Cricket in England always plays second fiddle to football. That’s been the way for many years. However, the minute the news changes from the mundane affairs of day-to-day cricket to something that sells newspapers, all hell seems to break loose.
The hosts’ loss to South Africa in the Test series was certainly a piece that fitted neatly into the high-drama puzzle. Having held the number one ranking until this series, losing it must have hurt to say the least. However, the bigger issue is undoubtedly the resignation of captain Andrew Strauss.
In reality, the resignation of Strauss was always going to happen if they lost the series. The facts are that for some time now, he has been below-par as a batsman. Forget the captaincy for a moment. First and foremost, he had to hold down a spot as a front-line performer and that was under fire.
That enormous pressure would have been his biggest concern because he was well aware that firstly, age wasn’t on his side and secondly, an heir apparent in Alistair Cook had evolved and was waiting in the wings. Then on top of all that chuck in the Kevin Pietersen affair.
Another obvious fact is that whether or not Pietersen was liked, the reality is England is just not a good enough side to compete against the best without him. They know it, as does he. The minute the conflict arose; many other issues came to the fore.
What really surprises me is that his resignation was seen by some as a shock. Not only is that a surprise, but so is the supposed tragedy of the event. It never is in sport. Yes, Andrew Strauss is a heck of a nice guy. He has done yeoman work for England in times of trouble and along the ride has managed to create a few records by sheer numbers, but in essence, it’s not as if one of the world greats has hung up his boots for goodness sake!
He deserves all the credit he gets for the good times he had, and taking England to the top of the world rankings has to be his greatest contribution after winning the Ashes. However, who else really cares about his Ashes win other than the English or Australians? Personally, I believe England will be stronger for his retirement.
The other side of the turf sees Graeme Smith and his team well into a winning streak. The momentum they currently enjoy should ensure that the ODI series also goes their way no matter whom they select right now.
The core of the team is brimming with confidence and under AB de Villiers they will carry that energy forward. What has clearly emerged under Gary Kirsten is that he is prepared to blood new players and rest his tried and tested stalwarts in the pursuit of unearthing future stars. A fitting example is that of Vernon Philander. What a masterstroke that was!
Gary will have one eye on the current series but knowing him as I do, he will be hard at work planning for the T20 World Cup right now. It will be the first world tournament under his mentorship and it’s only natural he’d want to turn the fortunes around from past tournaments.
Winning it would mean so much to the South African cricketing fraternity right now. Sport has always done that for us as a nation and it will be no different this time round. Gary knows only too well, what lifting that trophy will mean to so many. After all, he experienced it first hand with India and that intellectual capital cannot be bought.
- Pat Symcox played 20 Test matches for South Africa between 1993 and 1998. He took 37 wickets.