English cricket fans are in deep shock this sunny,
cloudless Monday morning.
The greatly anticipated battle at the Oval yesterday
between the world’s best cricket teams, England
and South Africa, for the
unofficial world cricket championship was reduced to an embarrassing rout, with
on the receiving end.
The two loudest cheers of the day were for Bradley
Wiggins, a rather odd-looking fellow who contrived to become the first
Englishman to win the Tour de France, and for Hashim Amla, a South African
batsman of even more exotic appearance, who ground England’s bowlers into the dust
with a triple century.
The home side could give its supporters nothing to
cheer about. The vaunted English bowlers,
representing what has been touted as the best attack in the world, were carted
all over the park, and for the first time in Test Match history failed to take
a wicket all day. And then, after the shaven-headed,
black-bearded Amla’s heroics, the English batsmen, confronting a first innings
deficit of 250 runs, reverted to their tiresome tradition of marching in and
out of the pavilion in regular and lugubrious procession.
Even the weather conspired against England: for the first time in this sodden
summer there was no rain for three days on the trot, thus depriving England of its
only chance to force an undeserved draw.
I was at the Oval on Thursday, the first day of the
match, and nothing that happened in the course of play then was to prepare us
for the impending horrors. England’s
batsmen coasted to 266 for the loss of three wickets. A first innings score of 500 seemed
plausible. The South Africans looked
jaded. ‘Undercooked’ was the vogue word
among the commentators. England’s final
total of 385 seemed, in the word of one of them, “useful”.
How little he knew what the Gods of sporting chance
had in mind for us.
What they had in mind was to allow South Africa to amass a total of 635, with only
two batsmen out, and to reduce England’s
batting to bumbling futility.
The tragic denouement should arrive soon after
lunchtime today, barring miracles.
Miracles are unlikely, and the weather forecast is
brilliant – if you’re South African or don’t care for cricket.