SA’s ken of England gives them an edge over ... England?
Weird pessimism infects England while three of SA’s coaching staff know exactly what conditions are like
Anyone but England would recognise homegrown knowledge of the prevailing conditions at a World Cup as an important advantage.
Apparently they don’t. Instead it’s SA who are talking up their collective experience of playing and coaching in the country, where the tournament starts on May 30.
“We’re very realistic about the pitches we might have. They might deteriorate as the World Cup wears on and we are planning for that.”
That’s not a player being guided by caution as they prepare to set eyes on an English pitch for the first time.
It’s Eoin Morgan, England’s white-ball captain, who has led his team to nine wins in their last 11 games – the last four of them at home and the fifth in his native Dublin.
Maybe that’s Morgan’s thinking. He’s only played county cricket since 2003 and for England since 2009, so he couldn’t possibly be expected to have got the hang of the conditions just yet.
Morgan’s side topped 350 twice in four days in their last two one-day internationals, against Pakistan in Southampton and Bristol.
In the latter game, on Tuesday, when Morgan made his odd statement, England chased down 359 to win with six wickets and 31 balls still in the bank.
If they’re struggling to come to terms with the surfaces, they have a strange way of showing it.
Not so fast, you say. Morgan isn’t talking about the state of the pitches now – he’s on about how they might change in a World Cup that will run until July 14. Time enough, then, for the pitches to change.
But, like the Englishman he has become, when the sun comes out after the deadly dull cold grey of winter he isn’t happy or even relieved. He just thinks it won’t last, and he’s worried about how he’s going to cope when it goes away. Like it does every year …
Morgan isn’t alone in his weird pessimism. Here’s former Warwickshire and Leicestershire fast bowler, now a commentator, Charles Dagnall also staring at a glass half-empty on the BBC: “England were burned in the Champions Trophy two years ago. They were playing beautiful cricket and then they came up on a used pitch at Cardiff against Pakistan, and they didn’t really know how to play on it.”
England were dismissed for 211 in that game, a semifinal, and Pakistan polished off the target in 37.1 overs to win by eight wickets. Somehow, the Pakistanis from half a world away had no difficulty figuring out “how to play on” that dastardly used pitch. Maybe they thought less and did more.
But Dagnall was not deterred: “This heavy hitting, attacking mode and freeness of expression is all very well, but when the pitch does change and you play on a used pitch which has less nip and [the ball] maybe just sticks in the pitch a little bit more, then it’s more difficult to do.
“And I think that’s what [Morgan is] wary of come the later stages of the tournament.”
Not difficult, is it, to understand why England have never won a tournament that’s been played in their backyard four times in its 11 editions?
SA have yet to reach a final despite being fancied among the favourites more often than not in their seven trips to the World Cup. They’ve found ways to beat themselves, but overthinking the conditions hasn’t been among them and is unlikely to be this time.
“They’re forecasting a hot spell coming up in the next couple of months, so perhaps the pitches will be a lot dryer,” Ottis Gibson told reporters in Cape Town on Tuesday.
“But England recently has lent itself to high-scoring games. Whether it’s going to be a high-scoring tournament, the weather will play a huge part in that outcome.”That’s not only commonsense. Gibson knows what he’s on about, having played 87 first-class games for Glamorgan, Leicestershire and Durham. He lives in England, as does Claude Henderson, SA’s spin consultant, who played for Leicestershire from 2004 to 2013. Batting coach Dale Benkenstein turned out for Durham from April 2005 to May 2013 and coached Hampshire from 2014 to 2016.Between them, Gibson, Henderson and Benkenstein have a fraction of the England camp’s knowledge of the conditions. But they’re determined to make it count.“It’s good that we’ve got that history,” Gibson said. “So from a point of view of conditions we can give insight and information.”All of the members of SA’s squad have played in England at some level, a fact SA are using.
“Aiden [Markram, freshly back from a stint with Hampshire] led the discussion around the conditions he’s faced just now,” Gibson said. “Dean Elgar is not in our team but he’s in England [playing for Surrey] so he we can lean on him for insights. I’ve been talking to ‘Adi’ Birrell [formerly SA assistant coach, now in charge at Hampshire] about what the conditions are like. So we’ve got enough resources to give us intel.”Bases covered, then, coach. Maybe England will come calling to ask “how to play” on their own pitches.