“Once I step over that white line I become a bowler. I think there are times when I can bowl as quick as anybody in the world, but I just want to take wickets and I want to scare the shit out of people. I remember hitting him (James Anderson) on the head; I remember good things like that.”- Dale Steyn. “I don’t think the South Africans see me as a target any more than anyone else. I feel completely British”- Jonathan Trott. WARNING ALERT: The mind games have already begun. Let us see what these guys have in their lockers for the big game coming up on 19th this month at The Oval.
It has been nearly two months since my last post and to be frank I am a little disappointed. So many cricketing events have flown in the interim and every time I sit down to think I am out doing something else before I even start typing. This time though I am glued to my chair and determined to finish this piece. But before I even get into sharing my views I would like to pay tribute to two greatest players who retired recently. The entire cricketing fraternity would miss the services of the greatest wicketkeeper ever Mark Boucher and Brett Lee who redefined fast bowling with extreme speed, pace and swing bowling after the likes of the West Indies greats.
London has been the central station of talking around the globe. From Euro crisis to Wimbledon to Olympics, it is all in the Queen’s own land. London has reserved a piece of share for cricketing folks like us too. The biggest and most anticipated cricketing series will be played during this English summer. Last year around there was a huge build up before the start of the 2000th test and the battle of the top two test teams in the world. But sadly the series never lived up to its billing. This time again we have the top ranked teams competing for glory and the #1 spot(which has been hanging in the balance for some time now). The series beckons some exciting action and huge anticipation from both sides. We are all set to witness the most enthralling cricketing action after a long time now.
On paper though, both teams look rock solid and hungry to win. Let me start with the English line-up first. Their bowling looks deadly and their bench strength is a hallmark. The pace attack revolves around James Anderson, the supreme swing bowler. Broad is an exciting entity with reverse swing while Bresnan is apt for breaking long partnerships and providing critical breakthroughs. One might wonder how come Finn and Onions haven’t played so many tests yet. That question of doubt is the answer for England’s bench strength. Spin solely relies on Swann and he delivers more often than not. Matt Prior is probably the best wicketkeeper-batsman today in tests and his average of 42 speaks of his batting ability. He has molded himself to give ample time for the players coming after him and ensure that the England tail can keep wagging to torture the opposition. The supreme players who have mastered that art are Broad, Bresnan and Swann. They can be a real nuisance when they start plucking easy runs and stay on the field for more than 10 overs. But that situation rarely occurs because England’s batting is rock solid. Strauss and Cook have a very good understanding at the top of the order and they make sure that one of them gets atleast a half-century. England can do nothing wrong with a middle order in the likes of Trott, KP and Bell. Now that they are shaping up to be at their prime is a huge boost. Bopara comes in with huge confidence after a successful ODI series against Australia. It will be a test of character and by chance if the top order succumbs then we will have to wait and watch if Bopara can show his mettle and bring his team out of trouble.
South Africa looks equally strong even on paper. Their bowling attack is purely lethal and is capable of penetrating deep against any top order opposition. Steyn could make a world of difference with his bowling. Be it the start of an innings or old ball or when the chips are down, when the ball is thrown to Steyn he never disappoints his captain. He has got speed, swing, energy, athleticism and age. He can become the greatest fast bowler cricket has ever seen. Morne Morkel is one who has made full use of his potential and especially his height because his bouncers are very hard to leave and so are his yorkers which are very hard to block. Philander was not just a one time show off after his successful start to his cricket career. His ability to swing the ball both ways has ensured his place in the playing eleven. The bench too looks comfortable in the hands of Tsotsobe and Albie Morkel. Imran Tahir will have a huge responsibility to support the rest of his bowling mates. This tour is a test of his skill and mental strength. A test match is won only by taking 20 wickets and I definitely feel both the pace attacks of SA and ENG are very much capable of doing just the same. The absence of Boucher is probably the greatest weakness for the Proteas. Even Dhoni who has safe hands looked sloppy in England and it is because of the conditions and the late swing by the ball after it goes past the batsman. Be it AB or the debutant Tsolekile, they have to keep their eyes on the ball every delivery. The batting is in very safe hands of Kallis, Amla and AB de Villiers. But the top order looks shaky. Smith needs a good support at the other end. Till now both Alviro Peterson and Rudolph have not been very comfortable. JP Duminy is on the same boat as Ravi Bopara is for England. He is a very good talent and is capable of firing big and providing partnerships. If AB keeps the wickets then Albie Morkel and Robin Peterson fight for a single spot. In these English conditions which favors fast and swing bowling Smith would probably go with Albie ahead of Robin. Also, Albie’s batting abilities should never be underestimated. South Africa has another player who can change things drastically when things fall apart and look out of sorts. He is none other than their coach Gary Kirsten. His tactical skills will be very instrumental and can essentially even win the series.
As a cricket fan you got to be pleading as to why such a tour has only 3 test matches. We felt the same after the Australian tour of South Africa recently. Smith plays his 100th test on 19th and it is a massive one. *He has made two England skippers disappear in his previous tours, but now can he cast his spell on Strauss? Let us sit back and enjoy while hoping we will witness probably the greatest test series ever that was short-lived but exceeded expectation beyond our imaginations.
PS: I just learnt that the test series between England and South Africa is known as Basil D' Oliveira Trophy. Couldn't it be better if it was outreached and more widely used?