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Indoor fielding drills, lions and a Mongoose

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Alison Mitchell | 17:30 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009

There's never a great deal of free time on cricket tours these days but the England team bonded with a visit to Lion Park in Johannesburg on Wednesday, taking the opportunity to get close to some cubs, even stroking a couple of the cute youngsters.

Once they take to the cricket field though, they'll find South Africa somewhat less submissive than those playful purring cats.

Although, it must be said that for the first one-day international to take place at the Wanderers at all, the rain storms of the last two days have to stay away. The forecast isn't good and England were forced to practise indoors on Thursday as puddles formed on the outfield.

Never ideal, particularly as the Wanderers' nets are in an underground car park, with no space for fielding and fitness drills. Matt Prior carried out a wicketkeeping drill on the concrete alongside a silver estate.

A lion cub with Luke Wright and Andrew StraussA playful lion cub gets to know Luke Wright, while Andrew Strauss looks on

While the South Africa team did bonding exercises of their own on Wednesday (which included ten pin bowling, go-karting and team tasks), their coach Mickey Arthur has been busy getting the media eating out of his hands, providing plenty of juicy copy in the build-up to the series.

Although he denies a deliberate plan to undermine the opposition, he's certainly stirring things up against a side, who, if things had turned out differently, he might have been coaching at this time.

It started with his view that it was "criminal" that Adil Rashid only bowled one over in the second Twenty20 international. Almost in the same breath he claimed England were "predictable" - something the South Africa side have often been accused of.

He also joked that when Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen were batting together there were 15 South Africans on the field.

Whether it has any effect depends upon just how much the England players bother to go online and read the British newspapers, and even then, whether they take any notice of comments which seem designed, as Arthur eventually admitted, to "create a subtle message and perhaps put a little bit of doubt in the opposition camp."

Matt Prior practises his wicketkeeping in an underground car parkGoing underground: An unusual venue for Matt Prior's wicketkeeping drills

Andy Flower, who I believe has a good relationship with Arthur, has so far declined to become embroiled in a game of tit for tat, but by saying nothing in retaliation he's succeeded in speaking volumes about the moral high ground.

Strauss, similarly, seems less than concerned about what the opposition may or may not be saying about them.

However, it must be a source of frustration to England to see their former coach Duncan Fletcher imparting his knowledge to the South Africa camp as a consultant.

Arthur admitted with a grin that Fletcher has been great value when it comes to inside info and expertise on England's players. Fletcher was on view at Potchefstroom watching as England chased down 280 to beat South Africa A.

England's cover bowlers Liam Plunkett and James Tredwell have both now joined up with the camp on the back of their glut of injuries.

Graeme Swann misses the first two ODIs with his side strain, which is a big blow as his bowling was by far the most economical in the early 50-over warm up games he played. He was also in wicket-taking mode, which England have certainly missed at the top of the innings with Stuart Broad still out due to his shoulder injury.

James Anderson (knee) and Paul Collingwood (back) both practised and are expected to be fit, while South Africa will be without fast bowler Wayne Parnell for the first two ODIs. If Collingwood plays he'll pass Alec Stewart's record of 170 ODI caps for his country.

A footnote to end on, but watch out for Anderson if he bats on Friday. He's supposed to be using the Mongoose bat for the very first time.

It's the one with the shorter blade and elongated handle, which Stuart Law used in county cricket last season. Just one to look out for, but I wouldn't expect miracles!

You can also follow me on Twitter at Mitchell


  • Comment number 1.

    I used the Mongoose last season... tell Jimmy it's powerful but tends to make you uppish on the drive. It's also likely to catch the shoulder of the shortened blade when you prod forward, as Jimmy is prone to do. As for that Lion park, the missus got bitten by a cub there last time we went, needed first aid... lucky England didn't pick up any new injuries!

  • Comment number 2.

    15 South Africans? so 13 Fielders...? That sounds unfair. No wonder we never get any boundaries.

  • Comment number 3.

    "Almost in the same breath he claimed England were "predictable" - something the South Africa side have often been accused of."

    I'm South African and have never heard us called "predictable". Maybe you mean winning quite often? ;)

    I agree with Arthur's comments though about England for the most part. They didn't try anything different in the 20/20 game to at least give themselves a chance at the huge total. They gave up before even making a decent attempt at it. Neverless I'm expecting a close 1 day and test series, at least this is "predictable" based on past experience playing England.

  • Comment number 4.

    I can only guess that the author was referring to South Africa being predictable in a couple of senses - in having a rather 1-dimensional pace bowling attack (much like England have often had - although this has changed a little), and in their inability to perform in the latter stages of major tournaments...

    And to #2, 15 is probably including the 2 umpires ;)

    Here's hoping for some cricket tomorrow! I'm getting withdrawl symptoms after the non-stop cricket over the summer

  • Comment number 5.

    HowzitBoet - thank you for providing the A grade stereotypical comment from a South African fan - "I'm South African and have never heard us called "predictable". Maybe you mean winning quite often? ;)"

    Firstly this is maybe the most predictable statement of all time. Secondly, EVERYONE has commented on the predictable nature of SA in the past - no credible spinner, too one paced batting, chokers etc...

    OK, Botha and vdM have helped if not cured the spinner issue and even Kallis has upped his tempo and you did beat Aussie - but then so did we!! However you must be deaf not to have heard the label before - oh and I think that makes it 6 ODIs on the bounce now for Eng yes? ;)


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