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July 10, 2012

Australia in England 2012

The 'Rashes' effect

Jarrod Kimber
Dale Steyn claimed the early wicket of Alex Barrow, Somerset v South Africans, Tour Match, Taunton, 1st day, July 9, 2012
Wait ... are South Africa in England?  © Getty Images
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If you listen intently you can almost hear the hum of a huge Test series coming up. That is if you have an ear trumpet and it's aimed at Somerset this week. South Africa's opening press conference is where the hype usually kicks off, but instead most of England's reporters were watching the inevitable result of Australia losing at Chester-le-Street.

Before I wrote this article, I'd barely even thought of the Test series. And other than chats about how stupid it is to have a three-Test series, or a little bit of Dale Steyn longing, it's like it doesn't exist at all.

I'm not the only one to overlook it. Cricket Writers on TV' is three cricket writers sitting around Paul Allott, talking about English and world cricket. It's a pretty simple show; there is breakfast on the table in front of them to show how intimate it all is. The closest thing to a special effect is Allott holding up a newspaper to camera. It's all very polite and proper compared to Australian or Indian cricket shows.

Sunday's episode focused on England's dominance over Australia in the current ODI series. There was much talk of two white balls. England's quality quicks dominating poorly performing Australian batsmen. Aussie bowlers going home. Future Champions Trophy and World Cup chances. And the inevitable Ashes talk.

Eventually the chat moved towards Mark Ramprakash's snake hips. And then, about an hour into the show, they moved on to South Africa. That's not singling out Cricket Writers on TV, because at least they mentioned the series, which many others haven't.

It's almost like in just over a week's time there isn't a series between England and South Africa, a Test series, the two best Test teams in the world. In most of the press and even on the social networks, few people have been talking about this series.

A series that has a bowl-off between Morkel, Anderson, Philander, Broad, Steyn, Bresnan, Swann and Tahir. It should be the only thing anyone is talking about, not an afterthought.

Some of this is because of The Rashes. A peculiar, incestuous disease that only seems to affect Australians and the English. The Rashes makes everything about that one series, and even when people are watching a completely pointless ODI series, they can't help but look ahead towards the "real" series in a year's time.

The rest is scheduling. The press are no different to the players. Both have to work at this series even if they don't want to. And while you want to start series previews and doing the hype, you've still got to write about how good Finn looks and what are the chances of rain in Manchester.

If this was an ODI series between England and South Africa with an Ashes to follow (which probably wouldn't happen), every single good or bad performance by England would be used as a way of talking about the next series. If Australia went to Switzerland like the South Africans did, it would be major news, and it would have been the punchline in many columns and bar chats. By this point, there would already be articles (probably by me and others) complaining about how long and pointless the faux pre-war talk is.

Instead South Africa have slipped into the country under near stealth as Australia have been bullied and bashed in this extremely early Ashes warm-up. The South African team could play naked against Somerset and get less column space than Ian Bell's good form or Australia's problem with the moving ball. They're currently receiving less chat than Xavier Doherty's problems taking wickets against England's top order in the middle overs.

As it was pointed out on Cricket Writers on TV, this could be the last Test series that Graeme Smith is captain of South Africa. There are nine-year-old children who don't know what it's like to live in a Graeme Smithless world.

Since 2009, no team with this much chance of beating England has arrived for a UK summer. Morne Morkel is at times Pinky and the Brain, a man capable of swallowing batsmen whole, who can also retreat into himself mid-over and almost disappear. Vernon Philander couldn't look more like a club bowler if his whites were stained with red and his shirt was untucked, but his record is scary good. Dale Steyn may be only using his career as a calling card for roles in Hollywood films as vicious prison guards, but with talk of Anderson, and even Philander and Morkel, pushing him for the claim of world's best bowler, he should be spectacularly fired up for this summer. And let's not forget Imran Tahir, who spent many a county summer playing with domestic batsmen like they were plastic soldiers he was melting in the sun.

A bit like this whole England v South Africa series, the hype will have barely started by the time it's all over. Cricket Writers on TV, the rest of the press and even the fans can't be blamed completely for talking about what is in front of them instead of looking ahead. It's just that when the two best teams in the world are clashing in only a few days, you would probably want a bit more than it being second fiddle to discussions about how Ricky Ponting will go in a year's time.

Especially as Ponting is not even in England at the moment

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

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Scheduling

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Posted by Fred on (July 15, 2012, 9:13 GMT)

England's press,especially after thrashing a poor Aussie side, are coming across as dismissive and a bit disrepectfull towards the South Africans. Perhaps the players are believing their own press as well, but as we all know this game can bite you very fast, and the South African's have come to play, make no mistake. England beware, a hiding may be around the corner. Go South Africa.

Posted by Justin on (July 11, 2012, 13:46 GMT)

Very good article! just wish it was a 5 match series. Still SA to win 2-0

Posted by viclang on (July 11, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

I totally agree with the writer here. The England/Aussie ODI series was just a yawn, a filler, waiting for the REAL cricket to begin. It's a real pity there are only three Tests. I predicted that SA would take the series 2-1, but now with Boucher sadly going back home, it will be even closer - weather permitting. It's also true to say that the cricketing world will only realise what amazing players South Africa have had once they retire - the likes of Boucher, Kallis, Smith, Steyn, etc. Massive boots will need to be filled...

Posted by jb633 on (July 11, 2012, 10:02 GMT)

I completley agree with this. I am an English fan and have noticed how our tours this winter seem to be forgotten by many in the media. I feel now that I would rather England beat Inida in Inida than win the ashes. The press almost see to be ignoring futire tours though.

Posted by Chris on (July 11, 2012, 10:02 GMT)

I couldn't agree more with you. This obsession with the Ashes is ruining the upcoming series against South Africa. There should have been a build up to the series, but no. The ECB would do anything to play and beat a weak Australian team to boost their egos, while they should have scheduled a 5 match test series against the number two test team in the world.

Posted by Geoff Plumridge on (July 11, 2012, 2:45 GMT)

What can one say? The Ashes is one of the supreme sporting contests in the world, one of the oldest, grandest, most written about sporting rivalries ever. Even if the Aussies hadn't arrived and played this ODI, the papers would be saying that Englands performance against SA would be a "barometer" for next year. The fight for the Test number 1 spot is secondary to the ashes in the minds of England fans. And dare I say it, the players too.

Posted by Gizza on (July 11, 2012, 1:43 GMT)

It is good there is little hype for this marquee series. Hyped up series rarely live up to it. Look at India's tour last year. Also if you hype up too much, the cricket can get boring before a single ball is bowled.

But yes agree with the Rashes effect. To be honest from a pessimist's perspective, you can say no Anglo/Aussie cares about Test cricket anymore and the Aussies and English themselves only care about the Ashes which means hardly anyone in the world cares about a non-Ashes Test. I don't personally agree with this in its extremity but there are many keen observers of the game who probably do reasonably take this view.

Posted by George Koen on (July 10, 2012, 22:53 GMT)

Well, I seriously enjoyed this pertinent of articles. Thank you and go South Africa!

Posted by Spike on (July 10, 2012, 14:07 GMT)

I don't read the English press, but from an SA perspective this series is very much in the forfront of everyone's minds.

Posted by Al on (July 10, 2012, 12:11 GMT)

Couldn't agree more Mr Kimber - it's a huge challenge for both teams. The fact England are at home won't matter much as SA aren't particularly good at home so they'll quite like being here and it should suit their bowlers well enough. I'll be surprised if Tahir does well and Morkel is seriously overrated - he's too inconsistent. Steyn is the best there is though and Philander looks very promising. How well Kallis does is the key I think - if he's at his best with ball and bat England will have to be right at the top of their game. If not, England should be favourites. Without doubt, the 2 best sides in the world right now. Bring it on...he says...nervously...

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