Report by Neil Robinson 03/07/03
The statistics say, any side batting second in a floodlit one-day international in England has just a one in three chance of success. Well, at least thatís better than the chances of an Englishman winning Wimbledon any time soon. But, even with the odds firmly in their favour, the side batting first still has to put runs on the board and perform well in the field.
In the two day-night games of this summer, both at Old Trafford, England have failed to tick both these boxes. Against Pakistan two weeks ago a fine bowling performance couldnít make up for a paltry batting total of 204. Against South Africa, in the fifth match of the NatWest Series, they found themselves simply outbowled and outbatted by their opponents.
After a week of heavy rain and with Manchester still trapped beneath leaden skies, batting first was never going to be easy in damp conditions favourable to seam and swing. But, in England, no-one ever chooses to bat second under lights. Michael Vaughan opted to bat first, and soon found himself at the crease and as quickly again back in the pavilion as some fine new-ball bowling shot out first Solanki than himself. Shaun Pollock in particular was back to his best. Although slower than of yore, he has sacrificed none of his accuracy or his command of swing. It was the end of his fifth over before he conceded a run.
His first spell of 7-4-5-1 looked to have put the match firmly in South Africaís control, but the back up bowling of Hall, Boje and Charl Langeveldt wasnít of the same quality, and Marcus Trescothick and Anthony McGrath built a solid partnership of 114. In the end, it was the English curse of the sweep shot which accounted for them both, Trescothick top edging van Jaarsveld to backward point where Boje was able to atone for a shocking drop a few overs before, then McGrath overbalancing and being stumped off a wide. Those who followed them showed little of the same application. Flintoff and Troughton scratched around for too many overs before getting out to loose strokes, and it was only another sparky innings from Chris Read, who put on 47 in 35 balls with Ashley Giles at the death, which gave Englandís total any respectability.
223 for 7 would not strike fear into too many sides in modern one-day cricket. But so strongly weighted are these floodlit contests in England that the hosts, and most observers, thought they had a pretty competitive score on the board. Had it not been for some moderate bowling and another beautifully paced innings from Jacques Kallis, that might still have been the case. At a quiet ceremony before the game, a road outside the ground was renamed Brian Statham Way in honour of the great Lancashire and England fast bowler. The Warwick Road End thus becomes the Brian Statham End, although Stathamís widow Audrey couldnít help pointing out that the man himself preferred to bowl and watch from the Stretford End. It was a fine tribute to a gentle legend of the sport, who formed one of the great new-ball partnerships in English history with his great friend from over the Pennines, Fred Trueman. Nothing could have been more appropriate than that a modern transpennine pair should have taken the new ball for England on such a day. Sadly there was little else to provoke comparison between the old and the new.
Apart from one beautiful inswinger to bowl Graeme Smith for 22, the Anderson radar was never quite on the mark, while Darren Goughís Trueman-like efforts were not rewarded with wickets. A brilliant piece of fielding by Vikram Solanki accounted for Gibbs early in the piece, but after Smith had gone there were few other joys for England. Andrew Hall, promoted to number 3, and Jacques Kallis put on 45 at a steady rate as the game entered something of a lull, the crowd amusing itself with Mexican waves and copious quantities of Lancashire ale. Hall drove over a straight ball from Flintoff for 29, but after that Kallis and Jacques Rudolph never looked in any trouble, an unbeaten fourth wicket partnership of 145 seeing the visitors to a deserved victory with 15 balls to spare.
If Kallisís purple patch extends much further heíll need to consult a dermatologist. His was another splendid knock, played in utterly untroubled, unflappable fashion. It was hard to remember an innings played with such a calm demeanour and the only shame was that it couldnít be stretched to a third consecutive hundred. For this, much of the credit/blame must go to Rudolph, who finally delivered the innings his elegant strokeplay had promised in his previous two outings this summer.
Against batting of this class, there was little Vaughan and England could do. True, once again there was little overt attempt to attack the batsmen, the only close catcher visible was a silly point when Rudolph faced Giles at the start of his innings, but in truth the England bowlers looked less like producing a wicket-taking ball than in any previous game of the series. The fielding was sharp and busy, Vaughan switched his bowlers around intelligently, but nothing ever looked like succeeding.
Giles, returning for the unfortunate Kabir Ali, for once bowled equal amounts over and round the wicket, but from neither angle did he threaten, his final figures of 9-0-51-0 telling a bleak tale. He is a consummate professional, who at his worst bowls only unthreatening, never downright bad, spells. But his position as Englandís leading spinner reveals just how debased this once rich English art has become. A number of theories have been put forward for this, but one in particular gained extra credence this week with the announcement by the Indian cricket authorities that they are to prohibit all limited overs cricket up to the under-17 age group, in a move to address the lack of young spinners being produced. Virtually all junior and club cricket in England is played to limited overs rules, while three limited overs competitions dominate the County scene. England hasnít produced a truly world class spinner since Derek Underwood.
After this defeat, the hosts now face an uphill battle to qualify for next wekendís final. Their next game, against Zimbabwe at Bristol on Sunday, now assumes a do or die importance. They must also hope that South Africaís good form will see them through their own two remaining games against Zimbabwe. Here, England may be in luck. South Africa have improved game by game in this tournament and are beginning to look unstoppable.
England 223 for 7 (Trescothick 60, McGrath 51)
South Africa 227 for 3 from 47.3 overs (Kallis 82*, Rudolph 71*)
South Africa won by 7 wickets
Man of the Match: