Sunday, 15 November 2009

England's heaviest Twenty20 defeat... but it's South Africa 1, England 1

ON the very day the new world rankings have come out showing South Africa at No1 ahead of Sri Lanka and India (Australia fourth, England fifth), here we are witnessing England and their big-hitting hosts draw the Twenty20 series 1-1 at Centurion.
Quite how we managed that, nobody really knows. The gulf between these two sides is huge... and we've still got five one-dayers and four Tests to play in South Africa before January 18, when the tour concludes in Johannesburg next year.
Still, a draw in the shortest form of the game is a welcome bonus. When the rain came down at The Wanderers on Friday, South Africa were going well but they were a run short of the required rate on the Duckworth Lewis method chasing a best-ever 202-6 from England.
Today there was only one side in it. The South African openers, Loots Bosman and captain Graeme Smith were simply magnificent. Bosman, the 32-year-old who has emerged out of nowhere (otherwise known as Kimberley, home of the Big Hole, see google)struck a magnificent 94 off 81 to add to his 58 off 42 in the opening clash.
Smith raced to 88 off 66 after his 41 off 38 in game one... and the South Africans had registered the highest Twenty20 score in history (unless you count games against Kenya), a mammoth 241-6. Smith and Bosman (let's hope they aren't stupidly tempted to give Loots a Test debut next month) put on 170 in 13 overs. With captain Paul Collingwood, spinner Graeme Swann and paceman Stuart Broad all injured, Adil Rashid's six balls went for 25 before he was removed from action, Sajid Mahmood was punished again and only Jimmy Anderson looked competent with the ball.
England's reply was always going to be difficult. But Joe Denly played on early and Alistair Cook's brave efforts to transform himself from Test opener to swashbuckling Twenty20 slogger were, frankly, laughable. Kevin Pietersen, making his comeback after his mid-Ashes Achilles operation, and Jonathan Trott, both with accents closer to Johannesburg than London, hit a few sixes. We had to wait until the arrival of Luke Wright from Grantham for our first British manafactured six on a day of incredible boundaries. Still, he did do it off his first ball, with some gusto.
It began to rain in mid-innnings, with England 54 runs behind the required D-L rate. It was that sort of day. Out-played, out-thought, out-muscled, England looked like they were playing for a draw in a very one-sided Saturday afternoon club game at one point.
They needed 96 off the last two overs, so you can't blame them. And at 93 off the final over, we were a laughing stock, with three wickets standing.
In the end, the winning margin was a record 84 runs.
In truth, this Twenty20 series was a humbling experience, it's just fortunate the tour opened with these two short, sharp, shocking chapters. And the fact we got away with a drawn series is little less than miraculous. As the games get long, the pain may become excruciating. But for now, we can proudly say, South Africa 1, England 1.
Elsewhere, the weekend of sport was hardly sparkling for England fans. The Brazilians had a comfortable afternoon against our injury-stricken footballers in atmosphere-free Doha and our rugby team hardly sparkled in a laboured 16-9 win over Argentina at Twickenham.
And Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka gave France a vital 1-0 win over the Republic of Ireland in their final game at Croke Park before the return to Lansdowne Road. The Irish will need a miracle in the return leg at Paris on Wednesday to get to the World Cup in South Africa next June.
The good news? South Africa's rugby Springboks, having already lost to Leicester on tour, were outclassed by France. The great sadness? Martin Johnson's final Autumn International next Saturday is against the All Blacks, not the World Cup-winning, TriNations-dominating Boks. Darn.

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