By Madan Mohan
I read in newspapers that South Africa Test series against England, starting today, is arguably the most anticipated Test series of the year.
“Wee,” I thought, “That’s some cracking cricket to look forward to.” On second thoughts, I realised that in just over 10 days from now, the London Olympics would begin!
As much as cricket lovers try to accommodate time in their schedule for this fascinating but time-consuming sport, cricket administrators seem hell bent on making it tough love for them. Seriously, England vs South Africa is a compelling match-up and right now - the battle for Test match supremacy. But you can’t do much worse than to pit it against the biggest sports spectacle of the world.
Once in four years, the world gets together to celebrate excellence in myriad sporting events and yet the International Cricket Council (ICC) would rather they watch cricket instead. Cricket can crow about its Dale Steyns and Kevin Pietersens and the Olympics will respond with Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Yelena Isinbayeva and India’s own Abhinav Bindra - to name a few.
As if all this wasn’t hopeless enough, the Olympics will be held in London! Talk about brilliant ideas! It seems the Brits are expected to multi task between cricket, Olympics and, well, work. You can bet anything, a columnist will write gloomy obituaries for Test cricket should he see sparse crowds at the stadiums during the Test series.
The real problem, of course, is that an Olympian mountain may be too steep to climb for even cricket. Why would the Future Tours Programme (FTP) have to conspire to clash with, of all things, Olympics is beyond me. But what do you know the FTP is sacrosanct and must be adhered to notwithstanding minor intermissions like the Olympics. Or so they say.
After all this, if you are still reading, you must be a diehard cricket lover inclined to multi task between work, cricket and Olympics - like yours truly. So let’s talk about just what we have to look forward to, if we do tune into the Test series.
For starters, there’s Vernon Philander. If Dale Steyn’s growth curve has been exceptional, Philander has made a simply unbelievable start to his career. To outclass and overshadow a strike bowler like Steyn speaks volumes about Philander’s abilities. His preference to pitch the ball up on a skiddish trajectory will make him all the more lethal in English conditions.
Jacques Kallis may not get too many more opportunities to tour England again. So he may want to make amends this time for his relatively unremarkable record in this country. His average of 29.30 in England does not befit a batsman of his stature. He played a vital role in South Africa’s series win in England in 2008 and he could be their batting trump card in 2012.
England’s batting line-up is rock solid and oozes assurance at home. They could offer the strongest resistance yet to South Africa’s potent bowling attack. But the going has been rather easy for them this summer and it might leave them a bit exposed in the face of a full, frontal pace assault, one which South Africa are quite likely to deliver.
England and South Africa have boasted a hard-fought, keenly-contested rivalry. The last series between the two sides, hosted by South Africa, was squared for good measure. And being that there is now a few degrees of separation between these two sides and the other Test nations, this series is the battle for No 1 in all but name.
As former South African speedster Allan Donald described it, this series could be the stuff of legend. It is tantalising, way too close to call and is an exciting prospect for cricket lovers to say the least. And…it clashes with the Olympics. Oh dear!
(Madan Mohan is a 26-year-old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)