ENGLAND received a significant blow to their chances of winning the Test series in South Africa this morning when the hosts confirmed the world’s top all-rounder Jacques Kallis has declared himself fit for Centurion tomorrow.
Day one of the first Test would have been far more comfortable for Andrew Strauss’s men had Kallis’s rib injury ruled him out, but it appears a programme of oxygen-chamber treatment has been enough to get South Africa’s key man ready in a four-match series they need to win 2-0 to return to the top of the world rankings.
The good news? Kallis (left) may only be able to bat and there are signs of tension within the South African camp over the call up of paceman Friedel de Wet on standby for Kallis or Dale Steyn, South Africa’s highest ranked bowler.
Mike Procter, the former Gloucestershire all-rounder and current head of selectors here, sent opening bat Alvrio Petersen, all-rounder Ryan McLaren and – much to chagrin of coach Mickey Arthur – paceman Wayne Parnell back to their provinces today after yet another stormy afternoon in Centurion.
Despite allegations in this week’s Johannesburg Sunday Times that he didn’t see eye to eye with Procter over the selection of De Wet, Arthur said: "We are happy with the state of readiness of all squad members to play in the first Test on Wednesday. Both Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn should be fit to take their places.
"We are keeping Friedel de Wet on standby as a like-for-like replacement for Dale. There is always the chance with bowlers that Dale could wake up on the morning of the match with a recurrence of his hamstring problem and we don't want to have to scramble around for a last-minute replacement."
Procter defended his choice of De Wet ahead of Parnell insisting: "Friedel had a good season last year and I've seen him bowl recently on some pretty flat tracks at East London and at Johannesburg so he's a player worth looking at and we'll see what comes out of it.”
If Kallis can’t bowl and Steyn’s hamstring is still dodgy, De Wet could be a vital part of the South African attack next to Makhaya Ntini, the near-legendary seamer who makes his 100th Test appearance on Wednesday.
Despite yesterday’s broadside from England’s Stuart Broad, suggesting the South Africans may be a little rusty after three months without Test cricket, Ntini – who became the first black man to play for South Africa against Sri Lanka at Newlands in 1998 aged 20 - insisted: "Of course we favourites. We are on our home grounds and will have a lot of support."
Ntini, hoping to add to the 388 Test wickets which have put him 11th best in the history of Test cricket, insists: “Guys these days are not working hard enough to take their chances. They don’t have to work as hard as I did. It would be nice to see black cricketers given more opportunities – and taking them.
“They are not hungry enough to do well. They play one or two games and think they are part and parcel of the team. When I started out, I was the fifth choice. I took advice and practiced to get in the team.”
But turning to England without his old foe Andrew Flintoff, he said: "They've lost one of their major players in Freddie. He was the one who made a huge impact. Losing the pillar of the team means we have a better chance - because he was always the guy that intimidated us.'' England appear to be injury free after the early spate of problems on tour. James Anderson and Stuart Broad, who have both snubbed the IPL circus once more, looked lethal out in the middle yesterday after shoulder and knee problems.
After Broad’s rousing rallying cry (see below), the only England player under the weather – and it’s pretty bad weather here – is Yorkshire leg spinner Adil Rashid.
He was given a tough time in the nets by Kevin Pietersen and the big hitters at Pretoria University and that was followed by the news that uncapped Kent off-spinner James Tredwell has been called up to the Test squad, leaving Rashid to languish in the Performance Programme squad. Tredwell will make his debut on Wednesday if the in-form, full-of-life Graeme Swann has a recurrence of his back injury.
Coach Andy Flower said: “Graeme’s injury is improving and we expect him to be available for Wednesday. But with a further three Tests to come after Centurion we have decided that we need a ‘like for like’ replacement on hand for Graeme should this be required later in the tour.” While Rashid has been struggling with bat and ball Tredwell made 70 for the Performance squad against Nashua Titans President’s Xl last week.
Oh... and my blog on Stuart Broad yesterday was the back page lead on the London Evening Standard yesterday... see