Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Review of the 4th Test in South Efrica

England lost the fourth and final Test in this series as they played like a side who had celebrated their series win in Johannesburg with a visit to a wine reserve. Less of a diamond performance, this one was more like a lump of coal. This was one to forget in a showing described by Trevor Bayliss as "limp". This one boys and girls, was limper than my bedroom antics after twelve pints. From the sublime to the ridiculous, England's Lions were beaten by the gladiatorial South Africans in their Centurion heartland by 280 runs as they were bowled out for 101 in a batting performance that should be consigned to Room 101. Read on for a review of the fourth Test.

Centuwion, sorry Supersport Park
Supersport Park to give the ground its official name is in the town of Centurion. Whenever I hear this I can't help thinking of Monty Python's Life of Brian and Pontius Pilate. Woot and Wabada had decent games for their wespective sides here in the Afrikaans heartland. In fact Centurion, which lies just outside Pretoria was renamed from its previous moniker Verwoerdburg, after a particularly odious Prime Minister in the sixties who was the architect of apartheid. He met his end by getting knifed repeatedly in 1966, but it was England who fell on their sword here. This one was a proper shanking, as da kidz in London say.

South Africa rang the changes after their series defining defeat in Jo'burg. Five of them to be exact with returns for Duminy, De Kock, D Piedt and D Abbot; Kyle not Diane. There was a debut for Stephen Cook as everyone bar the South African selectors could see that he was the best opener for the job from Day One in Durban. England brought in Chris Woakes for Steven Finn. In the land of Cecil Rhodes, this was a return of traditional, conservative England, one straight out of the manifesto of the nearly departed Cecil Parkinson. Woakes impressed in Durban where he replaced Jimmy but he is a bowler who nibbles the ball about. Finn is a tall guy who hurls it down at 90mph, and most of us thought it would be a good chance to have a look at Foottit with the series already won. Like for like, and all that malarkey.

South Africa won an important toss as the wicket deteriorated in this game. The reputations of Jonny Bairstow's wicket keeping and various contestants on our screens in Celebrity Big Brother were the only things that deteriorated more over the five days. There will be an article specifically on wicket keeping on these pages soon but Bairstow has had twenty nine opportunities in this series and gobbled twenty. That's not a good enough ratio for a Test wicket keeper. I would still have him in the side for his batting alone but I digress.

Cook, Stephen not Alastair got a hundred after one of the reprieves as did Amla. Hashim looked back to his best in a beautiful, fluent knock full of wristy clips off of his beard and gorgeous cover drives. De Kock became their third centurion at Centurion as they amassed a match winning 475. Big Bad Ben picked up 4-86 for England. Yet again too many chances were dropped and England really do need to sort this out. And pronto. It's pissing me off.

When England batted Hales was out again early. One wag on Twitter suggested ex Charlton centre forward Derek Hales would get more runs. Compton got a grubber, and despite Cook and Root with seventies, in poker terms a pair of 76's were never a match for three hundreds. Moeen Ali chipped in with a pleasant 61. The real star of the show here though was Kagiso Rabada with 7-112. England saved the follow on but a deficit of 130 having to bat last on a Pete Doherty of a pitch, with one or two demons, was always going to be telling.

When the Saffas batted again they struggled early on, but Amla toughed it out in a good match for the beards. AB De Villiers bagged a pair having given Jimmy a bit of gyp in the run up to the game about his performance. South African batsman Eddie Barlow was born up the road from this venue in Pretoria and scored lots of runs for Derbyshire, a county that has an attraction called the Heights of Abraham. For AB, this was more the depths of Abraham as he bagged his third duck in a row. Next time he walks to the crease, he will be on 'an Audi' as they say in the game. Despite the skippers travails, the hosts declared on 248-5.

The Depths of Abraham
Could England grind this out? Could they show a bit of heart? Could they and the rain stave off a draw? Could they bollocks.

I commentated on the last day on the brilliant Guerilla Cricket. My stint lasted for 55 minutes as we lost our last seven wickets in a feeble display as David Hopps described it on ESPN Cricinfo. The normally mild mannered Hendo on there went into an apoplectic rage as a disinterested England were dismantled by the twenty year old Rabada. South Africa couldn't have unearthed more of a diamond had they dug him out of Kimberley. In the Afrikaans heartland, he finished with thirteen wickets. Only the Indian leg spinner Hirwani has taken more in a match at his age in the whole history of the game. He matched Makhaya Ntini for wickets taken in a game for South Africa as they walked this one with two sessions to spare. It was their first win in ten Tests. Rabada was man of the match with Ben Stokes the man of the series.

For England you could say this was a dead rubber, that it didn't really matter, that the series was won but it is still Test cricket. It's the difference between being number one in the world or being ranked three or four. It was an abject display and in a game where momentum is crucial it was back to the bad old days. England still have problems. The fact we would struggle to catch gonorrhea in a Bangkok brothel is one of them. We still have batting problems at 2,3 and 5 and the keeping problem highlighted earlier. For me, I would keep Compton, Taylor and Bairstow in the side but a specialist gloveman (of which Buttler is not) is needed before we let more sides off the hook. John Simpson of Middlesex would be my own personal choice with Moeen moving up to seven in the order. He's too good to bat at eight.

Cook gets his hands on the Dickie Bird Trophy

South Africa have come out of this in a better place than at the start of the series. They have unearthed Rabada and Bavuma, they have Amla back to his best and Stephen Cook solidifies them at the top. ABD also made noises that he will take the captaincy for the long haul.

So Alastair Cook lifted a trophy that was named after, and supposed to look like Basil D'Oliveira. It looked more like Dickie Bird. A win abroad against the side supposedly ranked number one in the world is not to be sniffed at, and they played some decent stuff at times. It's just a shame that this one went the way it did and took a bit of the gloss off what was a good series for a young, up and coming side. No doubt the fizz will flow as some of them get a well earned rest.

I just can't help feeling that the victory champagne might not be going down that well though.