Thursday, 7 January 2010

Onions snatches another draw from the jaws of defeat... at the drop of a bat

OH the drama, the tension, the pure nerve-jangling horror of that last hour at Newlands today as England held on desperately for a miraculous draw in Cape Town.

And as the pulse rate slows, it’s official. Graham Onions is now the best No11 batsman in Test cricket, based purely on raw nerve. He can snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat at the drop of a bat.

Another fantastic Test match, more last-gasp drama... and England go to the Wanderers for the final clash on Thursday 1-0 up. Unbeatable stuff. And all watched by a record 79,375 over five ridiculously sunny days in Cape Town.

You lot back in the snow will live to regret that time in early December when you decided not to come out here and watch this series. What a team Andrew Strauss has got. More spine than anybody’s seen in an England side for a long, long time. And the drink’s cheap, the hotels are clean, the sun always shines. I digress.

After four hours of stoic resistance from Paul Collingwood (pictured) and Ian Bell, there were 17 overs to play when the Durham man was out for 40 after four hours and 37 minutes of quite heroic defiance.

Dale Steyn with the new ball today was quite simply magnificent – but the world’s No1 Test bowler was unable to waggle a wicket when it mattered with the new ball. Instead it was JP Duminy who struck to end the sixth wicket partnership, which lasted 127 runs and 57 overs. Duminy got one to turn and Jacques Kallis took the catch at first slip to a huge roar from another near-sell-out crowd.

I’d warned all day that Duminy was the real spinner in this team. Unlike their specialist slow bowler Paul Harris, JP actually turns the ball, and the groundsman here, Evan Flint, had said before play began this morning that this track would be a spinner’s wicket on the final day.

Duminy proved the point again two overs later, having Matt Prior caught at very silly mid off by AB De Villiers for four off just nine balls. Suddenly England were 278-7 with 15 overs to negotiate. Gulp.

Out strode Stuart Broad, and there I was reminding all the South Africans he’d been an England Under15 opening bat until he grew six inches in height and turned to pace bowling in his late teens.

Broadie survived his first over from Duminy. Just. His sixth ball from the local hero got stuck under the bat and popped into the hands of Harris at silly point. Up they went, wicket number eight – but no fickle finger from the umpire and on review it was inconclusive. Was it a bump ball or a half volley? Depends which country you support.

Broadie looked a little guilty but survived... and two overs later he was at it again, popping one up to the six-strong inner circle. Graeme Smith and Harris clashed heads in their efforts to get the ball in hand. Both were left on the floor. Broad grinned sheepishly and stood his ground.

But it couldn’t last. Harris eventually got him with a perfect ball which popped off a length and hit the glove on the way through to De Villiers. He stayed for a silly review of an obvious decision and departed to be replaced by his Nottinghamshire team-mate Graeme Swann with 20 balls left. Oops, 286-8. What a finish.

Swanny defused some of the tension by swatting a poor Harris ball for four. Yes, off his first ball. Two slips, two silly points, a leg slip, a leg gully and a short leg but off it went to the boundary. A sigh of relief. Swannie wouldn’t let us down, he’s had a hell of a series with the bat and the ball.

But at the other end, there was Bell, imperious, superb in the last two Tests after his stuttering start in the drawn Test at Centurion. In Durban, his 140 ensured victory by an innings. Here, he scored a vital first innings 41 and with four overs to come, he calmly put Harris to the fence to move to 78. What a man. How could we ever have doubted the Sherminator?

But then the big, big moment. Smith turned to Morkel for one last blast with three overs to play. And for once in 286 minutes, the Warwickshire warrior had a nibble at one outside the off stump – and it flew to a gleeful Smith. Gone for 78, 213 balls, but why did he play it?

In Centurion, the last pair were left with 19 balls to negotiate. Here it was 17. This time Graeme Onions came out to join a recently arrived Swann rather than a bedded-in Collingwood.

Surely they couldn’t make it again? Morkel charged in, Onions kept him out. Again and again. Then Steyn comes on from the other end, but pulls up with the old hamstring after his first ball. After a bit of treatment from the physio, he hurls another one down at Swann... who pushes him comfortably for two.

With texts and emails from all over the world hailing another fantastic Test between these two warring rivals, Swannie took another comfortable two off the next one. And then got a bouncer for his troubles. And another. Silly Steyn. Two wasted deliveries. Swannie’s plan entirely. At 296-9 we were still 170 short of the victory target, but that had been long forgotten.

Down to the last over from Morkel, who has been superb throughout this series. His 28th over but he’s only showing 1-51 on the scoreboard. Been unlucky all day. Onions to face. Six balls from another glorious draw.

“Bunny” may have left the first. Or did it go right through him? Morkel raises his arms but no, no edge. Onions plays the second competently. Durham’s finest No11 bat has been here before. He looks calm, and digs out a perfect Yorker. Even the South Africans in the press box yell “well played”. Incredible.

Three to go. Slower ball this time. Yorker length. Perfectly played. He bats nine for Durham this lad, who told us in Centurion: “It’s not like oop north in the sun here”.

Drama on the penultimate ball. They all go up... except wicketkeeper Mark Boucher, who takes the catch. The umpire is unmoved, so is Onions. Predictably, they ask for a review. Not out, touched his shirt on the way through. The South Africans are, as they say around these parts, having kittens.

Last ball. Can England do it again? Yes. It’s just outside the off stump. Onions leaves it, then turns to raise a clenched fist to the dressing room. Yes! A draw in our time! We go to Johannesburg unbeatable!

Captain Strauss said: “We started today outsiders to get the draw. Paul and Ian played exceptional innings, got us so close to the line. But just when we started thinking we’d got there, South Africa came back at us. Credit to them.

“Graham Onions is a legend. We keep asking our No11 to do it for us and he’s done it again. We didn’t come here to draw a series. We go to Johannesburg focused on winning the Test match. We’re delighted to get away with a draw.”

South Africa captain Graeme Smith got the man of the match award despite Bell’s efforts for England, for his 183 in the second innings. He said: “Look, I think it will probably take a day or two to get over that. We were under pressure going into this Test match.

“We really fought hard, played positive cricket. We just weren’t able to throw that final punch. Credit to Collingwood and Bell. It’s been a great Test but we never had the knock-out blow.

“Dale’s okay, bit of wear and tear. Friedel De Wet has a back injury and hasn’t recovered from that. But credit to the guys, they gave 100 percent. We just weren’t good enough to get over the line, we’ve done that twice in this series.

“Look, if we win the last Test, we’ll draw the series and still hang on to the trophy.”

In front of another huge crowd — the 17,000-capacity Newlands ground was sold out for the first four days and is 14,364 today for a record five-day tally of 79,375 — the tourists lost nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson (nine) and locally-born Jonathan Trott (42) in the morning session. But Collingwood and Bell survived everything the hosts could throw at them to guide England deep into the final session without further loss.

With time running out, England were 255 for five — 211 behind the hosts with an estimated 23 overs of this absorbing contest to come. They lost seven wickets in the final session in the opening drawn Test in Centurion when the new ball was used, so there were always lingering doubts.

Defeat here would have squared the series at 1-1 going into next Thursday’s final Test at the Wanderers high-altitude Johannesburg, making South Africa favourites to clinch victory in this fascinating 20-day tug-of-war. As it is, England will fly inland on Sunday knowing they can’t lose.
England’s so-called chase — they needed 466 runs off 146 overs when South African captain Graeme Smith declared yesterday before tea — was never really on. But with Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook falling after a promising century-strong opening partnership last night and Kevin Pietersen joining them soon afterwards, even the chances of surviving for a draw looked anorexcally slim.
Resuming at their overnight 132 for three, Anderson — out here for his first ever golden duck in the first innings — survived for 45 minutes.
But he fell to the eternally fortunate arris, the non-spinning spinner, whose awful full toss was kept down by Anderson but it came off the boot and was brilliantly caught by Ashwell Prince, diving one-handed to his right.
Anderson departed for nine, but he’d done his job, batting 52 balls and supporting Trott for an hour to leave England on 153 for four.
Collingwood arrived but almost suffered a quick exit. His first ball from Harris hit something and was snapped up in the slips. The entire South African cordon went up, demanding the departure of England’s most stubborn resistor.
New Zealand umpire Tony Hill gave it out but Collingwood immediately called for a review.
Without hot-spot technology or the snickometer stump microphone, there was no evidence of a touch as the ball went through to hit his hip. The decision went in Collingwood’s favour. Gamesmanship by the hosts? Did they really hear something? Hard to tell.
But in the light of their ball-tampering allegations that apparently orchestrated appeal wasn’t quite what you’d call cricket either.
Seven overs later, the world’s top ranked Test bowler Dale Steyn, now fully recovered from the hamstring injury which forced him out of the drawn First Test in Centurion last month, worked his 90mph magic.
Trott, on 42 from 99 deliveries full of fiddling and marking his crease, saw his off-stump go flying as Steyn produced a touch of nip from the seam and squeezed the ball between bat and pad to leave England tottering on 160 for five.
Bell then joined Collingwood and the pair began the arduous task of trying to steady the England ship surviving a testing period as the hosts reached 179 for five at lunch.
The Durham man, suffering from a bad back all tour and the left index finger he dislocated during the wonderful win in Durban last time out, reached the break scoring a mere eight runs off 51 balls amid echoes of Cardiff and Centurion, where he was integral in carrying his side to safety. At the other end, Bell was almost belligerent scoring 12 off 27 up to lunch to frustrate the South Africans.
Before Christmas, Bell was considered something of a liability. But that superb match-securing 140 in Durban followed by a careful 48 in the first innings here makes him the one of the form batsmen — and with South Africa stuck out in the sun all day, the chances of a courageous draw were growing by the over.
Seamer Friedel de Wet – controversially drafted in to replace Makhaya Ntini, the 101-cap legend of black South Africa — needed an injection in his buttock for a muscle spasm before play and was bowling well below his normal pace.

After lunch, South Africa turned to Morkel for the new ball. He has been head-and-shoulders above the rest of the attack throughout this series and took five in the first innings here. At the other end Steyn, bowling like an express train gave Collingwood a torrid work out.

On another day, with a little more luck, Steyn and Morkel might have blown half a team away. But somehow Colly and Bell survived the crucial 20 overs after the new ball, defying the odds and giving England a real glimmer of hope.

At one point, the pair put on just one run in 24 balls between the 84th and 89th overs and when Collingwood picked up a four off Harris in the 101st over, it was England’s first boundary since Bell’s four off Steyn in the 83rd over – a lean period lasting 108 nerve-jangling balls.

But survive they did, and when Harris came back on in the 95th over, you could almost sense the relief. Steyn and Morkel had been magnificent, Kallis and De Wet less so. But the new ball had failed to produce the wicket South Africa so desperately needed.

In the final session, South Africa turned to twin-pronged spin, with JP Duminy joining Harris and finding some serious turn for the first time. But England’s heroic pairing simply adapted and Bell went to his 50 first, tucking Duminy away for four on the leg side after three hours and 134 balls. What a knock

At that point, with Steyn firing up again from the Wynburg end, Collingwood was on 32 off 156 balls and England were 249-5 with 26 overs to survive and looking comfortable – until the heart-stopping clatter of wickets began again with Colly, Prior, Broad and Bell. But not Onions. No, never Onions!

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