I’ve often wondered what it would be like to be incarcerated in prison, watching a favourite sporting event on TV and wistfully wishing you could be there in person.
Well, the UK Governments indiscriminate, liberty-squeezing Coronavirus tier system has given a great many of us the chance to find out, and with little else to occupy the diary I duly tuned in to the first South Africa v England T20 on Friday the 27th November from Cape Town.
Newlands looks very strange without a crowd although the view of Table Mountain is as impressive as ever. Sadly, in addition to the Castle Brewery, the view is now also marred by a construction site which promises a new restaurant for us all to use on our next visit – although God only knows when this might be. It is called ‘The Six Gun Grill’ and sounds like a venue that might be enjoyed by Tremers – but not by any of his Vegan friends!
An inauspicious start on TV with sound effects courtesy of Norman Collier, but once the toss was made and the teams announced, thankfully the sound issue was sorted and I settled down to watch some baseball.
The England T20 team now looks amazingly strong on paper, but how would it perform on grass?
After winning the toss and inserting South Africa a stodgy batting start was boosted by a profligate over by Tom Curran – now resembling a torpedo mechanic from Das Boot in looks and musculature – that was plundered for 24, putting the Saffers in the driving seat. During the run fest, to continue the U-boat theme, Faf Du Plessis had to dive, dive, dive to avoid being beheaded by a murderous straight drive from De Kock.
It shows how much the game has changed – when David Hughes hit 24 off one over for Lancashire against Gloucestershire in the Gillette Cup Semi Final in 1971, the feat was categorised as part of our “100 Greatest Sporting Moments”.
Nowadays, it is dismissed as ‘the new normal’, although I’m sure Herr Curran wouldn’t see it exactly that way. His bad day was to continue. Entrusted with the final death over, he went for a further 15 runs, taking a wicket with his last ball: although as his four overs cost a total of 55 runs, I’m sure that was scant consolation.
Reasonable batting contributions throughout, Du Plessis the highlight, and South Africa finished with a competitive 179-6. In an ironic twist, Tom Curran’s brother Sam brought his excellent IPL form with him, and was identified by the commentators as England’s best bowler. Let us hope the Surrey siblings are not rooming together!
Some spectacular views of the sunset around Table Mountain – which has the kind of tiers that most people enjoy – increased my melancholy and brought back thoughts of happier times.
However, surely this score would be well within the compass of the powerful England batting order.
Well, that view persisted for two deliveries until the out of form Roy got out for a duck to debutant spinner Linde. Our Jason needs some runs, methinks. By contrast the very much in form Dawid Malan came in and soon started to thrash gorgeous drives to the boundary. What a signing for Yorkshire and who would have guessed a couple of years ago that Malan would rise through the rankings to become the number one world rated T20 batsman? Mind you, if he had stayed at Middlesex at least our Dawid would have been able to get a pint at Christmas in Tier 2!
Non-playing Lancashire legend Jos Buttler departed in the fifth over to a horrible mistimed slog for just 7. Some brilliant work next by the Sky cameraman, who ensured that the first view of Jonny Bairstow at the crease contained not one, but a whole family of large ducks that happened to be grazing on the outfield. Was he trying to tell us something?
Jonny was not, however, next out, but instead Dawid Malan. England in trouble at 34-3 in just the sixth over. Visions of a giggling Joe Root rubbing his hands in glee a la young Michael Owen sprung to mind.
Enter the hero of Headingley, who needs no introduction, and of course has ‘form’ at Newlands – with by happy coincidence the same partner at the other end. Once more the pair prospered. A fifty stand was crafted in good time, then the ante was upped as Heinrich Klaasen came on to bowl the 13th over. Unlucky for some, he went for 14 runs, including two sixes for Stokes. Unfortunately, Stokes wicket fell in the 15th over attempting another six. 119-4 and game on.
Bairstow, now joined by Captain Reliable Morgan, went to an excellent personal fifty and continued his onslaught until the game changing 17th over was bowled by Beuran Hendricks. All manner of extras and boundaries were evident in a terrible over that seemed to last forever and went for 28 runs. The commentators described the bowling as ‘Curranesque’, which I thought was unnecessarily harsh (on Sam Curran, anyway.)
Morgan got out in the eighteenth over to give South Africa a little hope and with two overs left, and five wickets in hand, 18 runs were now required. Jonny Bairstow was still there of course, joined next by Sam Curran, who hit the fourth ball for six.
Seven runs needed off the final over with the excellent Bairstow on strike.
First ball pulled for four. Second ball launched into a heap of aggregate on the building site for six pennorth. For some reason, nobody rushed to go and fetch it.
Victory for England and a superb knock by Jonny Bairstow, who finished up with 86 not out off 48 balls. Probably his best ‘one day’ innings for England since Dunedin?
So to the next game at Boland Park, Paarl. Set in the winelands close to Cape Town.
The coverage started with sweeping panoramic views of the area. A stunning mountain range. White drostdy houses set inside vast vineyards and even a close up of grapes growing on the vine. I looked out of my bay window at the ten yard view of claustrophobic pea – soup fog and drizzle enveloping my village. It cheered me up no end. The commentators must have known my state of mind, as when Mike Atherton came on commentary Shaun Pollock immediately started ribbing him about the views from the ground compared to Manchester! Thanks, Shaun.
A brief flurry of runs at the start of the South African innings with De Kock looking dangerous, but wickets fell at regular intervals with Tom Curran taking an athletic catch to dismiss De Kock. The middle section of the innings degenerated into a crawl. Van Der Dussen held the second part of the innings together, but despite batting throughout eleven overs he didnt manage to hit a boundary at all, which is rather surprising in a T20 match. The wicket looked slow and sluggish and clearly batting conditions were far from ideal.
Eoin Morgan had kept faith with Tom Curran despite his poor showing at Newlands and he was entrusted with bowling the 18th over. He was hit for 15, which effectively allowed South Africa to compile a competitive total. The unfortunate Curran (T) would end with figures of 1-37 and I would suggest that his spot might be in jeopardy for the final fixture at Newlands given the competition for places in our side.
The boundaries at Paarl are surprisingly bigger than Newlands, making six hitting more difficult, so perhaps South Africa’s final total of 146-6 might just have caused England a problem or two.
It certainly caused Jason Roy a problem. He was almost out first ball, being lucky not to nick off with a swish outside off stump, and this triggered the commentators into heaping on the verbal pressure until Jason was finally out for an unconvincing 14 from 19 balls.
Buttler looked in better form and hit a few boundaries until he rashly chose to charge up the wicket to a ball from Shamsi which turned into his pads and bowled him for 22.
No repeat of the Bairstow heroics here. In and out in no time, Jonny was caught on the boundary attempting to hit Shamsi out of the ground.
England behind the clock at the half way stage at 59-3.
Malan and Stokes steadied the ship and in the 14th over Stokes hit Shamsi onto the grass bank for a rare six with his trademark slog sweep. Cue effusive praise from Nasser Hussein. Stokes tried the same shot next ball, hit it straight up in the air, and was caught behind. Cue much trolling of Mr Hussein from his fellow commentators especially the amusing Shaun Pollock. 83-4.
Malan then went on to show why he is so highly rated. After a slow start, he accelerated superbly with a succession of flowing boundaries and went to fifty with a straight six off Ngidi. Alas, he was expertly caught next ball attempting to repeat the shot by Reeza Hendricks, who resembled a jack-in-the-box as he jumped in and out of the boundary rope juggling the ball. Nevertheless a great innings of 55 by Malan.
Captain Morgan took England home in the final over and that was the match and series won. Easy peasy.
This game was not a classic, but there were enough talking points to hold interest. It seemed to me as the team sheets were announced that South Africa were one, or maybe two batsmen short. So it proved, as once their fifth wicket fell, the innings was becalmed as their long tail restricted their ability to take risks. England, on the other hand, fielded eleven lads who can hold a bat, and managed to hit boundaries at the right times throughout to catch up and overtake the run rate.
The final game back at Newlands on Tuesday 1st December was therefore something of a dead rubber but given the lifestyle options available, compulsory viewing nonetheless.
South Africa won the toss, and decided to bat first, the third time in this short series.
The weather in Cape Town seemed to have taken a turn for the worse which this time, reduced my envy pangs a tad. England were unchanged, which frankly surprised me. If Jofra Archer is going home after this game because he needs a rest, why wheel him out for a further taxing four overs in a dead rubber? Surely a case for giving Reece Topley a whirl to see how he performs?
A steady start by SA. First highlight – De Kock pulled Archer for six onto the building site. Despite the white ball being visible where it sat from 100 yards, a new ball was supplied – most unusual. Have the rules been changed without anyone telling us?
Jordan got rid of De Kock in the next over via a dolly catch to Tom Curran. 34-1.
Tom Curran then came on to bowl the sixth over – clever, that, with the danger man having just been dismissed. To his and everyones relief, he went for just eight runs, representing an improvement upon previous games, and including a dropped chance behind the wicket that Buttler palmed over the bar for four.
Temba Bavuma likes batting at Newlands and in the seventh over, he too hit a six into the Six-Gun Grill building site from the bowling of Rashid. Bavuma had played nicely thus far but holed out off Ben Stokes from the last ball of the 8th over. Shortly after this, a message appeared on the screen viz: “APOLOGIES FOR ANY BAD LANGUAGE ON THE COVERAGE”. It must have been in Afrikaans, because I didn’t hear anything naughty.
Hendricks was caught behind off Stokes just before the half way stage and South Africa were diluting their good start – 64-3. This brought in Strokeless Rassie, who had been unable to find the boundary at the previous game in Paarl, but he did a little better here, hitting Stokes for six off the final ball of the twelfth over. Has anyone noticed that with his helmet on, Van Der Dussen has more than a passing resemblance to a young Mike Atherton?
The next few overs were rather nondescript until Tom Curran came on to bowl the 16th. A towering straight six by Du Plessis off the first ball, a powerful pull for six off the last. Sixteen runs conceded from Currans over. Do I detect a ‘Curranesque’ trend here?
The chase was clearly afoot and even Strokeless Rassie was now in the mood, hitting Archer for six and four. Most concerningly Ben Stokes cut his hand attempting to field the latter shot and had to leave the field. Rassie, meanwhile, seemed to have been possessed by the spirit of AB De Villiers and took Archer completely to task. 22 runs off the 17th over, come back Tom Curran all is forgiven. This would prove to be Jofras most expensive over ever in T20 cricket.
The carnage continued. A massive six off Jordan’s next over. He mustn’t have liked this, as a beamer followed third ball and once again Faf Du Plessis had to dive, dive, dive. Two overs to go, South Africa now 154-3 and making a pretty good fist of it.
The 19th over was Samcurranesque. Another 17 runs plundered and during the over Du Plessis went to fifty, and the current stand to one hundred.
Meanwhile on the England balcony a mysterious sequence of coded numbers on cards were being displayed before each ball – maybe Tom Curran was supposed to decode these for his brother with an Enigma machine?
In the absence of further explanation, my guess is the message read “Come in number 58 your time is up”.
Jordan’s final over was whacked for 20, and South Africa finished on 191 for 3. The fourth wicket partnership put on 127, and in an astonishing turnabout Strokeless Rassie temporarily became the leading six hitter in the series! Incredible, but Sky denied him his moment in the sun by cutting his interview off half way through.
A very challenging total for England to chase then but a bright start, some six hitting, until Jason Roy was pinned lbw in front of his stumps by Nortje. I bet Jason is fed up with Nasser Hussein telling him how to play T20 cricket.
The marvellous Malan was in next and he creamed it from the off, overtaking Buttler in a trice. England led the run rate at the end of the power play. In the ninth over, Malan should have been run out, but De Kock, well, cocked up and fumbled the ball before he got the bails off.
Horror of horrors, it began to rain in the tenth over. Buttler must have felt right at home – just like Old Trafford, this – and WHACK he hammered Sipamla onto the building site for six and this time the ball probably plugged. A further six next ball. Twenty one off the over. England now ahead on Duckworth Lewis by my calculations.(Bollocks, you don’t understand it! Ed.)
Another swift fifty for Dawid Malan. He must get changed in a telephone box and have a girlfriend called Lois Lane. Buttler wasn’t too far behind with his fifty. A 100 run partnership from 53 balls in just the thirteenth over. All of a sudden the run rate, which had started at around ten, was looking distinctly manageable.
The England assault continued and Pommie Mbangwa raised the thorny subject of how long it would be before South Africa lost belief. “It’s not done, till it’s done!” Pommie pronounced, he must be a devotee of ‘Rocky’. Buttler and Malan seemed intent on proving that it was, in fact, done. 165-1 off just 15 overs and by this time I counted a whole box of balls had been used, so at least they all shared the pain.
The main issue now seemed to be would Malan make another T20 hundred. I was certainly cheering him on, after being fortunate enough to see his last brutal century in Napier last year in person.
Buttler brought up the 150 partnership with a crashing cover drive, and I booed loudly as the runs required were running out with Malan still needing 12 for the magic ton.
Malan went to 94 with a huge six off Sipamla, followed by a four, onto 98. One run left to win……..and he hit a single to finish on 99 not out as England won the game!!!
Look no further than Marvellous Dawid Malan for Man of the Match and Man of the Series. For his Personal Development Plan, I suggest a basic maths course.
This series has been super entertainment and has provided a little joy before the draconian Tier 3 rules kick in, and virtually all forms of enjoyment and merriment are outlawed in my area. The current ‘lockdown’ seems like a Mardi Gras festival compared to the next few weeks prospective run up to Xmas without the pubs being open, despite anything Cromwell, sorry, Johnson, might blether.
If anyone is able to offer me a short residential tenancy in a Tier 2 area for the next few months, even if this is in Merseyside, please let me know. This would enable me to watch the 50 over series in time honoured fashion in a pub with a beer. A few pints with a Scotch Egg sounds as good as it gets at the moment in this accursed country.
Have a great Xmas all and no prizes for guessing what the most popular request from Santa will be. Clue : it begins with the letter V.