Are You Not Entertained?

Bad news for all you “The Leg Glance” fans out there, as the reins for the 4th Test preview have been handed to me. Yes, one of my alter egos that gets the people to moan, is back. The Twitter Idiot Dmitri Old. If you’ve not seen my poem on trains tonight, well, go and look. The Bogfather liked it. That’s enough for me. TLG is unavailable until much later in the week, so I’m writing the preview. Loads of words, a bit of scorecard nonsense, a plea for realism and I think just the one mention of Kevin Pietersen. That’s progress.

We’ve seen the media in full cry this week. I do believe we were world ranked #6 going into this series so inevitably knocking off the world #1 in their own backyard is sound enough evidence that this is the World’s Best on the brink of something special. Now, as you know, I’m not overly swayed by world rankings, and tend to think of who might come out best on neutral grounds in test matches. So, if England were to play Australia in India for example, who would win? India played Australia in the UAE who would win (or maybe the West Indies)? I think it is fair to say that South Africa got to number 1 because they were the most adaptable side in all conditions. They got stuck into pretty much anyone and didn’t lose. Then that tour of India saw them disintegrate and provided England with an opportunity to hit a side very low on confidence.

That they did, and kept the hammer down speaks volumes for this team, and we can all see the promise. But think of the dominant teams and you think of excellent bowling attacks – and England could provide rivals to the vaunted 2005 attack if only they could all bowl together. It’s as if Stuart needs Jimmy to be absent or off his game to be the king. Stokes has a lot more wickets at this stage of his test career than Freddie for instance. It has immense promise. The batting line-up is deep, allowing numbers 6,7 and 8 to flog tired attacks if the top order does its job. But the achilles heel is the batting. Think of world number 1 teams at their ascendancy. Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lloyd; Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Martyn, S. Waugh/Hussey/M.Waugh, Gilchrist; Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman, Dhoni; Smith, Kallis, Amla, DeVilliers. We have Cook and Root. England’s team that got to world #1 had a fading Strauss, but Cook going well, Bell, Trott, KP. When you look at this team, it’s short there.

This needs to be remembered as we see press people get carried away. I’ve not read BTL, or much of the papers (that site needs updating when I have a few hours) as real life has interjected. But some of the hints on Twitter, the over-burdening of praise, over hyping individuals has been noted on social media. This is an exciting team, I really don’t want people to get the idea that I’m arguing the contrary, but act like we’ve not got ADHD? They’ve won three of their last 8 test series, drawn 1 and lost 4. Perspective is not losing sight of the bigger picture. There are many looking at the upcoming home schedule and thinking that it’s there for us. It could be, but let’s win those matches.

I was also amused at the piece today citing that Stuart Broad is in the top five English bowlers ever. All I’d say about that piece is that no-one would have written it before this test. And that’s not to besmirch Stuart Broad, who can point to the wickets and say, “it’s true.” I hate everything about this rush to hyperbole, and contextualising modern day cricket only. It’s the way the Premier League denies anything before 1992, why any young kid who scores for Man Utd is lauded out of scale etc. I’ll bark at the moon all I want on this one. I do get excited, just not carried away. That’s not the modern way.

So on to the 4th Test in Centurion. We have not lost there, if my memory serves me well. The first tour was the first test ever played on the ground, and Hick made a ton before the rains. The infamous leather jacket test was next, so less said the better. 2005 saw us clinch the series having given us mild palpitations after tea on Day 5, and the last time we visited, we drew with nine down. So the positives are that we go to a venue with a decent record. The flip side is that we don’t seem to finish test series well. Losses in Sharjah, at The Oval, Headingley and Bridgetown this past 10 months are fresh in the memory. Only one of those can be put down to being a “dead rubber” like this.

The hosts appear to be a team in disarray. A captain who seems to be giving out all the signs of jacking it in before he even started, flux at the top, Amla seeming to be not as sure as himself as he used to be, bowling raw or not good enough (or a bit of both) and the fielding surprisingly off. But there’s a palpable sense, from here, of a team lacking belief. Belief in itself, in the future, and with the sport itself. I’m used to South Africans being up for it, playing up their strengths, not approaching a game in fear. They looked a beaten side in Joburg long before the coup de grace was executed by Broad.

This is a big test match for Hales, Compton and Taylor. None have stamped their authority on their place, while all have given great hints as to why they are there. I’m not going to have the obligatory dig at Cook because there’s no point. His stats only matter when he scores runs. Bairstow nailing down the batsman/keeper spot is a bonus, Stokes’s game changing abilities are a rare commodity and we should be keen to accentuate the positive – I’m not sure we’ve really come to terms with the 258. I suppose Woakes will be in for the injured Finn to cement his status as “next taxi on the rank”.

OK, I’ve meandered enough. Comments for Day 1 will be in a separate thread, but until then, have a great rest of the week.

All the best.

Dmitri / Lord Canis Lupus

@DmitriOld @LordCanisLupus.