All I Got Was Cigarettes And Alcohol – The 4th Test Preview (of sorts)

Welcome to the 4th Test match to be played at the Wanderers, Johannesburg. Been there!

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I really enjoyed my time there, back in 2005, when I saw a badly rain affected Day 2 (where Vaughan batted very well and I got my first look in the flesh of the great Dale Steyn) and then Day 3, when Herschelle Gibbs made a century. I flew home that night and missed that match’s conclusion – you know, Trescothick, Hoggard, the South African coach smashing a ball at Smith’s head. That sort of thing. I’m not bitter.

But even recalling these days, a more innocent time in my cricket and life experience, is melancholy. Test cricket was the thing. Test cricket mattered. Two strong teams battling out a thrilling series. England in their pomp, on the crescendo up to the 2005 Ashes. South Africa in a little turmoil, but with players coming through, none more exciting than Steyn. T20 was an embryonic entity, just started in county cricket, with other versions similar to it in other countries. No-one worried about the future of test cricket – strong teams, great competition, many, many great players.

This series, for all its feel good moments in the last two matches for England, has not got that lustre. England are middle of the pack, inconsistent, with some match-winning performers, but all the while bedding in players, with a thinner reserve base to pick from. If the exit of the U19 team from the World Cup isn’t a canary in that particular gold mine, I don’t know what is. Sport doesn’t need to be top class to be entertaining, but an occasion does need to have top class performers. So while this is enthralling sport, it doesn’t have that sense of occasion. England are winning against a team being rendered from inside and out, and with, what looks to be, a bleak future. Yes, three weeks ago after winning in Centurion there were optimistic noises. They have evaporated now, with talk of Faf retiring, of Bavuma coming back despite not establishing himself on form, the bowling about to lose Philander, and whoever a county might want to take on a Kolpak. So while we have a crisis in confidence in England about the future of test matches, South Africa are staring down the barrel of a long wilderness, to mix a metaphor or two, and that’s not good. It really isn’t.

I thought I’d refer to the title of the piece here for some reflection. I’ve written many, many times about how my love for the game is ebbing away. Of how a test match devalued is a sport destroyed. Of how people in power only seem to care about the monetary side of the game, and not the future. They are not the same. A lot of my writing in the past six years, hell 11 since I started How Did We Lose In Adelaide, has been about my concerns, even hatred, at what has been going on. After 2014, writing became an addiction. HDWLIA was an addiction. Like the time I was a smoker, I enjoyed it, it was something I liked, even though I knew it was doing me harm. 2014-16 especially was like starting smoking. But then you realise what a toll it was taking. So you try to give up, but you can’t for long, and you start again, saying you’ll cut back, but then you go back to where you were. You get the tortured analogy. I finally stopped when I was coughing up blood in an overseas hotel, but in blogging terms, I’ve not had that moment!

Days like the last three, though, make me wonder what’s the point? There was the KP interview with Martin Samuel. I’m not sure if you’ve read it, but you know, many of the points we made here about the scandalous briefing against him, how he was the symptom, not the disease, are now entering the mainstream. You know how Flower’s regime was actually a destructive one at the end of the day. You know how the ECB leaked like a sieve, not being paranoid about it. And about how whether we liked it or not, KP was not going to constrain his earnings and now all follow behind him. There’s a lot wrong with KP, of course there is, but he blazed the trail others follow and yet don’t seem to want to acknowledge that. Many of the wounds are healing it seems, but for the Daily Mail, of all rags, to print that and for KP to give an interview to it (even with the sumptuous dig at “other writers at that paper”) is maddening. They did the most to get you out, and now you talk to that? I really do wonder.

Then there was this today.

He didn’t address him directly, but this is in reaction to Michael Vaughan saying Tom Banton should get first class experience and then be fast tracked into the test team, to bat at 6. To do this, he would need to not play in the IPL. Gurney, of course, turning rapidly into the Katie Hopkins of Cricket Twitter, thought he’d make one of his pointed observations about this, and in the process, slagged off county cricket fans once again. Whether it is being funny, or in this case, not, Gurney is being crass. We get it, big shot. There’s a market for your left arm seam in T20 cricket, with your changes of pace and so on. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t. You are more than entitled to earn your crust in the way you see fit. But you start this with supporters. Not us. You can’t have a pop at the pensioners, when they supported you in your early days, and then get wounded when they pop back. To claim the tweet is in response to Vaughan, a person we hold in the deepest contempt for his views post-playing career, is one thing. But when it comes to one moron having a pop at another, we aren’t required to take sides. We can, and do, think you are both morons who seem to have contempt for those that paid for tickets, played your game, and love it from before. Gurney doesn’t bother with the likes of us, and evidently wouldn’t give a shit if he does. But maybe, Harry, just maybe, show some class. You could have made your point without denigrating fans in the process. But you just can’t help yourself.

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This sort of thing makes me sad. It makes me, in some way, long for the day when the addiction to blogging will go, and a normal life not getting angry at these people can take over. Where I can just sit back, and watch the 4th Test, hope England win, hope I can see a special performance, and yes, hope to see one or two from South Africans too. Where I hope England resist the temptation and play a spinner. Where Jofra Archer might return, or have people briefing against him that the elbow injury is in his head. Where Sibley and Crawley make runs. Where Denly might get that elusive hundred to get the yoke off his back. Where Root or Stokes might take to the skies, run amok in Joburg, backing up their talent. Where Jos gets his mojo back, Pope flows like Bell Mark 2. Where Mark Wood bowls like fire, where Stuart Broad reprises the last time at this venue. And where we can enjoy cricket, and not the ceaseless rubbish that accompanies it. Of Crisp-less Hundred Shirts. Of talking about whether a suspension catered for under the rules is merited. Of anything but the game.

I was looking for some action, of magnificent shots, and fantastic bowling. It don’t scan, but who the hell cares?

I am away from Day 4 onwards, having a work trip to South East Asia, (much of which will be spent in legal offices), so I will be leaving you in the capable hands of Sean, Danny and Chris. As always, comments on the first day’s action below. Thanks as always to the readership who keep me going, and are the equivalent of my 20 Silk Cut. Do they still even exist?

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I’ve Had Enough, I’m Getting Out – Day 1 at the Cape Town Test

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England: 262 for 9 (Pope 56*, Stokes 47 – Pretorius 2/26)

Day 1 at CapeTown always brings back memories for me. I had the absolute pleasure of attending the test there in 2005. It was actually sad to see the area in which I spent four of the five days of that game (yes, it went five days, but if it were a 4 day test, we’d have followed on midway through Day 3). now cordoned off for redevelopment. I do hope the grass bank returns there. It was a great way to watch the cricket.

Anyway, let’s shrug off those memories, and instead focus on today. England chose to omit Jonny Bairstow, while Burns and Archer missed out through injury. Zak Crawley came into open, Ollie Pope reclaimed his place at number 6 and back-up keeper, while Dom Bess gives England a spin option, while Matt Parkinson might be wondering if this paid up working holiday is going to continue with him being ignored. England won the toss and batted.

And within 3 overs Crawley was back in the pavilion, nicking a swinging delivery from Philander. Zak is going to sink or swim here – the last selection of Bairstow over him at Centurion indicated a lack of faith – and he looks like he might get a run if he can just show something in the second innings. I saw him, admittedly a small sample size, at the Oval last year and was really impressed how he handled Morkel. But Philander is a different kind of test animal….

Denly and Sibley then dug in for most of the morning session, before Sibley, who is gradually increasing his output each test, was taken just before lunch when he nicked off to Rabada.  England lunched at 67 for 2.

The afternoon session saw Denly become becalmed, while Root did the advancing of the score. I missed the immediate post-lunch session walking the border collie, and when I came back, Root was out, being undone by pace and gloving the ball to de Kock off the pretty impressive Nortje. He had made 35 of the partnership of 42. 105 for 3. Ben Stokes joined Denly, with those memories of 4 years ago and his double century in lots of people’s minds. But before we could get to grips with any of that, and with no hint, Denly played down the wrong line to Maharaj, left a gap between bat and pad, and was castled. Out for 38, and 127 for 4.

Stokes and Pope then put together a partnership – no not 100+ but at least over 50. Pope is one of those players that looks lovely when he hits it, but gives you a real chance, and he did at the start today. He seems to lunge at spin, play with firm hands, but man, when he drives it, it’s like watching Ian Bell. Stokes started to look really dominating, plonking Maharaj over long on for six, and a dismissive pull for four was a lovely shot. Then, bang, chipped to cover for 47. No reason, no hint, just a chip to extra cover. 185 for 5.

Jos Buttler came in, played aggressively, was dropped off a tough chance at silly mid-off, and then nicked off after a flowery 29. No excuses here, Jos. No protecting the tail and then getting out trying to get fast runs. He has the gloves now, so maybe has a bit more time to go, but there are whispers out there. 221 for 6.

Sam Curran played a good shot, then left one and had his off stump knocked out. 231 for 7. Dom Bess, picked partially for his batting, nicked off to the first ball with the new cherry from Vernon Philander. 231 for 8. Stuart Broad’s Embarrassing Dismissal DVD registered another entry when he was yorked by Rabada with bat behind his pad and his feet beating the retreat. 234 for 9.

Pope then added 28 with Jimmy Anderson, and passed his second test fifty with some deft and inventive shot making. The day after his 22nd birthday he played with great maturity and showed he is someone we can look to the future to. He had some luck when Rabada bounced Pope, who hooked it to Philander only for it to be judged a no-ball by the third umpire. The ball before, when Pope upper cut for four, it was an enormous no-ball I called on Twitter (Sky later confirmed it) and this wasn’t called. Umpires have a really tough job, but that was blatant. Maybe this should just be handed to the third umpire. Pope finishing the day on 56 not out. In the words of Atherton “the one bright spot”

What’s there really to say? Any sense in getting angry about this? A different type of batting failure. Instead of one contribution of 80, and another of 40 with single digits elsewhere, we now have numbers 2-7 all making scores between 29 and 47, with one exception. It’s different. All getting in and all getting out (except Pope, of course, but he got lucky spooning one over mid-on early in his innings).

South Africa bowled well, make no mistake about it, but England are going nowhere in test cricket, especially away from home. I go back, as I always do, to the Pakistan test about 20 months ago when we won, well, but the England innings was a lot like this. No-one was making the big centuries. We were relying on helpful bowling conditions and scratching out 250-350. I said then it wasn’t a template for the future. I shrug my shoulders these days.

You should never judge a pitch until both teams have batted, and bowled, on it, but this feels light. Very light. But let us see….

Over Rate Watch – One over light in the 6 and a half hour’s play today. I suppose we should celebrate that.

So, looking forward to Day 2 (although my watching will be curtailed for Teddy’s annual vet visit). And I will continue to watch wistfully. It is a really, really lovely ground. I miss those days. I certainly remember being well watered by the end of that first day, like the England fans appeared to be during that 10th wicket partnership!

Blatant self-promotion on the “Extra Bits” – On This Day for January 3rd. – I have the next six days covered as well.

Comments on today, and those for Day 2, below.