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December 10, 2009
England XI 328 for 8 dec (Cook 81, Bell 48, Prior 44) drew with South African Invitational XI 167 for 7 (Avontuur 68, Swann 6-55)
Graeme Swann is a jovial character at the best of times, but he will go into the first Test against South Africa with a spring in his step after bagging a six-wicket haul against the Invitational XI at Buffalo Park. His collection included three wickets in four balls although some of the shot selection from the home side provided Swann with the sort of freebies that won't be on offer at Centurion next week.
It was a good day all-round for Swann who hit a sprightly 39 off 31 balls as England declared mid-way through the afternoon on 328 for 8 with Ian Bell (48) and Matt Prior (44) also adding 83 for the sixth wicket before the pair retired. Swann then struck with his second ball before running through the line-up during the final session as he tossed the ball up against batsmen happy to swing from the hip. The most impressive of them was Sammy-Joe Avontuur who made an attractive 68 before missing a wild swipe at Swann. David Wiese edged an ambitious drive to slip and Swann was within a whisker of a hat-trick when the ball just missed the stumps.
The quick bowlers enjoyed less success as they tried to shake off the rust. Graham Onions made the opening breakthrough but Stuart Broad's first spell cost 42 runs as he dropped too short on a surface that remained slow. He ended with 11 overs in the tank although looked as though he needs another run-out in the second match, when James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom are both set to play after resting their respective knee and side injuries.
Sidebottom has been given the all-clear while Anderson had an outdoor net to test out his right knee that has had three injections for a mystery problem. England's bowling plans revolve around Anderson so all eyes will be on him over the next two days. As far as this game goes, the visitors will be pleased they managed to get as much action as they did.
The fact that any play was possible at all on the second day was miraculous after further heavy rain fell the previous day and left the outfield underwater. However, hard work by the ground staff and impressive keenness from the home side to continue the game meant play started on time despite large mud patches on the outfield covered in heaps of sawdust.
Alastair Cook began the day on 66 and lost his overnight partner, Paul Collingwood, in the second over when he chipped a soft catch to midwicket. Cook again had to dig in for his runs and the reworked technique benefited him with another well-timed straight drive, however, he too was undone by the sluggish surface when he chipped a low catch to mid-on. Although a hundred would have been a satisfying landmark for him, he has had more time than most in the middle lately and his dismissal benefited the middle order.
Whatever Bell does over the next few days it may not be enough to force the selectors' hands if they decide to go with five frontline batsmen alongside Prior for the first Test. However, he made batting look comfortable and, like Cook, showed the value of his spell with the Performance Squad in Pretoria. Prior only had a single innings during the one-day series but was soon reacquainting himself with bat on ball. Ironically, it is Prior's ability to bat at No. 6 that is likely to leave Bell on the sidelines.
The sixth-wicket pair retired during lunch so Broad and Swann emerged from the pavilion for the afternoon session. Broad, who may yet bat at No. 7 next week, inside-edged an attempted drive into his stumps but Swann struck the ball cleanly before the declaration.
Andrea Agathagelou could have gone lbw a couple of times during his brief innings before finally being trapped as he shuffled across his crease against Onions. van Wyk dispatched Broad for consecutive boundaries before planting his front foot across the crease against Swann and Temba Bavuma was undone by some extra bounce as he gloved to short leg.
Mark Davies, the Durham quick called up as cover for Anderson and Sidebottom, bustled in when handed his chance for ten tight overs. He is due to be released back to the Performance Squad when the team arrives in Johannesburg on Monday barring any further injury problems. England will be keeping their fingers crossed that he isn't needed again.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?