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Week 6

July 9, 2017

Watching the happiness and experiencing the joy of the crowd in the final session, brought the memories of the last five tests between these countries at Lord’s flooding back.

In years gone by the Nursery Ground seemed to be packed with South Africans and the pub at the Grace Gates was like a South African cricket club.

There was plenty of English grumbling about the performance of their team but my recollection is that there was no resentment or ill-feeling, especially after the tests in 1994 and 1998, when the novelty of having South Africa back on the international roster was still fresh.

So it now falls to all South Africans to recognise a performance of enormous skill and application from the home side and not become fixated with the Proteas’ failings.

It feels entirely counter-intuitive to suggest that South Africa’s basic mistakes were, somehow, a form of consolation but that’s the way the coaching and management contingent will spin it to them. If Joe Root had been dismissed on five or 16, if the bowlers hadn’t delivered no-balls, if Bairstow had been caught on seven in the second innings, it might have been a very different game.

In other words, they created opportunities. It would have been worse had they been heavily beaten without ever getting a look-in. All they have to do now is catch the ball and bat much better. Simple, really.

Faf will make a big difference but he cannot catch other peoples’ catches or score their runs. He may be able to facilitate a happier atmosphere and more positive thinking but individual responsibility remains the key.

The captain had an hour in the nets during the morning session and then walked back to the pavilion in front of the crowd in the Mound Stand, chatting with those in the front row and even posing for a couple of selfies and signing autographs. He has never lacked perspective as a captain and that will be even further enhanced after the last two weeks. He will not allow the players to remain ‘down’ for too long.

The selection options for the second test, which begins at Trent Bridge in Nottingham on Friday, are numerous. An extra bowler must be selected, particularly with Vernon’s dodgy fitness. Chris Morris, Duanne Olivier and Andile Phehlukwayo are the options.

And whose place does Faf take, Theunis de Bruyn or JP Duminy?

Now, however, it is England’s chance – finally – to celebrate a test win against South Africa at Lord’s.

July 8, 2017

This is in absolutely no way intended as a negative criticism, merely a factual observation. But as famous as the sporting generosity and knowledge of the Lord’s crowd is, there are many thousand who arrive with little or no intention of watching the match.

It is a social occasion, as important on the calendar of the well-heeled as Wimbledon, Ascot and Henley. Aside from the MCC Members in the pavilion and Long Room, the really well-to-do dine from antique picnic hampers, handed down from generation to generation, in the Coronation Gardens while those more inclined towards drink than food quaff champagne in the Harris Garden behind the pavilion.

Those with less ‘connections’, and perhaps a little lower down the social pecking order but with nonetheless well-stocked wallets, are perfectly happy to take up residence on the Nursery Ground directly behind the Media Centre where they can spread out on the grass and, should they have an interest in the game, watch it in perfectly acceptable quality on a big screen.

Some people do spend the majority of the morning session in their 80-pound bucket seats but, once they claim their patch of grass for lunch and spread out the rug, often find it is far more preferable than sitting in a plastic seat – especially on a warm, sticky day like today.


The cricket is, of course, still of enormous interest and importance to the majority of the crowd, and the reputation of the crowd over many decades as one of the most appreciative and receptive is well earned. But the social aspect of the Lord’s test can never be overlooked. It’s what makes the event so special.

Temba Bavuma produced yet another fighting, rear-guard innings which did not materialise into the century – big century – which he craves.

“It was quite frustrating and not ideal. They had one guy who kicked on and made a big hundred and that has been the difference. Day five will be interesting and how we counter the spin will be a challenge,” Bavuma said.

He denied that the Proteas were feeling a sense of injustice at the banning of Kagiso Rabada for use of the ‘f-word’ following his dismissal of Ben Stokes.

“Not necessarily. He’s quite an emotional character and he’s been dealt with, He’s quite heart-broken because he feels like he’s let the team down, but we have to move forward.

“England are in a strong position, there’s no reason to hide from that. But we’ve been in these positions before, like Perth last year, and we’ve found a way. We pride ourselves on being resilient – we’d like to be the ones on the front foot but that’s not the way it is.”

July 7, 2017

There was something deeply satisfying about watching the fifth-wicket partnership of 99 between Temba Bavuma and Theunis de Bruyn which did so much to rescue another desperately disappointing day. Actually, it was deeply satisfying on a whole load of different levels.

The apparent unlikelihood of it. The fact that it was so frustrating for England. That most of the crowd and almost all of the English radio and television commentators didn’t know anything about either of them – except that the short one scored a century against them at Newlands in January.

But most of all, the extremities of the backgrounds from which they came. As well-educated, deeply engaged young men with firm opinions and sound arguments on a wide variety of issues, they are strongly connected.

But as an Afrikaner from a reasonably privileged family and a Xhosa from Langa, they could hardly be further removed. They have connected with each other and the runs they scored together sort of confirmed that.

The morning session went brilliantly with four quick wickets, including those of Joe Root and Moeen Ali whose overnight scores of 184 and 61 could have become so much more damaging than the 190 and 87 for which they were dismissed.

But the 10th-wicket stand of 45 between Stuart Broad and James Anderson was dreadful. With a total of 400+ on the board, and Broad’s apparent ‘weakness’ against the bouncer, Dean Elgar put eight men on the boundary and instructed Morne Morkel to bowl bouncers.

It was jaw-droppingly pointless as opposed to jaw-threatening. There is nothing easier for a batsman than knowing what delivery he will receive, and Broad knew for certain they would be bouncers. With absolutely nothing to lose, he steadied himself for the hook shot and belted successive sixes.

Having spent 100 overs bowling properly, the Proteas changed plan for the last wicket. It has been done time and time before, and failed. But still they persist. Madness. Broad’s gifted 57 almost certainly cost South Africa their last chance of victory. And condemned them to a highly probably defeat.

Ernie Els and long-time caddy/mate/combatant Rickie Roberts paid their traditional visit to the Lord’s media centre and it wasn’t long before Ernie and Ian Botham reaffirmed their friendship, built originally on the most traditional of all-male pastimes, cooking meat on an open fire and solving the world’s problems over lengthy drinks.

An old friend from Cape Town had managed to obtain tickets for himself and his two sons, and my contribution to their trip-of-a-lifetime was to give them a guided tour of the remarkable media centre.

Introductions to Ernie, Botham, David Gower, Henry Blofeld, Graeme Smith and Shaun Pollock, among others, were all a bit much within the space of 20 minutes.

They took the selfies, so apologies they do not appear here. You’ll have to make do with a picture of my outstanding lunch, and another of the amazing Richmond Park in which the day starts.

South Africa start day three still 44 runs away from saving the follow-on. Weather permitting, they seem doomed to lose the test.

Quinton de Kock is still to come, but their own errors and mistakes have contributed to a situation from which they will struggle to escape.

July 6, 2017

It’s not often that the first day of a test match – and series – starts so emphatically in one direction and finishes equally emphatically in the other.

England were 82-4 at lunch, Vernon Philander was bowling beautifully and Morne Morkel looked like he might take a wicket in every over he bowled. Not only was the present good, the future looked bright, too.

Things began to change immediately after lunch and gathered pace in England’s favour to such an extent after tea that the tourists’ slump was in freefall for the final hour of the day’s play.

The bowling was poor, the decision-making was worse and the discipline wretched. Two wickets lost to no-balls – that doesn’t just hurt in the moment, it scars for the rest of the match.

Poor old Aiden Markram. He is a truly gifted cricketer and will surely have a lengthy and successful international career, but his appearance as a substitute fielder following Philander’s opening spell afforded Joe Root the first of his three lives when he had scored just five of the 184* he ended the day with.

He had only just walked onto the field, a packed house at Lord’s, intimidating atmosphere, unfamiliar background – there are many excuses one could make for him. But as he knows, only amateur cricket is about excuses.

JP Duminy dropped a screamer in the gully with Root on 16. How that might have changed Kagiso Rabada’s day.

And then Maharaj bowling a no ball…how does that happen? It wasn’t even a weird, ‘one-off’ – he was challenging the crease line with the majority of his deliveries. It was an accident waiting to happen.

Yet again the Proteas find themselves with a daunting mountain to climb just to haul themselves somewhere back close to the contest, never mind back into it.

They’ll need to claim the remaining five wickets for around 70 or fewer runs and restrict the home side to a total of around 420.

Although there was a surprising amount of turn for the first day, the pitch was dry and there was little seam movement. Batting will remain manageable for the next two days.

In reality, however, the tourists are in deep trouble and they have themselves to blame.

The one thing England did superbly was to identify Maharaj as South Africa’s ‘control’ and then ‘target’ him with some aggressive batting, thereby unsettling not just the bowler but debutant captain, Dean Elgar, too.

Off the field it was business as usual with Pimms, champagne and lager flowing freely (actually, really expensively) in the stands, the hospitality boxes and from the outlets on the Nursery Ground behind the space age Media Centre where Graeme Pollock was the main guest of the BBC radio’s Test Match Special.

“I’m not a big fan of it,” he said when asked about T20 cricket, “but I’d have made a fortune if it had been around during my day.”

July 5, 2017

It’s hard to imagine how so many South Africans seem to find a way to obtain a ticket for the first day of the Lord’s test match, or any day for that matter. But they do.

There are, of course, three available to each member of the playing party so they are in great demand. But since 1994, when South Africans flocked to the ‘home of cricket’ with wondrous amazement, they still keep arriving in the same numbers. If not more. If I had a beer with each South African that make contact, I wouldn’t make the next day. Or next week.

Every four or five years the test memories come flooding back. It’s peculiar how they don’t during ODIs. Perhaps it is because, with a record of played five, won four, drawn one, there is nothing but celebration and happiness to remember.

1994 was a different era in so many ways. We stayed in the same hotel as the team (albeit with several more to the room) and celebrated with them in the bar, somewhat riotously. Kepler and Hansie were just as happy to pour beer over everyone as they were to drink it.

Perhaps Wessels had felt the nerves before the game but knew exactly what his job was and the example he needed to set. He was so singularly focused, and calm, that it must have had an effect on the team, of whom only Allan Donald (after five years with Warwickshire) and coach Mike Procter (after 15 with Gloucestershire) had ever been to Lord’s before.

Wessels, naturally, had his name immortalised on the famous Honours Board with a vital innings of 105 following Andrew Hudson and Gary Kirsten’s inauspicious start when they walked down one too many flights of stairs to open the batting and found themselves scurrying backwards out of a store-room before finding their way through the famous Long Room.

The other man destined to make an impact was Donald and, like Wessels, he rose to the occasion with 5-74. All the talk at tea time on the fourth day was whether England could bat long enough on the fifth until the forecast rain arrived mid afternoon to save them, but Brian McMillan and Craig Matthews claimed three wickets apiece to dismiss them for 99 and a 356-run victory was achieved with a day to spare.

Four years later, the tourists were rescued from 36-4 by Jonty Rhodes’s 117 in a total of 360 which was far too many for England. Donald’s 5-32 blew them away for just 110 and although captain Nasser Hussein celebrated his century in the follow-on innings with embarrassing delight, it wasn’t enough to save his team from a 10-wicket thrashing.

Remarkably, captain Graeme Smith’s 259 was usurped as the main story of the 2003 test match, for when Makhaya Ntini knelt down on the pitch to celebrate and give thanks for his tenth wicket, offering a kiss to the surface. This was the image and memory that would endure longest. Gary Kirsten, then batting in the middle order, went almost unnoticed, but having a ‘Kirsten’ for future generations to see meant the world to him and older brother Peter.

The draw in 2008 was as good as all of the victories. England batted first and dominated with an intimidating 593-8 on the back of 152 from Kevin Pietersen and 199 from Ian Bell and, despite using up 156 overs in making the runs, appeared well on their way to victory after dismissing the Proteas for 247, despite a 101 from Ashwell Prince.

The follow-on innings proved to be England’s worst nightmare as they bowled a back-breaking 167 largely fruitless overs, having already delivered 96 in the first innings. Smith's, opening partner Neil McKenzie and Hashim Amla all scored centuries as the tourists saved the game at 393-3 and comprehensively won the second test which started just three days later having shattered England’s pace attack.

2012 proved to be the closest of all the encounters – and it had the most riding on it too. Whichever team won would be ranked No 1 in the world. It was, in everything but name, the world cup final of test cricket. J-P Duminy and Vernon Philander propped up a nervy first innings with 61 apiece from numbers seven and eight in the order but an equally tetchy England eked out a first innings lead of just six runs with a total of 315.

Amla’s 121 anchored a total of 351 second time around and England seemed out of the contest at 146-6 chasing 346 until Matt Prior (73), Stuart Broad (37) and Graeme Swann (41 from 34 balls) swung hard at the end to produce a gripping finale in which Philander (5-30) made the second new ball decisive.

Tomorrow, by my reckoning, England look comfortably the stronger team, especially with captain Faf du Plessis unavailable. A debutant opener in Heino Kuhn, Theunis de Bruyn with a solitary cap in the middle order and J-P Duminy fighting for his career. It is a brittle batting line-up.

But… and there are many 'buts' to choose from: Kagiso Rabada, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel. They are a huge, collective ‘but.’ So is Quinton de Kock. But the biggest ‘but’ of all was summed up by stand-in captain Dean Elgar, who admitted tomorrow would be the proudest day of his career.

“There is something about the place which just makes you want to do better, it inspires you.” Unfortunately for England, it has affected them against most teams, but none more than South Africa. The Proteas have a record of playing above the sum of their parts in test cricket in recent years, and recent decades. Nowhere more so than against England at Lord’s. You’d be mad to bet against them.

July 4, 2017

It would be hard to find a more relaxed professional sportsman than Vernon Philander, although that does not mean he is relaxed about everything.

Big Vern has some strong opinions about many things but, when it comes to high performance, he has endured too many lows – and thankfully far more highs – to become anxious ahead of the first test at Lord’s on Thursday.

It helps, of course, that the last time he was here, in 2012, he enjoyed one of his best tests. Having chosen to bat first, the Proteas were wobbling badly before JP Duminy and Philander added exactly 61 apiece at numbers seven and eight to transform what looked like being a 200 total into a barely adequate 309.

The number one ranking was at stake and England were similarly tetchy, eventually eking out a six-run lead. The Proteas were once again struggling in no-man’s land in the second innings until Philander (35) took the lead beyond 300 with Hashim Amla (121) and eventually set England a target of 346.

The result seemed done and dusted when England crashed to 146-6 but there was an element of panic in the air when Matt Prior (73), Stuart Broad (37) and Graeme Swann, with 41 from 34 balls, began swinging in desperation rather than expectation.

Within an hour the game had changed dramatically and England had a chance.

South Africa’s last chance to close the deal was with the second new ball, and Philander made certain of the 51-run victory with an emphatic 5-30, and a place on the most revered Honours Board in the game.

“We have a lot of new, fresh faces this time around, and a lot of energy; it’s been five years,” Philander said today.

“The results on the tour so far mean nothing. As far as we are concerned, and Thursday is concerned, it starts at zero-zero. We have performed well in this format for a long period of time, especially away from home, so let’s see what happens.

“Losing Faf is a blow but we have lost other players along the journey and others have always put their hands up and responded with the performances we needed. Dean can do that as the new captain, and whoever else steps into the team.

“It’s a simple game. We need to take 20 wickets and score more runs than them. It’s simple, it’s just not easy. But we have been up for the challenge for many years and we are again now,” Philander said.

July 3, 2017

Captaining your country in a single test match is a career highlight enjoyed by a tiny fraction of players who reach international level.

For non-English teams, doing so at Lord’s reduces the percentage to a little more than 50 in over 120 years.

Faf du Plessis will miss that opportunity and all credit to him for doing so. His wife and baby daughter may be settling well but he was not comfortable enough to leave them, and that reflects strongly on the character, personality and perspectives of the man.

With apologies to the old school generation who believed they had little choice but to make cricket their number one priority, Faf and colleagues of a similar profile have the financial security which helps provide them with alternatives.

One day in the future he may wonder what it would have been like to lead the team out at Lord’s, but it will be less than nothing if he ever regrets that he wasn’t there when his young family needed him.

Many of the current Proteas squad have been home for 10 days already during this tour and, having reported and commentated on five Lord’s tests from 1994 and 2012, I am beyond comfortable spending the last few days in Edinburgh.

There is only so much pre-test hype one can participate in.

Edinburgh Castle’s history stretches back to around 600 AD. It’s all a bit intimidating. Fortunately there is no exam afterwards. My children seem to know more about Mary Queen of Scots than I do.

Why did 16th century suits of armour include what looks like a skirt?

The ‘Grass Market”, so named because it was where livestock which ate grass were bought and sold, is also where the Edinburgh gallows were situated.

Just an hour, never mind two days of history lessons in this place will tell you how much fun the people had in various forms of capital punishment.

One of the oldest pubs in the city, “The Last Drop”, is situated barely 50 yards from where the gallows were. It is typical of dark, Scottish humour. But real, too. The condemned were afforded their last drink there, before they were hanged. Literally, the ‘last drop’ before the ‘last drop.’

Back in England, today rather than 1783, coach Russell Domingo spoke enthusiastically about Dean Elgar being the right man to lead the team at Lord’s. Faf’s absence makes South Africa even greater underdogs than they were before the series started.

South Africa’s post-isolation record at Lord’s is truly extraordinary. Played five, won four, drawn one. Lost none.

They have been lesser-favoured before, but not as much as this time. So who would bet against them? I probably would…but I’m not a betting man.

Anyway, the only thing that matters now is catching the flight from Edinburgh back to East Midlands airport and driving to London.


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