Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas in Durban, is the force with Luke Wright?

NO rest for the wicket on Christmas Day. There we were, the hardiest of journalistic souls, down at Kingsmead at 8.30am English time, 10.30 local time... and the England team bus was just pulling after the short trip from the hotel in Umhlanga.
While most of England were nestled all snug in their beds and visions of sugar plums danced in their heads, we were offering Xmas greetings to the squad preparing for the Boxing Day Test in Durban tomorrow.
Immediate discussion centred on the team huddle. Alastair Cook was given a bit of a roar, but then it's his birthday. Funnily enough, the uncapped all-rounder Luke Wright was also singled out for collective appreciation.
And immediately we were wondering: is Wright being lauded for winning his first cap, drafted in for the out-of-form Ian Bell, so woeful at No6 in the drawn first Test in Centurion?
Does this mean England, rather than playing another seamer in Ryan Sidebottom, will take the middle role of a batsman who can bowl?
We shall find out tomorrow, around 9.30am local time, 7.30am in England, though coach Andy Flower seemed to suggest he was supportive of Bell and England would stick with an unchanged side.
Wright looked charged up during Christmas Day training though - but then the entire squad has looked lively in practice on this tour. Little wonder. The losing team of four in the fielding disciplines were subjected to a unique torture. Five England players, including the squealing Alastair Cook, were forced to bend over and have the bowling machine, operated mostly by Paul Collingwood, fire real cricket balls at them from 30 yards. Whatever gets you going on Christmas Day I guess!
Next to the loud England warm-ups, South Africa's pace bowlers were going through their paces on a strip next to the dangerous-looking track being prepared for the Test.
Dale Steyn looks set to play, though his hamstring stiffened up late to rule him out of the first Test at the last minute. Will he come in for Makhaya Ntini, who won his 100th cap in Centurion, or for Friedel De Wet, the debutant who nearly destroyed England with the new ball? Or perhaps Morne Morkel, who bowled as well as either of them and can bat a bit?
Again, we shall have to wait until the morning to find out.
But I popped over to speak to Ntini anyway, offering Christmas wishes from the England press corps. "And to you sir," he said in his disarming Xhosa way, and we went on to discuss his room in the Hilton Hotel ("You can see it from here," he said, "On the 12th floor," and then we discussed local football. Lovely fellow. Hope he plays, though there are political considerations surrounding his selection.
After training it was off to Ballito Bay for lunch with the dozen-strong Living With The Lions tour party, brilliantly led by local lad Brett. Great lunch, swam in my underpants, walk on the beach and back to the Hilton for a swim in the evening rain.
And so to tomorrow's great showdown. The only problem? Persistent drizzle again here in mid-summer. And it's been that way for weeks apparently. This one could be a damp squib... either way, given the state of the pitch, the cloud and the conditions, I wouldn't like to bat first tomorrow.

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