Home Summer 2022 Oval Test versus South Africa

Oval Test versus South Africa

by Five0

The decider

Two one-sided games have each lasted less than three days. At Lords South Africa won the toss and bowled. A world class bowling attack has propelled them to the number one spot.  Rabada, whom Jack and I saw take 13 wickets on debut at Centurion, is as fine a sight as Holding was in his heigh-day, bigger built than Holding but just as lithe and athletic with the smoothest of actions. Nortje is the fastest in the world notching 95mph at Old Trafford and Marco Jansen is a 6’ 8”  left-arm fast bowler whose height makes him exceptionally dangerous. Add in Ngidi and you had the best and most varied pace attack in the world. They bowled us out cheaply twice and won by an innings.

At Old Trafford they over-thought their selection. Instead of sticking with their potent pace quartet they decided that the wicket was a turner, added Simon Harmer to their attack and dropped Jansen. I’ve seen Harmer run through Somerset for Essex on several occasions but two spinners didn’t really make sense. On a cloudy day made for bowling they won the toss and batted, wanting to attack England with their spinners in the second innings! They never even got there. Their batting, even more brittle than ours, collapsed twice and we won by an innings.

So who knows what will happen in this decider? Both sides are making changes to their batting because of injuries.  Bairstow has broken a leg playing golf (!?) which means that Harry Brook, the Yorkshire firebrand, will make his much anticipated debut. Van de Dussen, who played at Old Trafford with a broken finger, is replaced by Khaya Zondo, a casualty of the sometimes racist South African selection policy. Ryan Rickelton comes in for Markram who has been completely out of form. They haven’t made the same mistake with the bowling  as they did at Old Trafford but injured Ngidi is replaced by all-rounder Wiaan Mulder, an unknown quantity to me. Let’s hope that the batting line ups will show a bit of resilience and that we get a decent game.

DAY 1 Thursday 8 Sept:  A Washout

It was a frustrating day. Stokes won the toss and elected to bat but rain meant here was no play in the morning and they took an early lunch. In the afternoon the weather cleared from time to time and the groundsmen would start pulling back the covers but then it would rain again. Steve, Irish and I left the ground at about 4pm. It was called off soon after that anyway. Of course, the demise of the Queen has thrown everything into uncertainty. Tomorrow  is definitely cancelled.

The Guard’s Band which never played. Note the covers.

We await developments for Saturday and the rest. The Guardian seems to think that they might start again on Saturday and possibly add an extra day on Tuesday. There are a lot of imponderables at the moment.

We had spent the day area propping ourselves against a wall drinking beer. After 3 pints I dipped out of the next round and went to sit down. I was intending to go back to the hotel but as the weather seemed to be clearing I stayed for another couple which probably I shouldn’t have done. Steve went back to Milton Keynes and after a rest Irish and I had an early meal across the road from our hotel. It was top notch but I wasn’t really feeling like it. After a couple of glasses of wine I left Pete to settle up and came back to crash out at about 8pm.

DAY 2 Friday 9 Sept: Fragile Friday       
It’s probably the worst mattress I’ve known – saggy and soft – but I slept for 11 hours. It will give you an idea of the standards here when I say that I found on the floor of my room a used condom that looked like a flattened sea creature.

I’m not feeling brilliant so I had few plans. Pete and I were due to meet at 9 for breakfast. When by 9.15 he hadn’t appeared I rang him. A groggy, throaty, distinctly hung-over voice answered. He had fallen in with a guy on the next table to ours at the restaurant and was out drinking till 5.30 in the morning!

I was fragile all day, achy, fluey and operating in slow motion. Apart from venturing out for breakfast and lunch I stayed in my room, much of it in bed, irritated by all the blah about the Queen and waiting to know if the game would be on. It was gone 2 o’clock when we heard that it would restart tomorrow and finish on Monday. In the evening I joined Jack in the pub for a few halves. He and Irish got on very well together. Actually it did me good to get out. We ate where we did the night before. By that time my nose was streaming and as soon as I had eaten I left them and came back to bed.

DAY 3 Saturday 10 Sept: Wasted Opportunities

Slept well  and today I’m feeling a bit better.

I didn’t go to the ground till after 11 because they were having a special half hour for the Queen which I did not want to be at. Pete and I arrived just as Jimmy started his first over. It was a cloudy morning so bowling was still the best option. The clatter of South African wickets started in Robinson’s first over. Bowling from the Pavilion End, a peach of a ball right on a length had Elgar playing down the wrong line, his off stump hurtling out of the ground. There was then a procession of wickets all morning. By the time the score was 36 Foakes had taken four catches and Robinson had bowled Petersen shouldering arms. There didn’t seem to be much happening with the ball. We were seeing some very disciplined line and length bowling. At 36-6 we were looking up South Africa’s lowest scores – 30 in Gqeberha in the Eastern Cape in 1896 it turns out and 30 at Edgbaston in 1924. The only resistance of any kind came from new boy Zondo and from Jansen who used his long levers to hit some very decent boundaries.

I was feeling so rotten that this is the first morning session in anywhere outside the sub-continent that I haven’t had a beer before lunch. Irish and I went back to our hotel which is  5 minutes away at the luncheon interval for a lie down, Irish to soothe his hangover and me to get some energy for the next two sessions. As we passed The Derby on our way back to the ground a great roar went up. Lees had caught Zondo off Broad for 23. Soon after that Root pocketed Jansen off Robinson for 30 and Robinson was lifting the ball to celebrate his well deserved 5fer. Maharaj hit 18 but once he was bowled by Broad  South Africa subsided to 118 all out.

What would England make of this? Well, slightly better than South Africa but any dreams of batting them out of the game were fanciful. Lees was out for 13 and Crawley scratched around for 5. Both were gone by the time the score was 43. The sparkling high-light of the day was Pope who was greeted with wild cheers from his home crowd. He cut and pulled his way to 67 but the rest of the batsmen were pretty feeble. Jansen was the best bowler, taking 4 wickets in his 11 overs. Surprisingly Rabada was expensive, going at over 6 an over. When Crawley was out Root came running on as he does, the ground echoing to ‘Roooo.’ He only made 23 and in came Brook. He too was given a great reception on his debut. A few overs later I went out to buy an England shirt for my grandson. I looked up at a TV monitor and saw Brook with his bat casually resting on his shoulder. ‘He’s enjoying this,’ I thought. By the time I had got back to my seat he was caught by Rabada off Jensen for 12. England were 107-4 and slowly inching towards the South African total.

Irish getting in the pints

We then had two examples of the crazy bravado that can come about with brand Stokes England, the usual suspects being Stokes himself and Broad both of whom seemed happy to blaze a few runs, 6 a piece as it happened,  and get out. Stokes skyed one to mid on which was dropped. The warning was not heeded. Soon after, he sliced Jansen to Erwee in the slips. Admittedly by that time, thanks to some decent cricket from Pope, we were ahead of South Africa. But Broad in his usual brainless fashion hit a six into the O2 stand and was then promptly caught behind off Rabada.

We had a brief stoppage for rain. They came on again but at about 6.30 bad light ended play for the day. England are only 36 ahead of South Africa who must feel that they have clawed themselves back into the game. Foakes is playing sensibly but with only the bowlers left we’ll be lucky the get a lead of much more than 50. I couldn’t help feeling as I walked back to my room that Test match cricket is in a sorry state if this is the best that two top teams can offer.

I was feeling very sub-par and stayed in my room all evening, eating half a ciabatta that Irish had donated.

DAY 4 Sunday 11 Sept: A Bit More Like Test Cricket

Feeling somewhat better today, I arrived at the ground with Irish: Howard, my schoolmate with whom I came to my first Test here in 1963, and James were in situ.

England’s tail was feeble. Robinson and Leach rapidly succumbed to Rabada and Jansen had Foakes caught in the cordon for a well deserved 5fer. England had added only 4 more runs to their overnight total. South Africa must have been delighted that they were only 40 runs behind.

They made a decent start. Elgar and Erwee were scratchy at first but that is the nature of the game. I don’t know that I have seen so many played and misses. But by the time they had faced 10 overs they had settled into their work very comfortably. When the 40 came up the match became a straight forward one innings shootout. By the time they were 50 the best efforts of Jimmy, Robinson and Broad were having little impact. So, inevitably, cometh the hour, cometh Stokes. With his 3rd ball he induced an edge from Erwee which flew low into the very safe hands of Root. It was 58-1.

South Africa went into lunch on 70 for 1 and it was still very much game on. I decided last night that the shirt I’d bought my grandson was probably too small. When I looked at it closely I also realised that I had bought  an England Women’s shirt! Jago definitely identifies as a boy. So I took it down the Surrey Shop where they very obligingly changed it for a slightly bigger Men’s ODI shirt.

Soon after lunch a very full, straight ball from Broad thumped into Elgar’s pads. Elgar simply walked without even bothering to have a chat with Petersen at the other end even though, so Irish tells me, the highlights showed that he wasn’t remotely out. At 36, though, he was South Africa’s top scorer of the match. 

The fragility of South Africa’s  batting was again very apparent. There were no decent partnerships. By the time Zondo departed in the middle of the afternoon the score was 133-6 and our speculations as to what score South Africa would need to set us a decent target seemed rather futile. Just before the interval, Irish leaned over to me and said, ‘We could do with one more before tea.’ Stokes, was bowling one of those marathon spells that are so painful to watch. He caught the edge of Jansen’s bat for a catch taken neatly low down by Pope at 5th slip. No ball! Never daunted by setback, in the last over before tea Irish got his wicket when Stokes bowled Jansen. They went to tea on 146-7.

Howard, taking time out

After tea there was some brief resistance from Maharaj and Verreynne but it came to very little. They were all out for 169 and the target for England was a modest 130 to win.

Lees and Crawley were as splendid as they had been in their great second innings partnership at Edgbaston which had set the stage for Root and Bairstow. Crawley’s long-levered  cover drives were especially easy on the eye. England were racing towards victory. Would there be enough time for it to happened tonight? Sadly not. The lights came on at about 6 o’clock and the umpires were soon checking their light meters. At half six England only needed 33 to win. Another half an hour was possible. However, with a final check of the meters the umpires called it a day. Stokes was scowling from the balcony and there was some sporadic booing but really, as I explained to an American guy with whom I walked out of the ground, they had no option.

At half-seven Irish messaged from The Derby where he’d fallen in with his Kent mate, Geoff. We spent a pleasant hour bemoaning the monarchy and slagging off Liz Truss before I went off to get a lamb doner kebab. I must be getting better.

DAY 5 Monday 12 Sept: And so It came to pass

At 11.33 on a wonderfully sunny morning in front of a decent crowd, it was fitting that Crawley cut a ball for 4 for England to win this rather unmemorable Test. Pete and I, with an anticipatory pint of celebration in hand, were high up with a fine view in the Laker Balcony. James couldn’t make it till 11.30 so needless to say hadn’t bothered to show. We saw a scratchy Lees put out of his misery by Rabada which enabled Pope  to come in and pull a couple of nice looking boundaries. A weary South Africa were thrashed in just over 2 days by 9 wickets.

What does this series say about the state of cricket? Games won by margins of an innings, an innings and 9 wickets do not really suggest that Test cricket is in the greatest of health especially given that South Africa were the world number at the start of this series.  

Stokes, however, can be delighted with his second series win of a summer in which his side won 6 of the 7 Tests they played. But England end the season with as many question marks over their opening pair that they had at the start, notwithstanding their excellent opening partnership in this game. If any area of the long game has been affected adversely by the rise of T20 it is the openers. Test cricket demands a patience at the start of the innings that has no place in T20 cricket where it is go hard from the off. On the other hand, T20 has given us middle order batsman who will confidently give it a go. Root, Bairstow and Stokes feel like a strong middle order. Bairstow’s four amazing innings of the summer would have inconceivable in the days before T20.  Pope is beginning to settle at number 3. The pace attack is still heavily reliant on the Old Firm whose days must come to a close soon. Robinson is already a decent opener and I thought Potts showed a lot of promise. If only we could get a fit Woods back into the side. But hell, think back to  the dispirited state of Root’s tired team at the end of the West Indies series in March: the new look England is in a far better place.

This was my 96th Test match. It doesn’t seem right to be going to Pakistan and I don’t think I’ve got the energy for another long tour of New Zealand. May be my days of touring are coming to an end. Certainly, my carbon footprint is much more comfortable. Next summer I’ll probably do the one-off against Ireland and possibly a couple of Ashes games which will leave me poised on 99. Will I go to India or will the 100th wait till 2024. Who knows what we’ll be saying about the game by then?


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