Sunday, 20 December 2009

Closing overs, Day Five: Why the Trott/KP partnership hurt so much for South Africa

STRANGE isn’t it? Two men playing against the country of their birth are so determined to resist in front of their former compatriots. And the two Englishmen we saw early today, James Anderson and Alastair Cook, produced a couple of airy-fairy shots to go and sit comfortably in the shade of the dressing-room while the heat is on.

At tea Jonathan Trott (53 off 148 balls) and Kevin Pietersen (80 off 136) had pushed England from 27-3 to 169-3, an unbroken partnership of 142. Safety looms, though Pietersen ran himself out for 81 an over after the second interval and Trott was brilliantly caught by, one-handed by AB De Villiers at first slip off Friedel De Wet for 61 - and went of nursing a bruised thumb from a superb, rising delivery, the 212th Trott received.

That leaves two lilly-white Englishmen, Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell, who left a straight one in the first innings, to see out the last 13 overs of the fifth day to ensure a drawn first Test with the score 209-5.

But what British stiff-upper-lip Trott and Pietersen displayed! What true English blitz spirit! And of course, they're both South African reared.

Nightwatchman Anderson, judging by his twitter this morning, was more intent on getting back to find a television by lunch-time. He said: “Huge day today. Wolves v Burnley 1.30pm.”

After Andrew Strauss’s departure last night, Anderson and Cook were out in the first hour with just 27 on the board, 336 still needed. All looked lost, a growing Sunday crowd were having their time in the sun. Then Cape Town-born Trott got his head down and was joined by Pietermaritzburg-born Kevin Pietersen and the resistance grew. And grew.

As I wandered around this magnificent ground, all grass banks, paddling pools and beer, the South Africans were getting remarkably uptight. About 10,000 of them have disturbed their traditional pre-Christmas Sunday braai (or barbecue) to witness England, the old enemy around these parts, crushed.

Instead they were forced to witness two of their own, batting proudly for queen and country, soaking up the pressure and pushing England towards a draw. In their charming double-storey executive boxes, which look like Victorian houses, and on their picnic blankets, I recognise the words from the bearded men as they see yet another appeal turned down. Bitter words. Angry phrases from a near-forgotten childhood.

It’s not hard to understand their discomfort. The Afrikaans curses shouted loudly across the ground are understandable. In short: Centurion, once known as Verwoerdburg, lies next to Pretoria, the heart of Afrikanerdom. They were never too keen on the “rooineks” (red necks) here. Not since we built a concentration camp in nearby Irene, about a mile away, during the Boer War 110 years ago and left the local populace in small-pox infected misery. Okay, it's ancient history to most, but the vast graveyard and memorial, next to Irene Primary School, is barely a six-hit away. It holds the graves of the 1,149 mostly women and children who died there.

So this is no fun for the folks gathered here, large people, large appetites, large opinions. And not all of them modern, democratic thinkers. Things have changed, the nation is rainbow-coloured, but the last thing they need is for two turncoats from the coastal regions to push this game beyond South Africa’s reach. I’m amazed they’ve been so gentle on this pair, considering.

The South Africans on the field are little happier. Even Jacques Kallis, supposedly not allowed to bowl because of the rib he fractured in October, demanded a go at this pair. And he got nowhere. At tea he had figures of 3-1-5-0. And the misery goes on for the locals.

Early on, things were unpleasant for England and their tiny Barmy Army after the first overnight rain of this sun-soaked Test. The ball was flying around, it was pleasantly cool for the fielding side. But Anderson, who gloved Friedel de Wet to Mark Boucher 13 balls into day five, produced an avoidable dismissal.

The gormless Cook followed soon afterwards, caught by South African captain Graeme Smith at gully off Paul Harris. What is the point of Cook? He's earmarked to captain the side in Bangladesh on their next tour but hasn't got to 50 since Lord's against the Australians. He looks good, sounds good... but he's no Test opener at the moment. He looked terrified coming out to bat last night.

The irrepressible Graeme Swann, whose five wickets and Test-best 85 carried his side through the first three days of this Test, twittered a more positive: “Three things I want to see today. Jimmy get a fifty, Cookie a hundred and the Toon smash the Smoggies.”

Only the last of those is now a realistic option. For our foreign readers the words “Toon smash the Smoggies” constitute a Geordie phrase roughly equivalent to “the once-great Newcastle beat never-great Middlesbrough in the second tier of English football which nobody cares about”.

Of far more importance to lovers of real football was Arsenal’s 3-0 win over those niggling, nasty men from the fires of Hull. It closes the gap on Manchester United – smashed by Fulham, 3-0 (yes, that's 3-0) – and extends the lead over Liverpool – beaten 2-0 by bottom club Portsmouth (yes, that's 2-0).

Which just leaves Chelsea to lose to West Ham today, just after this absorbing Test draws to a close this afternoon. And yes, it’s all true. Mark Hughes is gone despite yesterday’s goal-happy 4-3 win over Sunderland which left Manchester City handily placed in sixth. His replacement? Roberto Mancini. So that means City are are in trouble.

And is my precious book, A GAME APART. It was published two days ago. Sales have reached a feverish 14 in two days despite emails to all my mates, constant blogging and attempts to bring people into my web-site with pathetic twittering. My wife threatens to cut people's hair badly in her salon if they won't buy.

But it isn't working. Please help. Behind me, the Johannesburg Star's Kevin McCallum sold 40,000 copies of his sports trivia book. I need 39,986 of you to help. It's the book you must read before the World Cup. If you want. It's not expensive. My wife liked it. Just go to

1 comment:

  1. Neal, had it not been for the contribution from Kevin McCallum's co-author, David O'Sullivan, that trivia book of his would have sold just three copies. Just thought you should know. From David O'Sullivan.