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Lawrence Booth: Save your breath South Africa

November 18th, 2009 by Lawrence Booth in Test cricket


Memo to Mickey Arthur and Graeme Smith: save your breath. If England were being captained on their tour of South Africa by, I dunno, Graeme Hick in one of his less assertive moods, the constant mind games – and I only narrowly avoided inverted commas – might be worth it. But Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower have come through a lot together in a short space of time. As Michael Vaughan once said, it’s all duck off a water’s back.

Journalists are sometimes accused of spinning a story: emphasising those aspects which present it in, well, the most presentable light. The players and coaches usually roll their eyes; sometimes they object; but very occasionally, when it suits them, they join in. And that is precisely what Arthur and Smith have been doing ever since England landed in South Africa – and even before they got there.

First there was the contrived brouhaha over Strauss’s so-called refusal to allow Smith a runner for cramp during the Champions Trophy. Smith blamed Strauss; Strauss passed the buck to the umpires; the truth was left dangling somewhere in the middle.

Then Arthur questioned the absence of Steve Harmison from the Test squad. OK, so he was answering a direct question, and I appreciated the honest answer he gave me. But the intended message was clear: you’ve made a big mistake.

Since then Arthur – an affable guy, as it happens – has joked about the lack of Englishmen in the England team, and expressed his mock-incredulity at the decision to give Adil Rashid but a single over in the second Twenty20 international at Centurion on Sunday. If you recall Smith’s baiting of Vaughan during the 2004-05 series, and Arthur’s reference to “Mother Cricket” at Headingley in 2008, when Vaughan claimed a catch at mid-off after berating AB de Villiers for claiming a catch at slip, then you will recognise this South African tactic for what it is: an old one.

But is it worth it? Andy Flower, who could hardly be more dignified if you slapped a barrister’s wig on him and asked him to speak Latin, pointedly used the word “modest” when he summed up his preferred modus operandi. The bloke has stood up to Robert Mugabe, for heaven’s sake. Smith and Arthur may cause fewer sleepless nights.

Strauss, too, is one of those players who regard off-field sledging as a waste of time. Merv Hughes gave up trying to unsettle Mike Atherton, and the current England captain is on the threshold of untouchability too. The chances are he’ll just smile, tell himself that chatter can denote insecurity as well as confidence, and get on with the serious business of scything the ball backward of point.

The South African brains trust presumably think they can get under English skins. Maybe they’re right in one or two instances. But this tour has another 10 weeks to run, and in journalism we have another tactic. It’s called keeping your powder dry – saving the killer column, the revelatory tale, for the moment of greatest impact. At this rate, Arthur and Smith are going to be exhausted come the middle of January. And in the age of burnout, that’s the last thing anyone wants.

Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Daily Mail, and you can sign up for his weekly newsletter the Top Spin here. His fourth book, What Are The Butchers For? And Other Splendid Cricket Quotations, is out now, published by A&C Black

Posted in Test cricket | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Lawrence Booth: Save your breath South Africa”

  1.   Vim says:

    Considering how often Arthur opens his mouth to remove one foot and put the other in, I would be surprised if thought processes enter into his gobbing off at all.

  2.   Paddy Briggs says:

    “Strauss, too, is one of those players who regard off-field sledging as a waste of time.”

    I don’t get the impression that he is that keen on on-field sledging either. To his credit…

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