Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Last Throw of the Dice

There was more talk before this series than before a world heavyweight bout. The not so prodigal sons, KP, and Jonathan Trott returning home, Dale Steyn licking his chops at the prospect of Alistair Cook and Ian Bell, and Graeme Smith reviving his battle against Andrew Strauss.
Who would have predicted that the man to hit the headlines most would have been Graham Onions? For his batting.

Twice South Africa got England down to the last man, and twice Onions stood firm. In both matches, Paul Collingwood could be seen as the real hero, proving his mettle in tense situations. If you need a man to bat out a draw they don't come much better than Colly. When the final test gets under way however, a draw isn't in anyone's minds.

South Africa may as well go down 2-0 as 1-0, and so they've prepared a juicy pitch to give them a chance of sharing the series. The quicks haven't had the best of times in this series so far, but look out for Dale Steyn at the Wanderers. He produced some of the bowling of his life at Newlands last week but had no good fortune whatsoever, and he'll be fired up to get revenge in the last match. It looks like Wayne Parnell, hero at the Twenty20 World Cup last summer, will be joining Steyn and Morne Morkel in the pace attack, as Friedel de Wet hasn't recovered from a back strain. Parnell showed exciting promise in the short format, but he'll be desperate to prove himself in the 5-day game, if he's to battle for a spot with new boy de Wet in future series.
Paul Harris will retain his place despite disappointing figures to date, and JP Duminy's part-time spin is a factor helping him stay in the team; he's failed to fire with the bat so far, and he's got to be getting nervous.
Graeme Smith produced a magnificent captain's innings at Newlands to set South Africa up beautifully, and now that he's found his touch he'll be even more dangerous. Even with Ashwell Prince looking ropey at the top, the Proteas' batting still looks solid.

As for England. Ian Bell has defied the critics again - the four-man attack has got England this far and they've needed as many batsmen as they can get; nothing's going to change in the line-up this time. Luke Wright can consider himself unlucky not to get a run-out all series, but it looks like he could be warming the bench for a while yet. Oddly enough, Kevin Pietersen is the only man in the team who hasn't really contributed yet - and that's the sort of thing that the big man will be well aware of. He'll be desperate to deliver the goods as a final blow against his fellow countrymen, and don't be surprised if he does so.

I've said it every week - I'm still not convinced with the four-man attack, but they're ahead in the series and that's all they'll care about. Anderson and Onions will certainly be looking to get their pace up on the green Wanderers pitch, and Swann will be anxious to re=-prove himself as it deteriorates towards the later days.

This is the pitch where England went 2-4 after 17 balls, before Mike Atherton came along and batted for 7 years to make 184, so don't be surprised if Strauss wins the toss and heads for the field.
It's the last gamble for South, so it looks like it could be a game for the spectators. To cap off the series at 2-0 would be almost as big as the Ashes win in the summer, while the hosts will be desperate not to continue in their role as perpetual underachievers.

Let's sit back, relax, and give the new ball to Dale Steyn.

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