Are England the worst team in the world? It’s 1999 and after a harrowing home World Cup plus a tragic home series lost to New Zealand, we’re in South Africa to try and find some Christmas cheer. On tour. That is going so well, we lost the first test by 9 wickets. I’m cautiously optimistic today is the day we turn things around.
The conditions give nothing away. Though it does suggest to me that they will only worsen from here and bowling last would probably be beneficial. The weather looks a total mixed bag and let’s face it, whatever I decide will go badly. Maybe it’s best if they win the toss.
The team news then after that 1st Test disaster. Hick is out for Habib, he’s probably earned his chance. DeFreitas replaces the injured Bicknell, Headley is in for Mullally and Tufnell is in for the ineffectual Patel. Drastic measures are needed. South Africa are unchanged to the surprise of nobody.
We won the toss – we’re two for two on that front – and I decide to bat. Tufnell bowling in the rough on Day 5 is pretty much my game plan here, though the prospects of even reaching that are soon doubtful. Lathwell makes 8 before nicking one behind. I’ve just noticed both wicket keepers are called Stewart, there’s a stat. Anyway, Habib manages 11, Thorpe 9 and Stewart 10. Atherton just stands at the other end shaking his head. 70/4. Why do I bother? Atherton soon departs for 27 and even Sir Vince only gets 6. Hollioake’s duck means we are 96/7 and into the tailenders. Wag. Wag like never before.
To be fair, they try. Gough only makes 13 but DeFreitas and Headley dig in for a bit to take us to 140 before Uncle Phil departs to a sharp caught and bowled. Tufnell thinks he is Brian Lara – you don’t want to know what he was smoking – but remarkably our last pair but on 55 and we crawl to 196. Not a vintage day, lads.
If there was a white flag, I’d wave it. Arrange to declare. Anything. When Gough gets Kirsten for the third time this series, South Africa have already managed 148 runs and they pass our total before we get another. Send help. At 338/2 I’m a broken man. Why do we bother? Do I need to be here to witness this? Tuffers though finally gets us going, removing Ackerman for 84 and then Kallis for 4. Cullinan is out for a duck and that’s 353/5. Headley finally removes Liebernberg for 159 – he’s proving quite the pain in the arse and Uncle Phil takes out Pollock thanks to Wellsy’s safe hands.
370/7 and if we can keep the lead under 200, we might not be totally out of this. Gough removes numbers 9 and 10 to have our hosts reduced to 391/9 but Stewart and Schulz put on 50 painstaking runs and by the time the latter is bowled by Dean Headley, the deficit is 245. There’s still seven sessions left, too.
Any good news? The pitch is turning sideways and they don’t have a spinner of note. To celebrate, Atherton runs Lathwell out for a duck. 11/1. Thankfully he and Habib rebuild before the annoying Schulz removes Athers for 52, clean bowled. Schulz is a left hander and they are favoured by the game, unless you play for England it seems! Thorpe was brilliant in the 1st Test but he contributes zero here, 98/3 and we’ve got a lot of work to do. Habib passes 50 and Stewart ably supports him and we at least manage to pass 150, chipping away at the deficit. Then both are out within an hour of each other, Habib edging to slip for 68 whilst Stewart is LBW to Schulz.
That leaves the two all rounders to try and save us. I’m 100% confident in Wells but Hollioake has been a bit sketchy recently. They dig in impressively and a 50 partnership soon becomes 100. We’re in front! 317/5 at tea and really we should be aiming for 400+. Chasing anything on a Day 5 pitch will be difficult even if Tuffers can’t see straight. Then it all goes wrong. Wells out. Gough out. DeFreitas out. Hollioake out. Tuffers out. 13 runs, 5 wickets. The ultimate insult is the first ball from the extremely part time spin of Gary Kirsten clean bowls Tufnell. The lead is 85. South Africa have an entire day to score 85.
Two key things here. Their last wicket 50 partnership and our collapse has meant they are chasing 86 rather than 186. Small margins lead to big disasters. I tell our lot to just be angry. Aggression is right up. All of a sudden, there’s a glimmer. Liebenberg can make only 9, Cronje just 3. Uncle Phil is running riot. Gough gets Kirsten for the fourth consecutive innings and Ackerman is run out. 37/4 and we’ve got them on the ropes. Now, for some spin to drive home our advantage.
Aarrrgghhhhh! Honestly, if we weren’t so terrible we could have won this. Even with the first innings deficit. It was there for us.
It’s the Boxing Day test up next. South Africa will have the chance to seal the series. We’ll no doubt help them.
Do join me next time to see if I can find a way out of this mess. Even just winning one test would be a good start…