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'Bullring' poised for thrilling finale

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Adam Mountford | 17:58 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

I am writing this blog from what must be the highest Test Match Special commentary box in the world.

Not only are we situated right at the top of the tallest stand at the famous Wanderers Cricket Ground, but being here on the Highveld in Johannesburg we are already about 2000m above sea level.

We will certainly get an amazing view of what will hopefully be the exciting climax that this series deserves.

This initimidating Wanderers stadium, known as the "Bullring", has often provided moments of high drama down the years.

England have certainly excelled at rearguard action during this series, but it was here of course at the Wanderers back in 1995 where Michael Atherton produced one of the most famous ever "backs-against-the-wall" performances to bat for almost 11 hours in making an unbeaten 185 to save a Test match.

South Africa had declared 477 runs ahead leaving five sessions to bowl England out, but Atherton, with great support from Jack Russell on the final day, pulled off one of the greatest escapes.

It's not only great Test match drama which has taken place at this ground. In March 2006, South Africa produced a miracle to chase Australia's world record 434-4 to win a one-day international here.

An incredible 88 boundaries and 26 sixes were struck that day and the moment when Mark Boucher hit Brett Lee for the winning boundary is represented in a huge mural at the entrance of the Charles Fortune Media Centre.

South Africa skipper Graeme Smith stretches his hamstrings at the Wanderers

In 2007, the Wanderers hosted the gripping final of the inaugural ICC World Twenty20 when Pakistan's Misbah-ul-Haq narrowly failed to win a thrilling game in the final over against India.

England have enjoyed mixed fortunes in their last couple of Test match visits to this ground. In 2005, Matthew Hoggard took 12 wickets to lead England to an outstanding victory which went a long way to securing a 2-1 series win.

Marcus Trescothick's 180 and a 147 from Andrew Strauss should also not be forgotten while a certain Michael Vaughan scored half centuries, including an unbeaten 82 in the first innings.

Vaughan, who will be watching this match from the Test Match Special commentary box, also has special memories of England's previous Wanderers Test.

Vaughan was one of those players who made his debut in the Johannesburg Test of 1999 and famously watched on at the non-striker's end as England collapsed to 2-4 at one stage. England eventually lost that game, but Vaughan's battling innings of 33 when wickets were tumbling at the other end was viewed as an early sign of his talent at the highest level.

During this Test we will be looking back on that 1999 game, hearing from the likes of Allan Donald, who took 11 wickets in the game, Duncan Fletcher, who was in charge of England for the first time, and Vaughan among others.

Also during the intervals we will bring you a fascinating interview with Monty Panesar who is in Johannesburg playing domestic cricket for the Highveld Lions. Monty will be speaking about how the experience has changed him not just as a cricketer but as a person and how he has absolutely no doubts that he will play Test cricket again.

During the lunch interval on Saturday, we will be joined by ECB chairman Giles Clarke, who always has an interesting opinion on the game.

Jonathan Agnew will again be joined for this Test by Christopher Martin-Jenkins and Johannesburg resident Gerald De Kock, with Geoff Boycott and Vic Marks joining Michael Vaughan as expert summarisers.

Coverage gets under way on Thursday morning at 0815 GMT on Five Live Sports Extra with Radio Four long wave listeners joining us at 0900 following "Yesterday in Parliament".

As always Aggers and Boycott will present their Test Match Special podcast at the conclusion of each day's play. Keep on eye on Twitter @AGGERSCRICKET for the latest titbits from the commentary box whilst the TMS Flickr site will have pictures from behind the scenes.

After the events of Centurion and Newlands I cannot promise you a relaxing listen, but it should certainly be an entertaining one and it would be quite an achievement if England can beat a team ranked as the world's best 12 months ago in their own backyard.


  • Comment number 1.

    The Bullring, huh? ¡Strauss - torero! ¡Olé! ¡Inglaterra - toreros todos! ¡Olé!

    I forecast nothing but my hopes. England to emerge as 2-0 series winners.

  • Comment number 2.

    I remember the bullring with affection, having the pleasure of watching John Reid bludgeon the ball so effectively. Scoring a speedy half century in the first innings and a wonderful century in the second innings of the 4th test in 1962.
    It was and I hope still is a great ground to watch cricket.
    England are on the brink of something special but SA will make it tough for them.

  • Comment number 3.

    FleetJack, I have a feeling that you may be right. A pacey, grassy pitch may just backfire on them big time.

  • Comment number 4.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 5.

    Adam, why isn't Blowers in South Africa? The man is a genius!

  • Comment number 6.

    Alexnetws, in fact, South Africa is now only number 2, behind India and, with drop to 3 if they lose the series. Even if England win 2-0, they will stay 5th in the rankings, although they will close the gap on Sri Lanka in 4th from 10 to 4 points.

    If Australia beat Pakistand AND England beat Australia in the upcoming Tests, the approximate rankings will be:

    1. India 124
    2. Australia 118
    3. South Africa 116
    4. Sri Lanka 115
    5. England 111
    6. Pakistan 81
    6. New Zealand 81
    8. West Indies 77

    England gain no less than 6 points for beating highly-ranked South Africa 2-0, but Australia only gain 2 points from a 3-0 clean sweep over lowly-ranked Pakistan.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thanks Adam, you have painted quite a vivid picture. 2000m above msl is quite some ht to be playing cricket at. No wonder pacers face problems in sustaining performance over five days.

    Dour fighting draws interspersed with a sneak win here or there has becme a par 'modus operandi' of late for Englandi. That SA will find it much harder to level the series than England retaining it look almost a no brainer. Suggesting England could actually mount a charge to go 2-0 must be the juiciest prospect for backers of the odds.

    I've supported England all along. Even as they embarked upon the arduous tour I was one of the more optimistic of voices. The major gain for England has been the fantastic team-bonding as well as the rare self-belief. Thus I shall more than satisfied to feel vindicated if England merely hold SA off. Winning at the Bullring will be an icing on the cake.

  • Comment number 8.

    The Saffers are quite right to produce a result wicket - they have no option if they want something from the series - but it is a gamble reminiscent of the Oval track on which England won the Ashes last year. Ultimately, who wins the toss could prove decisive - more so in this match than the previous tests. That said, it is hard to know what Strauss will do these days when he calls correctly.

    Either way, there is a strong argument to be made that on a green wicket in showery conditions the English bowlers could prove to be the equal of their opponents.

    A little thought from leftfield: assuming that it is a bit of a green-top, might SA be inclined to reintroduce Ntini into their attack. At present it seems likely that Parnell will take De Wets place, however there would appear to be concerns regarding his radar and his ability to bowl in the 5-day format. Ntini will obviously offer less pace but having had a rest and an opportunity to recover (apparently he was carrying a minor injury in the first two tests), might he offer a little more control and accuracy? If it is to be a seamers paradise, SA will need someone with the experience to take advantage and the consistency to hit a line and length rather than trying anything special (note to Mr Broad!).

    Can anyone offer further opinion on Parnell? Have only seen him in T20 so far.

    Obviously the other option is that Parnell and Ntini both come in as replacements for De Wet and Harris. If I were a Saffa this is certainly what I'd like to see assuming the groundsman recommends it. Personally, I actually see this as a test where Kallis' bowling will come to the fore. It seems likely that the ball will swing and his medium pace possible has the best chance of finding an edge.

    Finally (sorry for going on!), can anyone explain why the ball does seem to swing so much here? I would have imagined that at this altitude the thinner air would offer less resistance to the ball and therefore less swing to the bowlers. Never seems to be the case.

  • Comment number 9.

    Deep-heat, Ntini is not in the squad, is he? Are the selectors likely to give him a last-minute, emergency call-up?

    I am not sure that deciding a Test series on the toss of a coin is actually the best way to go. Having a result pitch is right and proper. Having one where the side that wins the toss wins the match, is not!

    Incidentally, the table above gives an interesting insight into Australia's problems before the Ashes. Yes, their form is impressive, but their three series before the Ashes are all against the sides that are 30+ points adrift at the foot of the table. Australia are winning, but how much does it mean? Interesting question! How they must wish for some tougher opposition to guage their progress.

  • Comment number 10.

    Deep Heat - Ntini has been completely dropped from the Saffer test squad so he will not be considered for this test. He looks like it could be the end of his test career which is a shame but he did appear to lack the pace and control that he used to have when he played in the first 2 test of this series.
    I'm not sure many people can comment on Parnell as he only came to fruition on the international scene this year at the 20/20 and ICC one day tournament thing. There has been a fair few comments recently questioning why he hasn't played test cricket before but you must remember that this is their first test series for about 10 months so he hasn't had a chance since he came on the international scene.

    Alex #4 - Was that a shameless plug for a product you have an interest in by any chance?!

  • Comment number 11.

    Cheers 9 & 10 for the clarification re Ntini - I didn't realise he'd been completely dropped from the squad. As I said though, it was just a bit of a leftfield idea. Simply don't see the value in retaining a specialist spinner who has been less effective than the part-time spinner in this series and figured that if I was a SA fan I'd rather see an all-seam attack with back up from Duminy.

  • Comment number 12.

    Deep-heat, the suggestion is that Harris will possibly be dropped and McLaren will also debut. It would give a powerful all-seam attack, with Duminy for variation, but at risk of having two debutants and a part-timer as spinner.

    It's what our American cousins would call a "Hail Mary" play: it is either a spectacular success, or a miserable failure but, if it comes off is always hailed as a work of tactical genius.

  • Comment number 13.

    Adam, please make sure that whoever interviews Clarke, it's someone who's not afraid of asking the difficult questions. He's never really explained the Stanford situation and needs to be held to account...

  • Comment number 14.

    The current predicted weather in Johannesburg looks as if a lot of play will be lost. If they begin with a lively pitch it becomes even more of a lottery.
    SA may be tempted to remove more grass at the last minute.

  • Comment number 15.

    Jon (#13) - good call! Sadly, I can't see much further than a relatively cosy chat with Aggers. Personally I would love to see Boycott let off his leash with Clarke. In addition to the Stanford situation, it will also be very interesting to hear his comments regarding Ashes TV rights in an in-depth interview with the BBC. Whilst I do have some sympathy for his position (even though the wife won't let me have Sky) and I don't believe The Ashes will find their way onto terrestrial TV any time soon, it has the potential to be interesting.

  • Comment number 16.

    I think that if we had coverage on terrestrial television then the UK would be more involved in the test match tournament. It is similar to the African Cup of Nations, the news so far is just what has happened to the Togo team, which was tragic.

    The rest of the Test Match and African football tournament has had no coverage at all.

    How can we all get involved when Sky TV have taken the lions share as usual.

    See my blog link below, if you dare!

  • Comment number 17.

    'Ow do all,
    Been stuck in the the Great White North, (Canada) without the aid of a Long wave raidio means I'm reduced to late night (for me) reports on Five Live and Aggers and Sir Geoff, on the TMS podcast.
    Thats right,
    "Due to rights restrictions etc etc" is all I have been getting from TMS on the old Lap top. thankfully this does noy happen during the Ashes.

    So what do you do whilst living on black coffee and other Legal upper, whilst waiting for Arlo White's vinyettes I here you ask?
    well I scribe.

    Please read on and comment as you feel necessary. Oh and if the Chaps in the box have some spare time (probably by day four I suspect) feel free to orate it over the Airwaves. I unfortunatley won't get to hear it if they do.

    As Me old mum used to say,
    "dont you dare get grass stains on them whites again!"
    Cheers JPA.

    The Ballard of Bill McMasters
    a tale by P.J. Anderson

    There was a Boy at deep square leg, McMasters was his name.
    And He held a deep dark secret, he did not like the Game.
    Now McMasters was a clever lad, some say he was a swot.
    When God was handing out the Brains, by ‘Eck he got the lot!

    All the time he spent at school, his head was full of books.
    And all the Jocks, who knew him, would cast him filthy looks.
    He had no time For Spin or Pace, china men or Swing.
    “I take no part in Sport, old boy. just not my kind of Thing.”

    He’d Quote you reams of calculus, without the need to think.
    But Stick him in the Coxless Four? the thing would bloody sink!
    So why, you ask, should it come to pass, a boy so set as Bill,
    In the ways of Academia, would take this bitter pill,

    To don the whites of Geoff and John, of Bradman and of Hogg.
    Well Look to the aim of Cupid’s Bow the cheeky little Sod!
    The wing’ed tyke had tricked old bill a month or two before.
    With vision of his one true love, and yes, she lived next door.

    Her name was Lily Watson, demure and kind and sweet.
    Her family moved from out of town, right into Bill own street.
    Young Bill was soon a smitten soul, his life was truly cursed.
    He even started writing, turgid, Love sick, verse.

    But Young Bill had a rival for Lily’s fair young hand
    The captain of the Lower Sixth, famed throughout the land.
    His name was Peter Simpson, of country parts he hailed
    It showed beneath his schoolies’ shirt, the hay that he had bailed.

    Simpson had a swarthy charm, and eyes of Emerald green.
    girls throughout the Neighbourhood, considered him a dream.
    An average over Fifty, and off breaks that would glean,
    A least eight wickets every game, his prowess was supreme.

    Now it came to Bills attention, that Lily found this smart
    and had been heard to Whisper, that “Cricket’s Quite the Art”
    And of the great proponents, Of a game she most admired.
    Was that sodding bloody Simpson! by God, he could have cri’ed.

    Now it came to pass, McMaster’s Class were challenged to a Game.
    By the Captain of the Lower Sixth for the Cup that Bore His Name. There was no blood connection between Simpson and the Shield
    But he thought it right that he should be the one to whom all yield.

    “So Simpson Just a flamin’ Prig with airs and Flamin Graces.
    It looks like all that superficial charm, sits on one of many faces.”
    So Billy boy did steal himself to get into the team.
    But nobbling some, quite decent, chaps really seemed extreme.

    Young Jackson took a tumble down the local library Stairs
    And Smudger from the Chess club grew quite unsightly hairs.
    Poor Poppleton caught something Red and Andrews’ something Blue.
    So as the Numbers dwindled young Billy boy was through!.

    But as Bill name made the team list he felt no sense of fun
    All he could keep saying was “My Lords what have I done!”
    “I’ve got to talk to Cartwright (the captain of Bills Year).
    I’ll ‘fess up to all the bad form stuff, he’ll help me out No fear”.

    Well Cartwright helped him out alright and didn’t ‘dob’ him in,
    Instead he put him in the nets as ‘Target Practice Tim’
    He mad him face out every ball the class team quickies had.
    Bill took a number in the ribs which mad him rather mad.

    But Young Bill had to steel himself, as Cartwright said he must.
    For without a least a decent show, his chance for love was bust.
    So On the day of battle, as Cartwright said he should.
    Bill took up position in the deep, by a sticky patch of mud.

    Well Simpson was to open, with Barlow at his side.
    On Cathcart’s first delivery, the leather soon would fly!
    A ‘THWACK’ dispatched the short one, big C put down the track.
    It seamed to be heading Westward, with no sign of coming back.

    But suddenly it faltered, and dropped down were bill stood,
    But he was quite preoccupied, with the pool of sticky mud.
    As people screamed out “catch it”, Bill turned to see the ball.
    Instinctively he held it, but could not break his fall.

    In oozing mud Bill spluttered but nothing was in doubt,
    Thanks to all of Cartwright’s training, (to a first ball) Pete was out!
    The Lower sixth, with Simpson gone, a score they could not yield.
    With few runs set to win the game, Bills class would win the Shield.

    So did Bill win the hand of Lily, after all was said and done.
    No, she went off with Cartwright ’cause he scored the winning Run!

  • Comment number 18.

    Not sure whether it would be better to see Strauss & Pietersen hunker down for a long and defensive partnership to save England's bacon, or get it all over quickly so that we don't have to listen any more to Michael Vaughan on TMS. I know he's new to the job, but can he please be reminded that he's a summariser. He should be heedful of his own words in his autobiography about Peter Moores, that "he wanted to do everyone’s jobs for them …". The excellent Agnew/Martin-Jenkins/de Kock do not need Vaughan's incessant and wordy interruptions, full as they are of so many well-worn and irritating sporting cliches.

  • Comment number 19.

    England in deep dodo, SA deservedly look certain to square the series.
    On a pitch at last with some pace and bounce, Steyn and Morkol are a league above our new-ball attack. Rather like the Aussies their big batters have all scored runs at the most crucial times.

    In the commentary box I was willing to give new-boy Vaughan a chance. Despite his early declaration of mediocre X-Factor fandom, constant annoying football references and En-ger-land flag waving. Much better to my TMS ears were the cool, articulate, measured tones of Duncan Fletcher in Cape Town.

    As I suspected ... ECB chairman is Giles Clark is full of cr*p.
    The County Championship schedule next season is a joke. More 20/20, more one-day internationals, more kow-towing the players from one meaningless tournament to another .... all in the name of easy TV money.

    Should have let Geoffery loose on Mr Clark for today's interview.

  • Comment number 20.

    Like Paul Collingwood, my wife has a poorly left index finger and also a friction burn on her right upper arm.

    However we were musing today - whilst watching English paint dry - and wondered how England's cricketers might put together an English Rugby Union Squad. There is no official variation for an eleven-a-side team but we will just make it up as we go along.

    So here it is (numbers 6, 7 , 12 and 13 left out to reduce a 15-a-side team to an 11-a-side team):

    Front Row:

    1. Pietersen 2. Trott 3. Collingwood


    4. Cook 5. Bell

    Number Eight

    8. Strauss (c)

    Scrum Half:

    9. Prior

    Fly Half:

    10. Broad


    11. Anderson 14. Onions

    Full Back:

    15. Swann


    16. Michael Atherton (Specialist front row - tighthead)
    17. David Gower (Specialist front row - loosehead)
    18. Sir Ian Botham (Specialist hooker and team joker)
    19. Nasser Hussain (Winger/Full back and general fixer)
    20. David Lloyd/Bumble (Utility back/Water carrier)

    Now would anyone care to name an English cricket team (and substitutes) comprising English Rugby Union Internationals?

    Perhaps this might be the basis for a good charity event - 20/20 cricket followed by 11-a-side rugby. Suggested venues: Lords and Twickenham but failing that Old Trafford and Old Trafford.

    Lawrence - Ynys Môn

  • Comment number 21.

    With England so deeply in the mire and needing to show some resilience, how do you condone the type of shots played by Pieterson, Bell and particularly Prior?

    It's truly baffling.

  • Comment number 22.

    So England lost the final test - not surprising as one of the England team seemed to be playing for the other side. However, the series was tied much to South African chagrin and of course the 1 day series was won by England.
    I'm happy to be an Englishman living in South Africa


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