How times can change – or not. A South African journalist writes

As I wrote earlier, Neil Manthrop – a South African journalist – wrote a passionate article on the recent 4th Test which South Africa lost. As an English supporter, but a cricket-fan most of all, I was stunned; England won, and it was a genuinely memorable Test match, but I hadn’t anticipated such a fall out for South African Cricket.

Before this series, much was written about SA cricket being in decline. They had slipped dramatically from 2nd in the world (at one point they were significantly ahead of 3rd place, albeit some way behind Australia who were and still are 1st) to 6th. The racial quota policy – which I’m positive had been abolished in 2001(??) – continues; Mark Boucher, one of the best keeper-all-rounders in World Cricket in my opinion, has been forced to wait until the 4th Test to play (admittedly his form has been questioned, but he looked alright to me…). Despite all the above, the anger with which Neil writes is quite incredible:

“South African cricket may yesterday have suffered its most damaging blow since its isolation ended in June 1991.”

“His [Ray Jennings] aggressive methods, which caused the injury to his captain Graeme Smith during the warm-up on this Test’s fourth morning, are controversial to say the least”

“If Smith’s injury had been an unlucky accident Jennings could be forgiven, but this is the second time in two months that a player has been concussed courtesy of Jennings’ warm-up bat. In Kanpur six weeks ago the unlucky man was Dippenaar. It is one thing having a hard nut as a coach, quite another having simply a nut.”

The problem for South Africa is the number of problems. Not only is their form scratchy (God help them when Pollock retires), they have the wrong coach, clueless administrators and a ridiculous quote system of having a minimum of x coloured players in the side. Add onto that passionate and unforgiving SA supporters and suddenly the loss of this Test, and its consequences, become a little clearer. Apparently, and this is news to me, Gibbs counts as a coloured player…which will please their administrators more than anyone; that bloke can play alright.

As for this series, Vaughan will be quite pleased – not arrogant as another cricket blogger mentioned – although his bowling attack is in tatters. South Africa now cannot win this series – and they have a proud and wonderful home record. As Neil says: “The effects may last well after Michael Vaughan and his men have left these shores.”

Shock news from South Africa

The shock news from South Africa this morning (afternoon) is Ray Jennings, dickensien-coach, sadist and all-round-ecentric, has complimented a sportsman. What makes this even more suprising is the sportsman in question is an Englishman. Sources close to the South African squad suggest Ray missed his daily injections, having hit his nurse on the head with a cricket ball. More news when we get it.

‘We are good enough to handle the pressure’

‘We are good enough to handle the pressure’

Just what is Ray on about this time?

“There’s no such thing as a flat wicket, just as there’s no such thing as an easy catch.”

“It takes a lot more to get this South African side down”

“We see 250 runs in 80 overs for one wicket as a positive.”

“The way Kallis is playing, he can chase the target [150-400] himself.”

“I think Strauss’s youth adds value to the package”

Ray Jennings, ladies and gentlemen…

England win first Test – 8 on the trot

So, England win again. 8 on the trot now, something no England team as ever acheived. This win in particular was curious, not least because most of the English were out of form. Harmison in particular looks like he hadn’t bowled since September (which he hadn’t), and some of the batters scratched around like crabs stuck in a net.

Strauss was superb as ever – I write too much about him here, so I’ll let you read more about him elsewhere :)

I found the post-match presentations very odd; there was a trophy (or something) for Trescothick for reaching 4000 Test runs, and one for Kallis for reaching 6000. And a photo of the England team with Giles holding a miniature can of Castle Lager, the SA’s team sponsors. Seems weird(?)

For once though, this loss has revealed some honesty and humanity in Graeme Smith – quite a rarity from someone who can’t help but wallop all questions over long on. He certainly doesn’t play them with a straight bat, but this latest admittance is the most cautious I’ve heard from him:

“We do need to know what our best team is,” said Smith. “We’re a young side, and we need to stabilise all areas from the selectors down to the coach down to the team. A new convenor of selectors means different issues. A new coach wants different things to happen in the team. We have to start working towards a goal. Every time we start again, it’s back to the beginning.

This is really worrying from a SA point of view. A new coach ought to bring excitement and a positive mindset – things are “on the up” – but Jennings seems entirely the wrong person to help SA cricket. They’ve lost their latest Test match against England who aren’t even on form – Michael Vaughan admitted as much in his post-match interview (download in MP3) that they were no more than 80%. If England start to fire in Durban, heads will roll in SA cricket and they’ll struggle to draw the series.

It’s never too long before Ray Makes Hay with one of his quotes, and this is one from yesterday re the Gibbs selection:

‘I am not anti-Herschelle … I am anti poor cricket ethics and guys who are lazy. That is what flips my lid

Jennings the sadist

Mr Ray Jennings has had a lot of press attention since he was appointed (on a short-term contract). The excellent commentator and author, ex-Middlesex RMF Simon Hughes, makes some interesting observations in his article with The Telegraph today. This dictatorial & dickension approach to coaching will not succeed with experienced players like Kallis & Pollock. I don’t make predictions before a Test series, but I do know which of these teams is the more professional…

Via Telegraph:

Jennings was a combative and talented wicketkeeper-batsman during South Africa’s years of isolation. But there is something dangerously inflexible about his disciplinarian attitude, in stark contrast to Duncan Fletcher’s quiet counselling. On the recent tour of India, Jennings had the bowlers running laps if they conceded more than a stipulated number of runs per over, and yesterday he subjected even the most senior players to an impossible sequence of catches fired out of a bowling machine, a sort of cricketing version of being strafed. `What kind of a sadist are you, coach?” asked Pollock, only half joking. If things don’t go well, Jennings is liable to put more than a few noses out of joint.

In contrast, the England team appeared to be relaxed last night, erasing the memory of last weekend’s loss in Potchefstroom.

Both teams are holed up in the same hotel, and there was a cordial atmosphere between them when they encountered each other in the lobby. Hostilities resume tomorrow: England have history to make, South Africa have reputations to restore. I know who my money is on.

Jennings reprimanded by CSA

South African Cricket is, essentially, in a mess – more so, it appears, than they wish to admit. Derek Pringle writes today in The Telegraph, stating that Jennings has been reprimanded:

Just six weeks into given a six-month contract by CSA (hardly a ringing endorsement of their confidence in him), Jennings told the paper he was “nervous about England”. He also said the side had uncertainties in four areas: opening batsman, spin bowling, fast bowling and wicketkeeping, following their recent 1-0 loss in the two-match series against India.

Those areas of uncertainties are, well, desperately worrying. As Pringle says later on, he might have well just said:

“We’ve got no bloody hope,” and that “Steve Harmison will pin us to the sightscreen.” But he didn’t, at least not publicly.

Ouch. I refuse to buy into the view that England are firm favourites for this tour – I think we have a very good chance, but South Africa are incredibly mentally tough and resiliant – like sporting cockroaches – and, I suspect, will rather relish the “backs to the wall” situations that England could enforce.

However, England can only be pleased that SA are struggling on & off the pitch. It’s not a situation they’re not so unfamiliar with in not-so-recent-tours-gone-by!

Smith starting well…

SA Captain started well today against an Indian XI – 86 he made. Interesting, albeit brief, series between these 2 countries. India have just been reasonably hammered by Australia in their back yard, and SA have been struggling on and off the pitch. Both have a lot to lose! I’m also fascinated to see how Jennings licks them into shape – I read he’s appointed Pollock and Kallis and bowling and batting coaches respectively. So, what’s your role then, Ray?