After such a long wait for the Test Summer to begin and despite all the so-called pomp and glory of Lords, the first Test felt a bit of a let down to me. England were pretty good but South Africa were pretty poor and that led to a fairly one-sided Test. The indications, after the first day’s play at Trent Bridge is that this Test will be anything but one-sided. Today was the sort of day that trumps any form of hit and giggle cricket out there, the game flowed one way and then another and by the close of play both teams would have taken their respective positions at the start of play. In my opinion, it is very hard to judge who has the upper hand, a joy for us slightly long in the tooth cricket followers that Tom Harrison clearly doesn’t value.
South Africa got their selection and tactics spot on today and whilst De Bruyn can feel slightly hard done by, the decision to pick Morris was spot on, especially with fears over Philander’s fitness and durability. One person who can’t feel aggrieved is of course JP Duminy, someone who has been making the team on past glories and so-called potential with bat and ball. As D’Arthez and Prime.Evil have mentioned constantly below the line, he is someone that infuriates all Proteas’ followers, a bit like in the way that the selection of Bopara infuriated all England supporters. Yes they both could bat and bowl a bit, but they both looked out of their depth in the international arena and on closer inspection their figures both suggest that they should both have been dropped long before they were. We might still see Duminy in a Test shirt in future, but to be a bit controversial, I would very much doubt that it would be down to his ability.
So back to the Test and South Africa won the toss on a fairly placid pitch, but one that was aiding the seam bowlers due to the overhead conditions. Both openers did alright without scoring the runs they felt they might have deserved and then Amla and De Kock put together a tremendous partnership once the sun came out and the ball stopped swinging. It was quite amusing to listen to Botham et al panning the South African management for not promoting De Kock earlier in his career; of course forgetting that batting at four after 110 overs in the field is less than practical. Whilst Amla’s innings was slightly skittish, De Kock looked in wonderful touch and it is easy to see why he averages over 50 in Test cricket, the only slight knock being that he got out to a lazy waft straight after tea when a century was looking on the cards. Amla then soon departed even after another reprieve from Cook at slip and once Du Plessis and then Bavuma departed relatively cheaply, England looked like they had an opening to bowl out the Proteas cheaply. The fact that they weren’t able to is of great credit to Morris and Philander, who both looked like bona fide all-rounders, especially when dealing with the new ball and due to some slightly strange bowling tactics from England.
For England, it was a bit of a ‘what could have been’ day. They bowled far too short with the new ball, a criticism that has been leveled at them on numerous occasions and when they finally did get their lengths right after lunch, the sun came out and made batting, which had looked fairly treacherous before lunch, look far more serene in the afternoon. England’s bowlers also had a pretty mixed day, with Stokes and Broad (once he had sorted his length out) being the pick of England’s attack. Jimmy bowled ok though he didn’t look particularly threatening and Mark Wood had a day to forget with the ball mainly down to the fact that he bowled far too short and was unable to bowl one side of the wicket. Wood is a talent and despite a bad day at the office, he should be retained due to the fact that he does have the pace to challenge opposing batsmen when he gets it right. And then we come to Liam Dawson. I don’t particularly take great pleasure in signally out one player for criticism, but Dawson is simply not good enough for Test cricket. He sort of reminds me of the quiet and slightly strange guy from accounts who ventures out for the work Christmas party and then hangs around at the side of the group; Sure it’s possible to make small talk for a while, however you don’t particularly want him to be there and more importantly, he doesn’t really want to be there either. He might well be a good character, but neither Dawson’s bowling nor batting merit a place in the side. It’s almost like England have no idea as to what to do with the number 8 position without Woakes and have hedged their bets on the very definition of a ‘bits and pieces’ player. Surely after this Test, the selectors will see that Dawson isn’t up to Test cricket, then again he’s an Andy Flower favourite, so will probably end up with 50 caps!
So after an intriguing first day, we move on to an equally intriguing second day with both teams having the ability to move themselves into the box seat. If South Africa bat well and get up to 450, then they will surely be favourites to win as Trent Bridge can turn into a minefield batting last; however if England can wrap this innings up for around 350-370, then providing they bat well, they could well be in a position to ramp the pressure up on the Proteas in the second innings. So cancel any plans to go out shopping or to go for a long walk in the countryside and sit back and watch Day 2, it could be a cracker tomorrow.
Thoughts and comments on Day 2 below: