke down the wrong line. Idiot. How dare the England captain play so irresponsibly.