Tag Archives: Second Test 2011

Scaling the Heights, Balancing the probabilities. South Africa v Australia Test 2 Part 2

It was high drama in the Bull Ring as the action careered towards its arresting conclusion, a cliff to be scaled to its consequence; to fail and fall or prevail and glimpse the belvedere.

Drama is a product of prize and doubt, its venue the edge, its permanent state imbalance.

The prize for Australia, as the second Test in this mini-series reached its conclusion, was a win to draw the series, a foundation lain for national renewal, no less.  That for South Africa, with a win or a draw, was victory over their opponents in a series for the first time since readmission into the Test playing family ten long years ago. 

The doubt was supplied by rain that washed out the extended morning session’s and the uncertainty of the light that had foreshortened each earlier day’s play – the heartbeat accelerated by the manner in which these two teams have gone at their tasks like old explorers anxious for honour, short of their former strength, but intent on clawing themselves to the summit in conditions that made batting as precarious and provisional as ice climbing.

In fact there were more spectators on the terrace of the Hotel Eiger to watch the first ascent of the North Face than there were yesterday in the un-populated expanses of the Wanderers Stadium where, in true cliff-hanger style, all four outcomes were possible.

When play began Clarke’s top-rope severed, cut through by Philander, sending his off stump crashing to the valley floor.

Shortly there after, stubborn Ponting, rationing his concentration for all he was worth, tackled another pitch but, weighed down by a rucksack of misgivings, edged Philander to slip.

The starting goal of 168 meters runs with seven in hand had, in a flash, moved up a grade or two to 145 with five remaining – an overhang to climb.

Hussey and Haddin roped up and belayed securely to the rock face, dismissed time as of no consequence, and resolved to get there one handhold after another.

In the match ’til then, only four pairings had held the hazards at bay long enough to lift the score by three figures and more. Each had threatened to make the break through to the uplands only to fall.   Now, a fifth such partnership would bag the peak prize.  Or two of half a hundred?

With the score advanced by exactly fifty , Hussey, became another casualty, the ball pitching one third outside leg stump but two thirds within the line of the stumps struck him in front like a falling stone – such are the margins between safety and downfall.

Haddin, slipshod of late, continued the ascent, with surer feet, hand over hand, hold after flaking hold, with Johnson roped tightly to him.

After tea (energized by Kendal mint cake), Brad and Mitch untied themselves, and climbing free, sped across the difficulties, scoffing at the objective dangers, the ice towers and the avalanches.

Almost immediately after reaching his half-century and with the summit in sight,  Haddin became Philander’s fifth wicket and the issue steepened for Australia.  The lurch to the precipice continued as Steyn removed Siddle, bringing Cummins to the crux – 18 more strides, one for each year of his young life, gasping for oxygen, two wickets intact.

A month ago Cummins would have been batting No 8, skipping across the lowland approaches to Test cricket in the under18s.  He now climbed into the attack as if he was still down there, unencumbered by a Ponting’s rucksack of doubt, his mind untroubled by vertigo.  Only a reckless drive that slipped through the outstretched hands of Steyn caused a moment of hesitation. Then on and up.

Thus to Cummins, standing at the pinnacle, fell the honour both of planting Ivor Ivan’s flag which he did with a fearless boundary off Tahir, and to him also the acolade of Man of the Match in his first Test.

This was a great five days of cricket.

To the embarrassingly few who were there in person to watch, it will last in the memory, arguably, long after Test cricket has gone the way of all things, buffeted by the jet stream.

There was much talk and a number of banners mocking the greatly exaggerated news of the death of Test cricket. But …

Great as this match was, the question remains, for how long will this minority occupation continue to hold the support of those who directly and indirectly cross-subsidize it?  Perpetually eroded by sibling rivalry from the shorter forms of the game, could Test cricket withstand twenty years of austerity?

With more doubts than prizes, is this form of the game on the edge? That questions remains in the balance.

Australia won by 2 wickets


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Fine Dining in North London

Those who handed over their hard earned cash at Lord’s yesterday and those who had the faith to pay weeks ahead with a credit card were rewarded with a densely packed hamper of ‘goodies’ to match the finest on sale at the Nursery End from that ‘Greedy Italian’ Antonio Carluccio .

To Dilshan and Law the wicket may have looked like a green salad, but Hammond would have laughed at such a menu description

This was a typical Lord’s wicket which, with much fine weather forecast, had been left cooking under the covers for slightly longer than would otherwise have been the case and therefore required respect in the morning and gluttony thereafter.

The Sri Lankans still queasy after their late meal at Cardiff and in a gesture that looked insipid declined the first course. 

Strauss and Trott spurned the necessary digestif and to their cost played across straight deliveries.  An impatient Pietersen reached for the h’orderves without properly preparing the palette and was caught in the gully.  He has become ‘the hungry man’ of cricket.

England were 22 for 3 and Dilshan and Law’s reading of the menu now looked expertly seasoned.

Cook, as might be expected, understood the nature of the fare on offer and chewed on each mouthful with the greatest care in pursuit of his third successive century, while across the table, Bell, who is finally enjoying his deserved three star rating, took the score to 130 before edging to slip.

At which point the bon viveur Morgan took his place at the table and sumptuously feasted on the spin of Herath and Dilshan, lifting them deliciously for straight sixes towards the pavilion, but judiciously picking selectively at the pace on offer.

The fifth wicket fell at 201 when Cook on 96, having devoured a couple of scrumptiously short deliveries from Fernando, went for one too many and, misjudging the length, could only pull the ball skyward into a waiter’s safe hands.

Matt Prior, who now came to the table, resembles a travelling salesman enjoying the table d’hote at The Commercial, the juices from his lamb cutlets running down his chin as he describes the charms of a young lady in lingerie or the trick he has played on the unpalatable Head of Buying. 

Prior and Morgan now guzzled at five an over to take England to 295 for 5 with the kitchen hard pressed to keep pace with their craving for more.

It is a truism, though not less true for that, to say that Morgan does not play cricket like an Englishman.  He is a Dubliner who consumes Guinness and pie, tells tales and is the greatest of companions.  An O’Toole of a cricketer.* So, with the wicket now flattening and the sun now burning and the crowd now merry and the bowlers now drained, a banquet was ordered in high anticipation and much salivation.

Cricket, however, has one restorative for tired staff: a refreshing new ball, and with this one, deliciously cool in his hand Lakmal produced the perfect delivery to trap the ravenous Irishman LBW for 79 gorgeous runs.  

A rather gaunt Broad, starved of opportunity since his first-baller in Siddle’s hat trick an age ago, now joined Prior who continued to wolf down what was served up to him and to encourage his new companion to put away a rarebit with relish until the restaurant closed leaving England on 342 for 6 and Prior and Broad wanting more.

* Third Man was tempted to liken Morgan to Samuel Beckett, another lefty, but his batting average of 8.75 in Gordon and Hawke’s Cricket Form at a Glance made it an unjustifiable comparison.

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