July 24, 2012

A 1930s Test, minus the fascism and silly moustaches

Two teams displaying a voracious appetite for runs against a backdrop of financial Armageddon and mass unemployment

After three and a half days of largely unmolested chiselling, the monument-erecting competition in South London had a winner. At 3:40 on Sunday evening, Hashim Amla climbed down to admire his handiwork, an enormous, towering 311, and he wasn’t even tired, just a bit of a stiff back, a slight chafing to the leg glance and a sprinkling of masonry dust in his beard.

With two teams displaying a voracious appetite for runs against a backdrop of financial Armageddon and mass unemployment, there was a touch of the 1930s about this Test, albeit without the fascism or the silly moustaches. Amla in particular stands comparison with those Old Testament willow swingers of the inter-war years, men of stone like Ponsford and Hutton; hard-nosed toilers in the dust with granite stares and forward-defensives as impassable as a cliff face.

But what now for the home team? They’ve been comprehensively out-Cooked and out-Trotted. Boring the pants off people was their thing and they’ve been upstaged, like palaeontologists who thought they’d dug up the biggest herbivore. England may have been the Brontosaurus of Bore, but I see their Brontosaurus and raise them a Gigantosaurus, says Biff, the king of the Obduratosaurs.

And their fast bowlers, if not yet extinct, are not exactly thriving. There was a delicately fanciful theory floating around south London that when South Africa got all those first-innings wickets, it was due to temporary assistance from the God of Humidity, which was then revoked when England bowled. This fragile creature made it to the fourth evening before it disappeared in a puff of fairy dust, around the same time that Steyn and Morkel were persuading a hitherto mute pitch to spill the beans.

One by one England’s batsmen fell, prised away from the crease like barnacles from a rock, albeit barnacles that had been softened up by Hashim’s patented barnacle-softening liquid and a couple of days in the sun. In fact, some barnacles didn’t need all that much prising, if we’re honest, leaping into the South African’s barnacle-collecting bucket as though they were eager to get started on the paella.

Monday’s backs-to-the-wall resistance is the sort of thing England have often done well at, but it was all a bit half-hearted this time, and besides, English folk are often rather blasé about why their team found themselves in the vicinity of the wall in the first place. Not losing as badly as we might have done is, more or less, the spirit of Dunkirk, but Dunkirk wasn’t exactly a victory and neither was this.

So congratulations to South Africa for out-grinding and out-winkling the No. 1-ranked grinders and winklers. But impressive though the first three and a half days of batsmanship were, too much of the high-scoring stuff can become a yawn. If we turn up at Headingley and Nasser’s pitch report includes the words “pancake”, “road” or “shirtfront”, I may just be tempted to turn over and see what’s going on in the Middle East, or perhaps even give Jeremy Kyle another chance.

No, what we need next is a dramatic, two-day wicketfest on a grassy patch that the groundsman has prepared by occasionally letting his pet goat Colin munch on it before breakfast. England will then surely level the series because apart from Steyn, Morkel and Philander, South Africa have no quick bowlers of any note. Oh and Kallis. Otherwise the cupboard is bare.

Andrew Hughes is a writer currently based in England