SAfrica and England meet under Table Mountain on Friday in the first of six international rapid-fire cue ball matches in Cape Town and Paarl that bring the prospect of some fast and attractive bowling from both sides.
Among the tourists are Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone, while Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje line up for the hosts. Like Archer, who was named MVP, the two Proteas have enjoyed striking Indian Premier League campaigns through terrain and pace.
“I was part of our IPL show on Mondays and the names of Rabada and Nortje came up week after week,” says Steve Harmison, former leader of England and now part of the TalkSport team that has the exclusive radio rights for the tour.
“I was not at all surprised that his team, Delhi Capitals, made it to the final. People say Twenty20 is a hitter’s game and yes, there are a lot going for it. But a burst of rhythm can result in the victory of a match. I really think these two series of white balls will come down to who has the best fast pitchers on display. “
The experienced Rabada was the IPL land grabber leader with 30 casualties, his silky smooth action hitting 93 mph (150 km / h). Nortje, the understated right-hand man for the Eastern Cape, continued his ascent with 22 hairs, more than a third of the tournament’s 100 fastest deliveries and a top speed of 97 mph (156.22 km / h).
But in a talk to tease the upcoming tour, Harmison is just as effusive about England’s resources, describing Archer, Wood and Stone as the most exciting trio of genuine rapids since the stars of Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones and himself met. they lined up for Ashes 2005..
The 42-year-old purrs about Archer ahead of his appearance on the Twenty20 leg of the tour and emphasizes that patience is still required in the testing arena. “They labeled me a bowler who had good days and bad days,” says Harmison. “But it is not an exact science, we are not robots. And the pressure from international cricket is greater. “
He also believes that Stone replaces Archer for the one-day internationals that follow, and the higher allocation of 10 overs per inning is perfect for a bowler looking to improve his fitness and strength after a series of injury problems. .
But it is on the Wood issue that Harmison has a problem, most notably the England and Wales Cricket Board’s decision to simply award him a white-ball contract while repeatedly citing the centrality of the 30-year-old in test plans. abroad, including next winter. Ashes offer. “I thought it was disrespectful to Mark,” says Harmison. “For my money, England’s leadership is as good as it has been with Ashley Giles, Chris Silverwood and others. But in this I think they have made a big mistake. “
Harmison is open about the fact that he is defending a friend here. He has been like a big brother to Wood over the years and also an inspiration when, as a young man, Wood stood at the pavilion in Ashington CC and watched on television as a fast bowling buddy from the club threw himself at the clubs. bowling during that memorable summer 15 years ago.
“It seems the decision was a case of, ‘Woody is a great kid, he’s not going to make a fuss,’” Harmison continues. “I understand that in difficult times from a financial point of view, the ECB has to cut its clothes accordingly, but I still didn’t feel good. Perhaps without the pandemic for the summer, and with houses full for test matches, Jimmy Anderson walks to the Oval and says “thank you very much” and moves to the comment box full time.
“But he didn’t, and because he played very well, he felt like he could continue for another year. I don’t blame him at all, I would do the same. But I wonder if it meant that something had to give in terms of the contracts and that something was Mark Wood.
“They said it was due to the test matches played, but in their last three away from home, England won all three and took a lot of wickets.” [18 at 14 runs apiece]. Dukes at home is certainly still about Anderson and Stuart Broad. But England are trying to win in India and Australia in the next 12 months and they will ask a guy they didn’t consider worthy of a contract to make it happen. “
Harmison shares a widespread concern that Wood, whose thrust from the top end of the speed pistol puts pressure on a fragile body, will now feel compelled to show up for the next IPL in a year already about to explode in what regards international cricket. He says, “You just don’t get these X-factor bowlers too often and when you get them, you have to protect them. If an IPL contract came along now, as a close confidant I would tell you to sign it. He has a young family and his time as an athlete is short.
“If England is desperate for him not to go, they need to find that money somewhere. He’s not the type of person to tell you this, but I know he would and I suspect [TalkSport colleague] Darren Gough would too. “
Harmison expects a response from Wood in the next series either way, citing his own center-contract snub in 2003-04 as similar inspiration, and it could be South Africa’s hitters who use it. But the beauty of this short and sharp tour is that the hosts possess the bowlers to return some Protea fire as well.
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