Saturday, 26 December 2009

Boxing Day Test: Day One: England's day as South Africa scuttle off for the light

AS the clouds closed in and the floodlights went on at 3.10pm local time, the Boxing Day Test in Durban veered England's way at Kingsmead today.
At 175-5 this was a triumph for the visitors after the mind-numbing boredom of South Africa's earlier domination with the bat.
The magnificent sight of the home side scuttling for cover before the rain came down was entirely unexpected. As was the state of most of the 17,364 fans, very few of whom were wearing bikinis (my wife doesn't like the thought of women in swimsuits at cricket games).
England, dominant in the first ten overs when they Jimmy Anderson got rid of Ashwell Prince and Stuart Broad trapped Hashim Amla - both for two - struggled in the burning heat and humidity in an apparently endless spell from an hour before lunch to just after tea.
But then the clouds rolled in and weary England began to respond. Jacques Kallis, the world's No10 batsman but a supremely boring proponent of the art, was snaffled by Graeme Swann. His edge to Paul Collingwood's welcoming hands ended his resistance at 75 off 132 balls.
Together, he and Smith put on exactly 15o for the third wicket and put most of the crowd into a drink induced coma, with beer queues stretching around the ground as innocent cricket fans sought solace.
Together, Kallis and Smith, top of the pile in the under-appreciated Boring Test Rankings sponsored by Slumberland, appeared to have put their nation on top, though the locals showed little appreciation, apart from the odd snarl when Kevin Pietersen was put on to bowl his off-spinners in a moment of madness from captain Andrew Strauss. We also wheeled out Jonathan Trott, testament to the paucity of our bowling attack having stuck with struggling Ian Bell when we could have enlisted another seamer in Sidebottom.
But then the wickets began to tumble. Next up? Smith. He derided Kevin Pietersen for his ridiculous run-out on 81 in Centurion, but what was this? AB De Villiers, looking good, ran down the wicket when his captain dropped one into the off-side. Smith started to accelerate, then turned around like one of those tankers off the Indian Ocean coast here.
For Englishmen, particularly the ever-hopeful Barmy Army who numbered about 3,000 at Kingsmead today, the sight of Cook running in to beat the dive was something to celebrate.
Gone for 75 off a very boring 186 balls. But better than Centurion, where Smith failed in both innings.
South Africa were suddenly 166-4 and the two big barriers were down.
England sensed that, the tails went up, and there was time for Graham Onions, who bowled well all day, to trap the once-dangerous JP Duminy leg before for four.
South Africa were 170-5, they'd lost three wickets for ten. And they ran for cover. Brilliant! With the floodlights on, a home side with guts might have tried to carry on. But Smith and coach Mickey Arthur encouraged the puny Proteas to scurry for the dressing room. England captain Andrew Strauss complained and put on his spinners but they were offered the light... and took it. How weak and pathetic is that with rain forecast for tomorrow!
There was a brief shower, a couple of very drunk pitch invaders hoping to slide on the covers were severely manhandled by the stewards. But predictably, though the light was reasonable under the floodlights at 4.35pm local time, the umpires were unable to encourage the groundsman to remove the covers. Day one is over. Play will start at 9.30am tomorrow morning.
And with the South Africans cowering, this is surely England's day, though Smith and Kallis made them suffer in the sun. The home side, knowing how dark it gets in Durban, how much rain they are having this summer, should have shown a bit of stiff-upper lip.
But they just haven't got it these lads. Head for the dressing room! Swannie's bowling another bomb! Pathetic! The only South Africans with any fight are punching eachother, drunk, in Kingsmead's notorious Castle Corner, perhaps frustrated with their side's lack of spirit.
My Living With The Lions party, pictured above, will be looking forward to skittling this mardy lot tomorrow. As long as it doesn't rain. Right now, at 5pm local time, the light is as good as it's been all day. And the South Africans are headed back to the Hilton Hotel with me. How very, very cowardly.

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