Saturday, 28 November 2009

One win in seven, but South Africa are favourites in Port Elizabeth

SOUTH AFRICA'S rugby team return home this week with an unwanted record of just one win in five games. After today's 15-10 defeat against Ireland, the World Cup-winners fly home having beaten just Italy on their trip to Europe, with defeats against France, Leicester and Saracens to add to today's 15-10 defeat in Dublin. Shocking!
Their cricket team of course is in even worse shape. In their last seven One-Day International showdowns against England they've won just once. Not great for the No1 ranked Test nation. Nearly as bad as their football team, still switching coaches and begging stars to play six months before football's World Cup kicks-off in Johannesburg on 11 June next year.
But let's be honest, that's a cheap dig at Graeme Smith's Proteas. They are in a different league to the Rainbow Nation's football and rugby sides right now.
Friday's clash at Newlands saw a comprehensive victory for the Proteas, with centurion AB De Villiers imperious in a 118-run triumph which levels the series at 1-1 with two to play. Home skipper Graeme Smith says he now intends to make life very diffficult for Andrew Strauss, who insists his side are "still a work in progress".
The teams flew up the Garden Route at the crack of dawn this morning for tomorrow's clash at Port Elizabeth with Paul Collingwood, fresh from scores of 105 not out and 86, insisting: "We're straight back into a game tomorrow, but in many ways that's a good thing. I feel in very good form at the moment - I'm seeing the ball well. I'm enjoying the wickets out here, I gained a lot of confidence from playing in the Champions Trophy on faster and bouncier wickets.
"My confidence is high, and it's amazing what you can do when confidence is that high."
You can say that again. A couple of weeks into the tour it looked like a bad back might force him out of action. Now he says: "It's settling down. I think I've just got to control it as much as possible. Touch wood, everything feels fine at the moment - and I hope we can get another win."
England's other wounded troops, James Anderson (knee), Graeme Swann (side) and Stuart Broad (shoulder), should all be okay to resume battle tomorrow but having let the South Africans get a near-record 354-6 on Friday, the return of Swann and Broad didn't have quite the impact England were hoping for in Cape Town... where losing the toss was a huge drawback.
While Strauss practices his coin-tossing, South Africa are sweating on the dodgy hamstring of the world's No1 pace bowler Dale Steyn, though they have the consolation of knowing Wayne Parnell and Morne Morkel returned to take eight wickets between them in Cape Town. Charl Langeveldt is ready to step up and Smith says: "If Dale doesn't play we will miss him dearly. But the positive side is it gives someone else the opportunity to rise to the occasion."

On a weekend when Tiger Woods crashed his car, Wayne Rooney scored a hat-trick and West Ham enjoyed a high five, tomorrow sees further huge sporting showdowns including this one in Port Elizabeth and, in London, the make-or-break game for Arsenal against Premier League leaders Chelsea. As a cricketing Gooner, I predict a sad Sabbath. South Africa and Chelsea will seize the day. As for Real Madrid v Barcelona, on immediately after the Arsenal v Chelsea clash... it's got to be Barca.

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