Monday, 28 December 2009

England's unsung heroes... and why Durban should host a future Olympics

TODAY was the day for England's unsung heroes. The men who quietly serve while Kevin Pietersen. our only truly world-class batsman, preens.
Take a bow Alastair Cook, Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell. Thanks to you England are 386-5, 43 ahead with half their wickets in hand going into day four of the Second Test in a balmy, Barmy Army-dominated Kingsmead.
Cook (118) and Bell (55 not out) needed the runs. Collingwood (91) just keeps coming up with the goods.
While an impressive-looking Pietersen came and went much too quickly on his old home ground, England's Three Musketeers dominated the third day in sunny Durban, leaving South Africa frustrated and flustered.
The world's best bowler, Dale Steyn, normally takes a wicket every six or seven overs. Not today. Not with Cook, Collingwood and Bell in this mood. He's bowled 26 sweaty overs without success. One for all and all for none might be dangerous Dale's creed.
After the initial departure of the world's most annoying batsman Jonathan Trott - no tears there as he scratches and delays at the crease - KP was out to the very ordinary spinner Paul Harris trying to sweep a straight one on 31. So straight, England didn't even bother to ask for a review. Like Trott and Bell in the drawn first Test in Centurion, perhaps he was expecting Harris to turn one. He rarely does.
The Cook recipe never includes such extravagances as sweeps and paddles. His ingredients amount to the basics. Grit, resolve, determination, with just the odd boundary thrown in.
It wasn't pretty to watch but after 218 balls, the roar finally went up. With an equally gritty Collingwood at the other end, these two pushed England gradually - too gradually for some - from 155 to 297 for the fourth wicket with a review or two their only threat.
And if South Africa's last pair, Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini, hadn't added 58 runs to push their total on to 343, England would been just about past them at tea with seven wickets to spare and a result on the cards.
As it is, knowing the light and tropical storms around these parts, this one's headed for a draw unless the pitch turns suddenly demonic.
There were fallow periods. At the end of day two, Cook had scored 8 out of 58 when captain Andrew Strauss raced past 50 and fell to the excellent Morne Morkel.
This morning, he scored just one run off his first 37 balls. But this is Test cricket. And England are starting to look the better side at the longest form of the game, having already won the One-Day series here. Not bad on foreign soil, in vastly changeable conditions.
And what of Collingwood, who, like Cook, averages around 43 in Test cricket? After his two superb knocks in Centurion, he was eventually out for 91 off 215 balls. The man is a mountain, impossible to shift, averaging over 80 in the series so far.
And then there's Bell. So nervous at Centurion, but looking great today, justifying the selectors' decision not to drop him for Ryan Sidebottom or Luke Wright. He got on with it, tearing into the weary South Africans after Cook went and crashing Harris for a masterful six. Neat and stylish, he ended the day on 55 not out off a more brisk 84 balls with Matt Prior, who could also do with some runs, on 11 not out at the other end. Great stuff.
But Cook will be the story in the morning papers. He was 25 on Christmas Day and became the youngest ever England player to pass 50 caps this week. Ten tons in 50 outings ain't bad. Once more, he looks the man born to captain, the lead when the going gets tough.
Truth is, I missed most of Cook's determined innings, went off to see the new Moses Madhiba World Cup stadium (above) about a mile away from Kingsmead, next to the impressive old King's Park rugby stadium.
There were long queues for the cable car which sails over the arch - why didn't Wembley think of that? - and plenty of people taking the stadium tour. Pity England aren't playing here... though they could face a World Cup quarter-final in Durban if they don't win Group C.
Durban would make a perfect Olympic Venue. Kingsmead (25,000), King's Park (55,000) and the Moses Madhiba (60,000) are all within a mile of eachother, centred around the fairly new railway station. There is also a small athletics stadium, a old velodrome and indoor and outdoor swimming stadiums, plus two fabulous golf courses, one inside the magnificent Greyville racecourse. All within spitting distance of eachother.
The regatta could take place just over the road, with the beach volleyball on North Beach, where they are building a walkway to the football stadium 400m away.
Incredible. And in winter - June/July - the climate here is perfect. Warm enough to swim in the sea but not so hot you need sunscreen.
Worth considering, especially with the new Airport at La Mercy opening early in March. Then they'll have two international airports, one each end of this tropical city, where monkeys still leap from the roadside trees.
Miles of beaches and huge hotels, game parks and waterfalls all around. The local Zulus always have a smile and provide superb service, the huge local Asian population help make the commerce zing. The new Ushaka development has transformed the rough end of Durban around the docks at Point Road. I could go on...
Olympic paradise. Trust me.

At that juncture of the east and south stands at Kingsmead, the Barmy Army are dominating the sparse South African platoons... Jimmy Saville - real name Vic Flower - apparently fully recovered from the Boxing Day assault mentioned here yesterday. The Natal Mercury, the local morning paper I worked for from 1980 to 1983 - were on the phone three times yesterday about the story and ran it on their front page today.

Who needs newspapers when you've got my blog! That said, I'm off to the pool. It's hot!

1 comment:

  1. Congrats to Cook. He justified his place in the team. Feel sorry for Collingwood. And finally Bell showed that he may give sleepless nights to the opposition if he starts ringing.