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England v South Africa, March 6th, Chennai

Tom Huelin
996   //    07 Mar 2011, 20:10 IST
England secure dramatic victory over South Africa, having flopped with the bat in the first innings.
Bottle. A strange, ambiguous, slightly mythical commodity in sport, that champions have and wannabe’s strive for. Normally for example we hear about how much bottle Manchester United have in the football. Today they lost 3-0 to Liverpool

Who can doubt Tiger Woods is a golfer with tremendous bottle, yet he’s a man who hasn’t won a major for almost 2 years since he was outed as a serial, Er, love maker, so perhaps his bottle left him at the same time his wife decided to walk out and call time on their marriage?

Then there’s those you wonder whether they have any bottle at all: Colin Montgomery, Andy Murray, and Newcastle United in the mid 1990′s to mention just a few familiar failures.

South Africa’s team are often put into that category, great potential but not quite the stomach for the battle. Today they produced one of those performances that threatened to dispel the myth, but which ultimately only served to compound it further. True it was a tough wicket to score on, and it seemed to get harder the longer the game went on, but when England posted 171 all out in their innings, you felt South Africa only had to bat sensibly to secure victory.

It started so badly for England. Graeme Smith had a masterstroke and gave the ball to off-spinner Peterson to open up the bowling and in his first over he had Pietersen and Strauss marching back to the pavilion almost as quickly as they’d arrived out to the middle. 3/2 after one over was not the way it was meant to start for England who, despite some pretty poor displays in the field have been pretty good with the bat thus far in the World Cup. When Bell went at 15/3, you feared an avalanche of wickets and a battering for England.

But Jonathan Trott, Mr consistency, got another half century and the recalled Ravi Bopara hit 60 to give England something, albeit not very much, to bowl at.

Now given that England’s seamers haven’t seemed to know the meaning of terms like “line” and “length” up till now in the World Cup, defending so few runs didn’t seem possible at half time, but when Graeme Swann stepped up and took South Africa captain Smiths’ wicket, followed by Broad taking Amla soon after, it was suddenly game on.

This England team has been anything but dull in this World Cup. Every game so far has gone to the wire, tying with India and losing to Ireland in such dramatic fashion, and when 3 wickets tumbled in Chennai with the score on 124, you felt maybe, just maybe, this game was still alive.

In tight moments like this, bottle comes to the fore. Against Ireland, after Kevin O’Brien’s innings and with about 50 runs for Ireland to get to secure victory, you could see in England’s players faces they weren’t going to do it. The game was lost already. The players looked stunned, embarrassed, and like they wanted to get the hell away from the Paddy’s before the humiliation killed them. They lost their bottle

I’m not sure the Saffa’s looked quite so scared here, but you definitely felt the momentum was with the English with South Africa 7 wickets down. Steyn and van Wyk then put on 30 for South Africa’s 8th wicket, and needed only 11 more runs to win, you kinda felt the Saffa’s could manage it.

Not so much.

Up stepped Bresnan to take van Wyk, the 8th wicket, shortly followed by Stuart Broad, who claimed 2 wickets in 3 balls to complete victory.

A superb victory for England and much needed after the loss against Ireland. England were sharp in the field, Strauss played a blinder rotating his bowlers – he bowled Pietersen for 8 overs who did well, keeping the run rate low, and also brought Bresnan on later on who got a wicket at a vital time.

And the news today is that Pietersen will play no further part in the competition which is a blow to England on two fronts because not only has he forged a good opening partnership with Andrew Strauss, his off spin would have been handy on slow wickets like this going forward in the tournament. That said, Eoin Morgan returning gives the side a finisher, which they are sorely missing at the moment, and perhaps now Bopara will be shown the faith to contribute with he ball as well as the bat, as his medium pacers could be effective in the same way Collingwood’s used to be for his country, so Pietersen’s withdrawal shouldn’t cause too much disruption. I would personally promote Bell to open the batting with Strauss as well.

For South Africa, well to say they choked it would be easy. They have a long tail and left them with too much to do with the bat, and they couldn’t quite manage it. Was it a lack of bottle? When Smith/Amla/De Villiers got out, did they really think their team would struggle to reach 170? They did well to restrict England to 170 and they were only 6 runs short in the end. But these are the margins between victory and failure sometimes, and having that little extra belief perhaps would have seen them home. Or perhaps they were slightly complacent, assuming the next man in would do the business? Whatever, they won’t win this World Cup crumbling to defeat like they did here (not that England have exhibited much more thus far in the tournament….)

Champions seem to win these games,  so bottled? Choked? Well, maybe.

Tom Huelin
Cricket. Overturned dustbins for wickets, Lords 5000 bats and a tennis ball for Ambrose-esq bouncers. Its a simple game at heart, one I choose to write about Follow me on twitter <a href="">@tomhue1</a> Thanks.
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