Tino Best, nuns and Bugs Bunny raise a laugh -- before the real thing

Morné Morkel: The most uncomfortable bowler to face. (M&G)

Morné Morkel: The most uncomfortable bowler to face. (M&G)

An extraordinary 95 against England in the third Test at Edgbaston, Birmingham.

He completely dominated a 10th-wicket partnership of 142 with Denesh Ramdin and would surely have recorded the most unlikely century in the game’s history had his Caribbean sense of flare and theatre not demanded that he reach the milestone with a six.

But with three of the five days lost to rain, Best’s efforts were rendered null and void as the game was washed away. It was even less relevant because the game was dead with England already having won the series two-nil. Just a meaningless (but highly entertaining) frivolity.

Except that is not really how it works in professional sport. Best and the West Indians may, in fact, find it a lot easier to forget than England, who were left with dozens of unanswered questions. Is the bowling attack really so toothless without James Anderson and Chris Broad? What happened to the much-spoken-about depth in the fast-bowling department?

The home side undoubtedly lost concentration and suffered a mass bout of lethargy, but why? And why were they unable to snap out of it? The West Indies are a B division team and Tino Best has a batting average of 12. People hardly needed to be reminded that such a calamitous switching off against South Africa would be fatal.

Good news, bad news
There is good news for England on one front – the short-sighted financial orientation of the England and Wales Cricket Board in cutting the Test series to just three matches means that the depth of bowling resources should not matter as much as it would during a five-match series.

The bad news, of course, is that it should not matter for South Africa either.

“I don’t want to single out individuals, but all I would say is that, collectively, our bowling attack is very hard to cope with when they’re all fit and on song,” said Graeme Smith this week. “I would back them above any other attack in the world.”

Well, he would, wouldn’t he? And, to be fair, he has good reason and plenty of evidence to do so.

Dale Steyn has been ranked number one for longer than anyone since Muttiah Muralitheran was dominating batsmen around the world and still has the best strike rate of any bowler, with more than 100 wickets, since World War II.

Pleasant orcomfortable
Morné Morkel does not have the numbers to match, but is widely regarded from Australia to India as the least pleasant orcomfortable fast bowler in the world to face, and Vernon Philander’s figures belong to a comic-book hero – 51 wickets at the 19th-centuryesque average of 14.15. No wonder Englishmen cannot believe it.

“I haven’t met or spoken to anyone yet who thinks that three Tests is a good idea. Given the rankings of the two teams and what is at stake, I think a longer series would have been more appropriate. That is what people want to see and it’s certainly what we would have preferred as players,” said Smith.

“It does mean, however, that there might be less chance of needing to use the whole squad more chance that your first-choice XI can stay fit for all three Tests.”

Smith may be reluctant to name names, but there is one exception – one man with shoulders plenty broad enough to bear the weight of expectation.

“Jacques Kallis had his one bad tour with the bat in 17 years the last time we toured, but he took some vital wickets and contributed massively to us winning the series. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him put that right with some runs this time round, but he’s still such a massive part of the attack, too.

“People who think he’s a reluctant bowler couldn’t be more wrong. He’d bowl more than his 10 or 12 overs in a day if it was up to him, but I’m trying to preserve him for as long as possible,” Smith said.

It is still more than a month until the first Test starts at the Oval on July 19 and England are due to face Australia in a five-match one-day series. No doubt it will be well attended by beer-quaffing men dressed as nuns and Bugs Bunny, but the tension and excitement created by the prospect of the real thing has already started. World Test Championship. Bring it on.




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