Friday, January 1, 2010

Durban Legend

And England lived happily ever after. Or, untill the next test, anyway.

There was something of the fairytale about England's innings win over
South Africa in the 2nd test at Durban. Alistair Cook and Ian Bell,
fighting for their lives, produced as fine centuries in the
circumstances as you'll see, before the golden boy Broad joined up
with jester Graeme Swann to send the hosts packing.
Cook's century may not have had the fluency and flair of those of his
early days, but for a man who has endured such a torrid time of late
as he, it was his most valuable. He proved his worth, showing a
patience and calm he will need if he's to hold on to his opening slot
and the vice-captaincy. With 7 centuries before turning 23, Cook had
only made two in the past two years, and the Durban ton will live long
in his memory. Not only did he get his international career back on
track; he set England up for a truly momentous victory.

Ian Bell, meanwhile, has always shown his class at the crease.
Unfortunately, this tends to manifest itself as a classy 25 before
being bowled. He has all the shots, and when he's got a bit of
confidence he's a beautiful batsman to watch. His 140 drove South
Africa into the ground, getting England comfortably over the 500 mark.
Before the match, I would never in a million years have played him,
but Andy Flower gave him his support and was rewarded.

What did South Africa do wrong? They did little right. Their first
innings of 343 flattered them somewhat; Dale Steyn swashbuckled around
at the end to lift them over 300, but before that, only Smith and
Kallis really showed their mettle. As for their bowling: I wrote last
week that I hoped Ntini was in the team on more than sentimentality -
it doesn't look like it. Whether Arthur decides to go back to Friedel
de Wet, so nearly the hero in the first test, or recall Wayne Parnell
or Ryan McLaren I don't know, but I can't see Makhaya picking up a
102nd cap.

England's only worry ahead of the match is Paul Collingwood's fitness.
He scored 91 at Durban, continuing his fine form of the tour. If he
does fail to pass the medical, Flower is set to hand Michael Carberry
his first cap, sticking to the batsmen/bowling balance of the team. I
know it's worked for them so far, but I just don't trust an attack
with such limited options - if Collingwood's medium pace is gone as
well, Strauss doesn't have much to turn to when Swann and Broad aren't
on the money.

Andy Flower has proved me wrong at every turn so far, so let's see if
he continues this form into the test at Newlands. South Africa have
won 14 of 18 tests at the ground, and they badly need a win, but you
get the feeling they're nervous. It's going to take a century from
Smith or Kallis to steady the innings, and Steyn's going to have to
find his fearsome bowling to rattle England's cage.

One thing is sure - Strauss won't let his team get complacent. He
knows he has a golden opportunity to follow up the Ashes with just as
big a feather in his cap; let's see if he can.

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