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England v South Africa 2022

South Africa’s rocketmen and the joy of a game that matters

by Cameron Ponsonby 4 minute read

Cameron Ponsonby revels in the start of the three-Test showdown between England and South Africa.

Well done everyone, that was really fun. I’m sorry it ended the way it did.

For a session and twenty minutes, Lord’s was treated to Dean Elgar’s Manly Men taking lumps out of Ben Stokes’ Kumbaya Cricket Society at St John’s Wood, with only Ollie Pope surviving unscathed.

Ahead of the series, Elgar said he’d like to see how Bazball would work against his own seamers. His chest puffed up, biceps bulging as he said it. Confidence abounds, safe in the knowledge that under his wing is a pace attack rich with variety, skill, pace, speed, rockets, gas, you name it. The 90mph heat of South Africa’s attack confronted the mythological forces of Bazball.

That Lungi Ngidi was, on today’s showing, the quiet man of the attack says all you need to know of the quality of the four bowlers on show. Kagiso Rabada, declared fit only this morning, has the greatest strike rate in Test cricket of any bowler with more than 200 wickets. And by midday, after dismissing both of England’s openers, he had only improved it further.

Then came Anrich Nortje. A bowler who operates with the subtlety of a fart in church. There are no three-card tricks here. He is not testing your imagination. He is testing your reflexes, your ticker, your stumps.

He started today bowling fast and wide and England, in particular Ollie Pope, punished him. But then he bowled straight. And England got out. First Jonny Bairstow. Bowled. Then Ben Stokes. Caught. And then Ben Foakes. Bowled. It’s an easy game when you can bowl faster than the human eye processes light.

And once you’ve navigated all of that it leads you only to Marco Jansen bowling robot rockets from his left-arm, six-foot-a-million frame. What the f**k are those? How do you play it? How do you not die when it’s bowled at you? I don’t know it, I don’t like it and I don’t get it. But I’m engrossed. It’s ITV3 on a hangover.

This was an excellent session and a bit of cricket. A day of pure entertainment that was rudely interrupted by rain that had at one point seemed as if it was wimping out of ever arriving. Aware that to ruin such a spectacle would be nothing short of embarrassing on its own part. For God’s sake, Zeus, it’s not all about you.

But alas it did arrive, doing so too just two overs too late for fans to be entitled to a 50 per cent refund. Ruining the fun ahead of time like a parent coming home early to find their child throwing a house party for the ages. “I’m sorry everyone, home time. Sarah wasn’t meant to be back from Edinburgh until tomorrow.”

But whilst the drinks were being poured and the music was being played, what fun we had. Days like these are a reminder of why, for so many, Test cricket remains the pinnacle of the sport.

Time makes the heart grow fonder. And that applies for both players as well as fans. T20s, as electric as they may be, are done and dusted in a few hours with the next only 48 hours away. It would be unhealthy for players to be genuinely invested in the result. The highs are too high and the lows too low to function on a daily basis.

But here, with five days and three matches ahead. With preparations done and battle lines drawn. You can’t help but care. And you can’t help but see that the players do too. Rabada running in and delivering the kiss of death to Lees first and Crawley second, before roaring in celebration on both occasions.

And just as you ride the wave of player’s highs, you feel the gut punch of the lows. Empathising with the pain felt by Crawley as he was dismissed for single-figures once more whilst feeling pride in the performance of Ollie Pope, as he continues to progress from being the boy who might to the man who does at No.3.

It’s Test cricket. It’s back. And the best thing of all is that we get to do it all again tomorrow.

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