The recently concluded first test between South Africa and England at Supersport Park has received raving reviews from sources far and wide, and rightfully so.
That the final result after 5 gruelling days in the sun was still in the balance with 1 ball of the Test match remaining speaks volumes for the format and indeed the nuances of Test cricket that are often forgotten during extended periods of Pyjama Cricket. It was a fantastic spectacle and with 3 Tests remaining in the series, one can only hope for more.
Some humble observations from my side include the following :
NTINI IS AT, OR FAST APPROACHING HIS SELL BY DATE
This loyal servant, workhorse, super-star - call him what you must, has given his all for his country over the last 13 years. That only 6 other seam bowlers have played as many Tests as he has is proof enough that the guy is special. My view is that he should quit while he's ahead. Allan Donald played a season too many and is often remembered more for that, than for the special talent he displayed for the better part of 15 years. Ntini should avoid doing the same. I don't question his fitness, his pedigree or his attitude. I just believe him to be less effective than he was at or near his peak, and less potentially effective than the guys in the wings. The modern game requires variation from spinners and seamers alike. The fact that Makhaya has never had a slower ball makes his 100th cap even more of an achievement. No off cutter, no leg break. Seam up, varied length - between 130-140 kph. How many modern day top order batsmen are gonna lose sleep over that ? Not a helluva lot of them I can tell you. Makhaya you are and will always be fondly remembered for your services to SA and World cricket. Quit while you're ahead big guy.
SIDEBAR : CSA may ask him to play on to balance the 'colour' scales until a replacement is found. That's a whole new discussion though.
AFTER STRAUSS AND KP, ENGLAND HAS NO TOP ORDER
Yea sure. Trott has done well thus far, but Kingsmead will be only his 3rd Test. The Saffas will get under his skin, just you watch. Ian Bell ? Geoff Boycotts grandma is better than him. Alastair Cook has looked completely out of sorts since getting off the plane. I don't expect much to change there. I would suggest Swann has shown more application to batting in Tests in the last 18 months than some of his specialist colleagues. And that doesn't only include the recent game at Centurion.
If Dale Steyn returns to full fitness in time for the boxing day Test, expect Friedel de Wet to sit out, and wrongly so. He has more hunger, a younger frame and more pace and variation than Ntini, but my gut feel is that CSA will not let Ntini go just yet. Not for a white bloke anyway.
If de Wet had not overstepped when trapping KP plumb LBW early on in his innings, the game would have been done and dusted with 20 overs to spare. Having said that, if the umpire had called the no-ball that dismissed KP in his first innings, England may have won. A lot of Ifs Ands Ors and Buts.
England will probably replace Bell, and possibly give Sidebottom a bowl. Steyn will most likely replace de Wet for SA. Weather permitting I think Sa still have the advantage, especially now that Kallis is expected to resume duties with the ball. Time will tell.