The summer is supposed to be a wonderful time. Drinking in the sun, long evenings and a backdrop of sporting success. In this alternative world, the summer of 1999 was a total disaster for me. As manager of the England cricket team, we crashed out of our home World Cup in the group stage and then lost a four match test series to New Zealand. Sure, it was only 1-0, but they are the only team worse than us in the rankings. Are we really the worst team in the world?
If we’re going to put that right we’re going to have to perform a minor miracle and win in South Africa. On the face of it, if we couldn’t beat New Zealand at home we probably won’t beat South Africa away. But I’ve got the backing of the players (they literally have no choice) and we’re boarding the plane. Let’s do this!
I have to say that’s a nice touch. Anyway, picking a squad isn’t easy. Andrew Caddick has broken his shoulder which rules him out. That’s a big shame because he was brilliant for me. Most of the core squad remain, though Angus Fraser is binned. Minal Patel is the alternative spinning option to Tuffers, with Lathwell of Somerset is in as the extra opener. Aftab Habib, who did play for England in the real life loss to New Zealand in 1999 (see, it’s not just me), is along for the ride and Phil DeFreitas has been recalled.
I kind of assumed I’d have warm up games to prepare for the first test but… we don’t. It’s straight in. The conditions might favour us?!
Lathwell gets a debut with Ramprakash missing out. I think there’s a possibility we’ve gone a bowler too many but we don’t average too badly in comparison for batting. Bowling is less impressive…
We win the toss and I decide to put them in. If we can get into the top order whilst it’s overcast it could be good for us. Darren Gough is up for it. Moving with all the flexibility of a ballroom dancer he gets Kirsten for just 1 and then Cronje for a measly 13 with just 27 on the board. We’ve turned a corner.
Unfortunately we then reversed back around that corner and out of the street as we struggled to create so much as a chance against Liebenberg and Ackerman who bat serenely. The bowling is rotated but it makes no difference. Most of the day has gone by before we finally strike for a third time as Bicknell gets Liebenberg to edge to slip. 289/3 and you know if we get a few more, we’re in business.
Naturally we don’t. Kallis arrives and Ackerman is having the greatest day of his life and moves past 200. Kallis obviously passes 50 and we lose Bicknell to injury. Mullally does get Kallis for 74 before Sir Vince of Wells bowls Cullinan for just 8. 464/5… make it stop. The 500 comes up but Gough gets Pollock LBW for 29. Ackerman though just keeps going and our beleaguered bowlers don’t know what to do. Ackerman reaches 300 and with an hour and a half left of Day 2, South Africa finally decide it’s our turn to bat.
How do you chase down 607? Atherton and Lathwell survive the rest of Day 2 but Pollock has 10 Weetabix and he’s fired up at the start of Day 3. Lathwell (24), Atherton (30) and Stewart (1) are his victims in a rough morning. Hick manages 12 but he’s soon out LBW and we’re 92/4. That’s effectively 5 as Bicknell can’t bat. I mean physically. Thorpe and Hollioake tried to rebuild but as Thorpe reaches 48 he tries a risky single and runs out Hollioake for 12. Balls.
139/5 chasing 607. A low point? Thorpe digs in. I like that. Sir Vince of Wells has always got my back and the pair of them rebuild our innings and a 150 partnership is just what I needed. Just as I start to dream of not following on, Wells is bowled for 84. I could weep for him.
Thorpe’s still there though and Gough hangs around for a bit before departing at the hands of Pollock with the scoreboard on 360. Mullally comes out and swings like a windmill. I’ve got him on zero aggression but all 20 of his runs come from wild swipes. He departs with us on 396 and 11 short of avoiding the follow on. Thorpe’s on 172 but he can only watch on as I tell Patel to keep it out at all costs and get down the other end. He departs a ball later. FFS.
Some of you I am not very happy with. That ‘worst team in the world tag? We’re nearly through the second session of Day 4 though so all we have to do is bat for 4 sessions. Easy. Right?
Atherton and Lathers gets a decent start. But then along comes Pollock and away goes Atherton’s middle stump. Lathwell is then caught plumb and Hick can only make 10. Just defend lads, I don’t ask a lot. Thorpe and Stewart see us through to Day 5 but at 99/3 we’ve got a job on.
First ball of the day, there goes Thorpe. LBW to Alan Donald. He also accounts for Adam Hollioake and we’re 121/5 and we’ve got that sinking feeling. Not for the first time Sir Vince arrives to give us hope. The boy can bat in any conditions. Alec Stewart is also showing an unusual amount of poise and the pair of them see us through to lunch. Two more sessions!
Wells departs for 40 and that’s a blow. Bicknell still can’t bat so there’s a need for Darren Gough to dig in. He’s out for 2. 215/7, a lead of 4. Stewart hogs the strike and gets to his hundred but Mullally is out for 4 and Patel manages 11, giving us a total of 247. A lead of 36. An entire session and a bit to hang on.
We’re obviously not going to manage. Gough takes a token wicket but it’s a 9 wicket loss.
All too familiar
You can’t let the opposition get 600. We took 7 wickets in the whole match so I know who I’m blaming and scored 396 which is more than competitive. We need to bowl much better. But how?
Get me Phil DeFreitas.