Big battles on and off the field
As the times have rolled along, there has always been debate as to whether test match cricket has improved or not. As the arguments on both sides hold water, I reckon it would be difficult to come to a definite conclusion one way or the other. There will always be varying opinions on the past and the present and it will always remain difficult to compare players from one era to the next, especially if those players are particularly good. One just needs to have a look at the Sir Garry Sobers versus Jacques Kallis debate.
One thing that cannot be disputed though is that there are more results in test matches these days than used to be the case. Even the draws sometimes can be interesting – mainly when two well matched and big teams play against each other. It was quite surprising that South Africa and England ended up drawing a test match at Headingley, a ground that is renowned for yielding results. There had been only three drawn matches there since 1980.
Despite it being a draw, I found the match enthralling and very absorbing as a viewer. It was just incredible how both teams kept going at each other – very much a case of no quarter asked and none given. It is very much the way that test match cricket should be played and for two of the top sides in world cricket to show the way is certainly commendable. Maybe this series will help to quieten those shouting about the test match cricket dying. One sure could not ask anything more of either England or South Africa.
On to Lord’s for both sides and one wonders what treat they will throw at the cricket-watching public there. For South Africa, the No 1 position is in touching distance and there will be the belief that they can get the job done. One must acknowledge though, that the England team showed in the second test that they are able to live up to their top-of-the-pops billing, and if they can put together some of what they did at Headingley, they could upset the apple cart for the Proteas.
In the end, it was a case of scoring psychological points in Leeds and taking some advantage to the meeting at the home of cricket. Who, though, has gained most from the mental sparring that took place in the north? South Africa will be happy that they ensured a few batsman did not get runs in the second innings and England will also feel happy as they did not back down from a challenge that, although possible, was improbable and served only to give opportunity to South Africa to clinch the series. That they had a go would serve to keep confidence and belief high and alive in the England camp going forward.
Personally, I feel that in terms of the psychological scenario, the spoils were shared. Both parties showed that they are willing to fight to the death, so to speak. However, issues off the field will be of concern, particularly to England. Selection is going to be an issue and the England selectors will have to do better in that regard than they did for Headingley where their best bowler was left out. South Africa will hope that those who have been injured will recover and take the field one final time on the tour.
The elephant in the room is the Kevin Pietersen issue. How will it be sorted out? The fact that there are ten days between matches is probably not going to help, as it allows things to fester and focus to be shifted from the cricket. South Africa is scoring points without so much as batting an eyelid because the whole saga is sure to affect the England set-up in some way or other and is one more thing for them to try and manage.
Could we see England going into the deciding test match without a player who has proved he is a match winner? Well, it will depend on whether the camp feels they can deal with the extra attention his utterances have while still keeping their eyes on the ball when on the field of play.
I must say though, it is a desperately sad situation as the fella sure can play.