Sunday, 3 January 2010

Swann bounces back as England's initial fears - AB and JP - are dispelled

GRAEME SWANN recovered from an embarrassing dropped catch in the second over of day one to give England the edge over South Africa at Cape Town today.
Swann snatched two wickets in two balls to reduce the hosts to 183-5 at tea, with dangerman AB De Villiers soon followed by the duckulent JP Duminy as initials passed quicker than the bad weather at Newlands.
Duminy is pure gold for England at the moment, requiring just two balls to complete his last two innings against the Nottinghamshire pair of Stuart Broad and Swann.
England, 1-0 up in the four-match series, were just starting to labour as the rain which delayed the start gave way to another fine day at the tip of Africa (see picture and compare to last entry).
The extended tea session had looked like going South Africa's way as Jacques Kallis, who averages 65 in Tests at the home of his Cape Cobras, was joined by De Villiers.
England dominant then after Andrew Strauss won the toss - his seventh in nine - and decided to bowl as the covers went on... and off... and on... and off.
Play eventually got underway half-an-hour after the scheduled 10.30am start, and England simply carried on where the left off in Durban, where they won the Boxing Day Test by an innings and 98 runs.
Jimmy Anderson struck in the first over, Matt Prior taking the catch behind to remove the out-of-form opener for a duck. Graham Onions had captain Graeme Smith playing a terrible shot in the next over with the hosts at 1-1 - but then came Swann's most awkward moment of the series so far.
Standing in for Paul Collingwood - fielding at fine leg despite the dislocated left index finger he picked up in Durban - at second slip, Smith's edge flew straight into Swann's midriff... and the Man of the Match from both the first and second Tests spilled the catch.
It was a dreadful moment for a man on top of his game right now. Round the back of the pavilion, I actually saw England taking Michael Carberry through some slip fielding routines. Hampshire's Carberry was flown over last week as cover for Collingwood... raising disturbing questions: what's wrong with the non-playing squad members like Ryan Sidebottom, Luke Wright and Adil Rashid? And do they think Collingwood - who took a record-equalling four catches in the slips at Centurion - is even irreplaceable as a fielder? Can he really bat a week after dislocating that finger?
Smith survived until lunch, making Swann feel worse and worse but at the other end Onions got rid of Amla for 14 before the first interval, lbw after the bearded one had survived a review appeal for what looked like a catch behind.
Fortunately, Smith - who has won one toss in 11 with the coin, perhaps he keeps his luck for batting - didn't last long after lunch, falling to the old Anderson/Prior combination for 30. But from 51-3 South Africa began the recovery process with the stubborn Kallis and the stylish De Villiers making it look easy as the skies cleared and the world seemed a brighter place on the magnificent slopes of Table Mountain.
With the home fans settling in for a length recovery England turned to Swann for the first time after lunch, but unusually he failed to take a wicket with his first over, a feat he's managed four times in this series.
But in the 42nd over of the day, Swann's eighth, the tide turned. De Villiers, apparently out twice in one Swann ball on an earlier review of a caught behind/stumping, came down the wicket to Swann and chipped the ball straight in to Strauss's hands at silly mid-on. He was looking good too, capable of lifting his side out of the mire with 36 off 60 balls before the rush of blood to the head ended a partnership worth 76 with Kallis.
Poor old Duminy, bowled first ball by Broad as South Africa collapsed at Kingsmead last week, got a snorter. Swann decided to come around the wicket, the ball kicked nastily and Duminy got the nick, taken gleefully by Prior. Suddenly it was 127-5 and England, 1-0 up in the series, were back on top thanks to Swann, who now has 16 wickets in the series.
Kallis continued to defy England, just as he did when he scored a ton in the first Test, and by tea he had moved on to 55 off 117 with wicketkeeper Mark Boucher (37 off 57, including three consecutive fours off Swann) in support.
As the South African journalists said when these two came together. This is their best pairing, even at five down. They've put on 57 together for the sixth wicket. England need another breakthrough. Soon. Think Swann.

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