Sunday, 13 December 2009

England named team of the year by the BBC as their new challenge gets underway

ENGLAND were named team of the year at the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year awards last night for their epic Ashes triumph last summer.
The players, watching a satellite feed of the ceremony from their hotel in Sandton near Johannesburg, roared when they were handed the accolade for beating Australia, then the world's top ranked Test nation.
Captain Andrew Strauss said: "It's a truly great honour for us and the lads are chuffed to bits. It has been a long and arduous 12 months with lots of ups and downs, and we have stuck together through some pretty tough times. That, ultimately, is what got us over the line in the Ashes."
But this morning attention turns to the Test series against South Africa which starts in Centurion on Wednesday.
Two days before the first Test they are already 2-0 up – in the injury stakes.
While South Africa's wounded warriors Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn continue to struggle, England's stricken seamers Jimmy Anderson (right) and Ryan Sidebottom both arrived back at high altitude yesterday with real match time under their belts.
Coach Andy Flower's men head to the nearby University of Pretoria today for an in-the-middle training session where both Anderson and Sidebottom will be given the final all-clear to start a series which has captured the imagination here after England's shock 2-1 win in the one-day series, South Africa's first defeat on home soil since 2002.
With his baffling knee injury easing, Anderson bowled 15 overs on Saturday and took a wicket against the South African invitation eleven in East London while Sidebottom took a highly encouraging 5-42. Strauss said: "I'm not overly concerned. There is an element of risk with Jimmy, but it's a small one. Even when his knee has been hurting quite a lot, it still hasn't prevented him from bowling.
"I don't think you can be totally sure how Jimmy feels until we see how his knee settles down this week. On Saturday he bowled three spells and he didn't seem like he had any ill-effects. That is encouraging, and all the way through this tour that knee has gradually been getting better.
"We've obviously got to be confident he can up that workload even more for the Test match. We'll have to judge it pretty carefully. But at the moment, we're quite confident."
Strauss added: "Jimmy, Ryan and Graeme Swann are all bowling well but we've got to put in a bit of work in the next two days at altitude before the Test starts.
"We will have to wait to see what the conditions are like at Centurion. If it looks like there will be help for the bowlers we'll probably go in with four bowlers. We shall see.
"This first Test in crucial in a four-Test series. We've got to win this first one."
South Africa's key all-rounder Kallis, who suffered a broken rib in October, was only able to have a "gentle net" at the hosts' pre-series camp in Potchefstroom yesterday after two days in a oxygen chamber while their quickest bowler Steyn was bowling at "80 percent".
South African coach Mickey Arthur said: "There are still concerns about Dale's hamstring and Jacques’ problem. The conservative option would be to play Ryan McLaren as our all-rounder. We don't want to be in a position where the guys are uncertain on the morning of the game."
The inexperienced McLaren is no like-for-like replacement for Kallis though and with England’s top-order batsmen Alastair Cook, Strauss, Kevin Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Paul Collingwood all in form heading into the Tests, the locals fear England may have the edge on batting depth.
Former England coach Duncan Fletcher spent most of yesterday in the nets with Morne Morkel, clearly trying to improve the paceman’s durability as a late order batsman. As he wrestles over the length of his tail, Arthur admitted he could even give a debut to Alviro Petersen. Arthur said: "We have pretty much covered all bases and ultimately it will be up to us to make the right decision. First prize is a fit Jacques Kallis.
"By Wednesday we will have a very good indication of where he is. It has felt a lot better, but we won't know until we put it through proper training, bowling for spells and batting, and only then will we be able to make a decision. He spent two days in the oxygen camber and we just hope that speeds up the recovery."
South Africa need to win the series 2-0 to retake their position at the top of the world Test rankings from India but they haven’t played Test cricket for four months with Arthur lamenting: "It's about time, I'm really looking forward to getting back into Test match mode. It's where we are really challenged as a team. Fighting and attritional qualities comes through. Test cricket is still the ultimate in our dressing room."
Without Kallis though, the locals are seriously worried about a Test series they expected to win when England and their four locally-born tourists first landed for the wham-bang early stages of this tour. With the Ashes and the one-day series neatly tucked under the belts, England – ranked fifth in the world as opposed to South Africa in second – are 33-10 with the bookmakers while the hosts are 13-10 favourites.
But the way it’s rained in South Africa so far this summer – England have spent nearly half their tour watching the summer downpours – you’d have to consider the 14-10 on a draw with the sides heading to Durban on Boxing Day all square.

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