Friday, 18 December 2009

Game on! Swann and Anderson keep England in the Test

FORGET all the bickering about Stuart Broad falling victim to the controversial Umpire Decision Referral System. And ignore the fact that Ian Bell produced perhaps the worst leave in the history of Test cricket to be bowled by a straight onItalice.

Let’s concentrate instead on the record-breaking ninth wicket partnership between Graeme Swann and Jimmy Anderson (right) which left these cocky, sun-burnt South Africans tearing their bleached hair out. At the close on day three of the first Test, the unhappy hosts were 9-1 after facing four overs – a lead of just 71 with the heroic Anderson bowling Ashwell Prince for a duck off an inside edge in the first over of their second innings. Magnificent. And the Barmy Army in full voice: “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy Anderson...”

When Swann, England’s best player every day so far, and Anderson got together, Broady had just been given the electronic finger by television umpire Amiesh Saheba. ‘Real’ umpire Aleem Dar gave the Nottinghamshire paceman not out when he was rapped on the pads by the innocuous slow bowling of JP Duminy with England teetering on 242-7, 176 runs behind.

The South Africans had a chat and 34 seconds later, they decided to appeal – and Broad was gone, a victim of Hawkeye, 242-8. Furious, he appealed to the umpires but high in the stands, it was television official Amiesh Saheba who needed a talking to.

And Broad did exactly that – he had what is best described as an “animated chat” with Saheba and match referee Roshan Mahanama in the television decision room. Stuart’s dad Chris, of course, is a well-known match referee and former Test opener. Broad apparently feels the South Africans had been given a signal from the dressing-room after coach Mickey Arthur had seen the replay, which may not be in the spirit of the rules.

By then, England’s hopes of getting within a hundred of South Africa’s 418 looked all but over. But Swann – who has been known to open the batting for Notts in Twenty20 thrashes - and regular nightwatchman Anderson obviously hadn’t been told that. From 242-8 they took England to the undreamt of heights of 348-9. Incredible.

Their partnership, which endured and flourished despite the taking of the new ball, represents the best ever penultimate pairing on this ground and for Swann, it was a Test best.

Anderson was finally out, miscueing one to Morne Morkel at mid-on off Ntini, for 29, just three short of his Test best, having survived 78 balls and hit a memorable six. The partnership, also England’s best for the ninth wicket against South Africa, was worth 106 in 23 overs at an astonishing rate of 4.54 an over, rapid for this Test.

And then, with Swannie on 81 not out at the other end, last man Graham Onions thrashed Ntini for four off his fourth ball. Great stuff! It couldn’t last though. Swann – on a career best 85 off 81 balls - was chasing it and finally put Harris into Graeme Smith’s grateful hands at deep mid-wicket.

Suddenly, the Test wasn’t quite over, the lead was down to 62.

There were snorts of derision when Bell left a straight one from Paul Harris, assuming he might actually turn the ball. It just went straight on and bowled him. Harris ended with five wickets when he got Swannie at last. And he’s more Ashley Giles than Muttiah Muralitharan, this fellow.

The once-docile first Test pitch, which allowed the home side to plod along to 418, initially gave way to a day-three demon which claimed captain Andrew Strauss just seven overs into the morning session, having added just two runs to his impressive overnight 44.

It was drinks all round as Makhaya Ntini, on his 100th appearance, got one to zip through low beneath Strauss’s desperate defence to rattle the furniture. Sponsors Castle lager are offering a free beer to everyone in the ground when Ntini takes a wicket. The Barmy Army were first in the queue, despite their chronic disappointment.

Suddenly the ease with which Strauss and Trott added 63 in 17 overs last night was forgotten. Ntini ran to sun-soaked fans, arms raised. His 389th wicket puts him one closer to Shaun Pollock’s South African record of 421 Test victims. Not a bad morning for South Africa’s first black cricketer, who had earlier received a congratulatory letter from Nelson Mandela, the former President who brought peace to this nation and added colour to their sports teams in 1993. But he had to wait all day for number 390 when he finally got Anderson.

Following Johannesburg-born Strauss’s departure, Pietermaritzburg-born Pietersen came out to join Cape Town-born Trott. The only non-South African on the field? Harris, born in Salisbury, Rhodesia, now known as Harare, Zimbabwe.

Pietersen got a remarkably gentle welcome from the Centurion fans. The lack of boos was probably down to the free-flowing booze being handed out to the gathering of about 5,000.

Trott and Pietersen did their best to handle the conditions, surviving the odd shooter but looking distinctly uncomfortable until the arrival of the very ordinary spinner Harris.

Then Trott made the mistake of thinking Harris could turn the ball. He charged down the pitch, took a huge heave allowing for spin... and the ball simply kept dead straight and caught the top of his leg stump.

Just as Pietersen was getting into his stride. Morkel got one to nip, got an inside edge... and Pietersen was bowled for 40.

Worse was to follow. Ian Bell, who should have made way for all-rounder Luke Wright or seamer Ryan Sidebottom here, chose to shoulder arms to a straight one. Once more he must have assumed Harris actually turns the ball. It didn’t deviate, it just went straight on into the stumps. Fool!

Harris must have thought Christmas had come early when, after facing 34 balls and scoring four runs, Matt Prior finally decided to have a go and popped one into the hands of Friedel de Wet.

And Harris’s tally went to four when, an over later, he actually turned one and Jacques Kallis took the catch at first slip to dismiss Paul Collingwood for a fine 50 off 87 balls as England slumped to 221-7.

The review system put paid to Stuart Broad’s resistance. He went for 17 and Duminy, another average bowler, had his first wicket. But it didn’t end there. Swann and Anderson came together and made the so-called batsmen look silly with a range of shots which made the pitch look oh-so-easy.

And there was still time to take that vital South African wicket at the end. Game on.

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