Sunday, 6 March 2011

England v S Africa another non preview

Amla - not the batsman
The amla is an Indian gooseberry, the size of a lemon, spherical, bitter and yellow-green.  It is commonly used in hair restorers and similar potions.  Hashim Amla is also South Africa's top ranking ODI batter.  He may well have made liberal use of the eponymous fruit on his chin to cultivate the proudest beard in world cricket - maybe even in world sport.  Fantasy Bob and fellow Scottish cricket fans still await the Scottish batsman called Hamish Amla.

Sunday's England v South Africa game in Chennai may not be make or break for England, but it is getting pretty damn close.  Will they be the gooseberry at the end of Group B's action?  The points at stake are important and if England go down to South Africa they depend on results elsewhere or, even worse, net run rate.  But the points may well be less critical than generating some credibility and momentum in fielding and bowling. 

England's weakness
What has happened to the mean machine that was so effective during the Ashes?  Yes, bowling in the 50 over format might be a bit different, but catching isn't and England have shelled at least 12 in their 3 matches.  Before Christmas the same personnel were being lauded as the best England fielding unit ever.

Kevin O'Brien said that England didn't have a bowling plan.  No one is sure whether he would have recognised one even if it had been there - making 3 figures off 63 balls doesn't leave much time for such abstract considerations.  In any case, FB is not convinced that bowling plans are all they are cracked up to be - for him death bowling seems pretty simple in concept.  Malinga and Roach have showed how to do it.  Aim for the batter's toes.  England's bowling coach has been heard haunting the hotel corridors with renditions of the Pete Seeger's famous old protest song:

Where have all the yorkers gone
Broad and Bresnan
Where have all the yorkers gone
Jimmy Anderson
Gone to full tosses every one
When will you ever learn
Not a gooseberry
To control your length
Bopara for Collingwood doesn't really do it for FB and KP's injury must be a worry (for his bank manager if no one else).

FB wouldn't choose to face South Africa under must win conditions.  Saffies have started with the usual efficiency that makes them so unlovable.  Most cricket watchers cannot understand why they have never managed to win this competition, or even get to the final - admittedly most do not really care that they haven't, indeed they might be secretly delighted, but some day SA's turn will come.  This time they have the looks of a well balanced side with depth in batting and in form players in Amla and de Villiers - both Smith and Kallis are due a big knock.  Bowling has pace and guile and Steyn and Morkel are well up the ODI rankings.  England may be more familiar with Imran Tahir than other sides, but he's still a new kid on the block.  FB wonders if he is the harbinger of a new future?  England is pretty near a team of repatriated Saffies - are we looking forward to see S Africa as a team repatriated Pakistanis?

The record books are going for England in that their ODI record against S Africa is pretty respectable -   they have won 8 of their last 9 matches.  S Africa's one day form was as questionable as England's coming into the championship and they haven't been subject to much of a test so far having rolled over the W Indies and Netherlands. This is the first time the pressure will be on them.  History says they don't like that so a tight match could be in prospect.  All the more reason for England to win the toss.  Strauss should have learned from the matches so far that batting second is better for this England side.   So all they need to do is bowl efficiently and get their catching in order. 

And everything will be all right.  That's all they have to do.

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