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December 28, 2004
At the start of the Test, it was England's turn to put their coach before the press to explain away their bad day at the office. Today however, it was Ray Jennings' job to front up for South Africa, after they had been put to the sword by Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss. And true to form, Jennings had plenty to say for his players and their performance.
"Cricket to me is all about how you put the effort in, and what you get out of it," he said, after his players had put in 80 overs of hard toil, and got the solitary late wicket of Trescothick as a reward. "The lack of wickets, plus the perception that the wicket was flat, maybe affected our performance. There's no such thing as a flat wicket, just as there's no such thing as an easy catch.
"But I'm not unhappy with the performance," Jennings insisted. "Nicky Boje maybe could have exploited the rough better, but in the last 45 minutes, we were full of energy and the wicket didn't look at all flat. This match has been dominated by three batsman - Jacques Kallis and the England openers - and it all depends on the mood of the game when they first get in. For the first 20 or 30 balls, any player can look out of nick on this wicket."
By the close, England led by 88 with nine wickets standing, and despite their tough day in the field, Jennings had no doubt the match was still in the balance. "Our guys are upbeat," he insisted. "We were full of energy in the last 10 or 15 overs, and there was a positive rap in the dressing-room at teatime. It takes a lot more to get this South African side down. Not many sides would have handled the heat and the mindset of having a lead and losing it like we did. We see 250 runs in 80 overs for one wicket as a positive.
"A winning lead on this pitch could be anything from 150 to 400," added Jennings. "It's that type of game. The way Kallis is playing, he can chase the target himself. I'm sure we are good enough to handle the pressure, and we'll handle the conditions as well. There are still 180 overs to go, and I reckon we'll be set about 300."
But with Andrew Strauss at the crease - again - South Africa have their work cut out if they are to claw their way back into the game. Jennings, naturally, had an interesting take on his instant impact on Test cricket. "I think Strauss's youth adds value to the package," he said, somewhat cryptically.
"He's young, he likes a challenge, he has freedom to play, and he's happy and he smiles. It's when you get older that the expectations increase, and you become a bit bored of spending too much time away. That's when the trouble starts. But he's not thinking too much just yet. He's in Phase One of his Test career."
South Africa will be hoping he becomes a cynical old pro overnight.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following the England team throughout the Test series in South Africa.
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