| Kirtley may find his ‘boring, off-stump’ approach rewarded
Leeds: South Africa, having outplayed England early on, could still find themselves 1-2 behind in this series after the fourth Test which gets underway here at Headingley on Thursday.
South Africa dominated a rain-affected draw in the series opener at Edgbaston and then overwhelmed England by an innings and 92 runs at Lord’s.
The hosts’ allround play was so poor it recalled the remark made about a previous England side which said they had three problems: “They can’t bat, can’t bowl and can’t field”.
But then came a toss at Trent Bridge that may not prove more important to England captain Michael Vaughan if he leads the team in 50 Tests.
He won it, batted first and then saw the pitch crack from the second day onwards when South Africa began their reply.
England eventually completed a 70-run victory in the third Test on Monday to square the series.
It was hard to disagree with South Africa captain Graeme Smith’s comment that “the wicket being so up and down” was not good for Test cricket.
Smith said on Wednesday he did not think England deserved to beat his side in the third Test to level the series.
Smith, speaking at a news conference on the eve of the match, said: “In many ways we don’t feel we have been beaten yet. We lost the game but we don’t feel as if we were beaten.
“I feel that because I don’t think things were really even stephens in the last Test match. We are not moaning or complaining, our thoughts are on winning a Test match...
But South Africa will have to turn their sense of grievance into something more constructive if they are to halt England at Headingley.
Although no longer home to the kind of ‘terror tracks’ that gave the ground a nightmarish reputation among England batsmen, Headingley is still rightly regarded as a ‘result wicket’.
It rewards accurate swing bowlers and South Africa arrive there without Shaun Pollock, the only truly world-class bowler in either side, who has returned home to Durban to be with his pregnant wife who is expecting the couple’s first child.
Paceman Pollock took six for 39 in England’s second innings at Trent Bridge and without him the tourists’ attack lacks control.
England too may have a new-look bowling attack although in their case a change may work to their advantage.
Durham quick Stephen Harmison, who relies on raw speed and bounce for his wickets, has a calf strain.
If he is omitted, Surrey veteran Martin Bicknell, recalled ten years after his last Test, or Worcestershire’s uncapped Kabir Ali could prove more effective.
Meanwhile, Sussex seamer James Kirtley, who finished off South Africa with six for 34 at Trent Bridge on his Test debut — becoming known for something other than remodelling a suspect action — may well find that his self-confessed ‘boring, off-stump’ approach is rewarded again.
But, as Kirtley acknowledged, England’s victory in Nottingham was set up by hundreds from former captain Nasser Hussain and Mark Butcher.
England (from): Michael Vaughan (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain, Ed Smith, Alec Stewart, Andrew Flintoff, Ashley Giles, James Kirtley, Steve Harmison, James Anderson, Martin Bicknell, Kabir Ali.
South Africa (from): Graeme Smith (captain), Herschelle Gibbs, Gary Kirsten, Jacques Kallis, Neil McKenzie, Boeta Dippenaar, Mark Boucher, Andrew Hall, Makhaya Ntini, Dewald Pretorius, Charl Willoughby, Paul Adams.
Umpires: Simon Taufel (Australia), Billy Bowden (New Zealand).
Match Referee: Ranjan Madugalle (Sri Lanka).