Phi­lan­der’s as­sault on In­dia may just make bowl­ing fash­ion­able again

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - SPORT -

IT was ter­rific, wasn’t it?

Balls zip­ping past ears and nudg­ing el­bows, kiss­ing the edge and gen­er­ally hold­ing sway over the much hal­lowed wil­low.

That proud seam hurtling to­wards off-stump and sim­i­larly de­li­cious places, and then dart­ing away as if re­mote-con­trolled, like a mis­sile of mass amuse­ment.

That is cricket, as it was sup­posed to be played. The neu­tral would far sooner have 250 and 200 all out plays 210 and 180 all out, rather than the one-sided Steve Smith Show mas­querad­ing as the great­est ri­valry in the game.

Bet­ter a con­test be­tween bat and ball, where both can hold sway.

But, the ball be­fore the bat. Runs were never meant to be a case of plant­ing an ar­ro­gant foot down the wicket and bunting it to hell and gone.

Runs are pre­cious things, made eas­ier by con­cen­tra­tion, quiet ac­cu­mu­la­tion and then, even­tu­ally, the cer­tainty of know­ing that you’ve ground away to the point where the paint is off the cherry, and you have seen off the best of the bowl­ing.

Then, well, then the stage is yours to fill your boots.

Some­where, in all the fire­works and froth over T20 cricket and its docile pitches that re­duce the eter­nal toil­ers of the game, the seam bowlers – be they fast or sim­ply blessed with a wrist that can make leather talk dirty from 22 yards – to noth­ing more than ma­chines, things that fling gifts for batsmen to plun­der.

Cricket, es­pe­cially the stuff in coloured cloth­ing, can some­times de­mor­alise bowlers to the point that it stops be­ing fun.

We cel­e­brate the 438 game and its hype, be­cause just about ev­ery bats­man who came in made merry.

Heck, even Roger Telemachus waltzed out, chipped a few sixes for the cause, and then let the next man come in.

Not one bowler en­joyed that day, did they? It was a leath­ery mas­sacre, all in the name of en­ter­tain­ment.

The ropes were in, the grass was cut like a bowl­ing green, and the pitch was so bril­liantly flat and sandy white you could have mis­taken it for Clifton beach.

Play that DVD for a kid, and then try and put forth an ar­gu­ment for them to grow up and be­come a bowler, rather than a swash­buck­ling batsmen. Fat chance!

You might as well try to con­vince them that broc­coli is a del­i­cacy.

It is for that rea­son that Test matches like last week’s in Cape Town are vi­tal for the health of the game. Scenes like those un­der the moun­tain re­mind youngsters that bowl­ing can be cool, too.

It can be the star in­gre­di­ent, the main at­trac­tion. Day four at New­lands was beau­ti­ful chaos, but it wasn’t skewed un­fairly in the favour of the leather-flingers.

Sure, Mother Na­ture added a sprin­kle of mois­ture to the sur­face un­der cov­ers, but there were runs to be had for those who ex­er­cised the due dili­gence.

Cer­tainly, there were no com­plaints about dodgy pitches from both sides. Vi­rat Kohli loved it, and Faf du Plessis surely did.

The crowd loved it, the neu­tral watch­ing on telly around the world loved it.

And, more im­por­tant than all the oth­ers, Messrs Phi­lan­der, Rabada, Morkel, Steyn, Shami, Kumar, Bum­rah and Pandya all loved it, too.

They stole the plau­dits, when we were all bank­ing on De Vil­liers or Kohli to make merry. Their days will come, of course, but Test cricket is at its in­trigu­ing best when it veers off the script, and writes its own end­ings.

The batsmen that we lav­ish with praise and riches would be mere mor­tals if they were not be­ing thor­oughly tested by the skill, nerve and prob­ing sin­cer­ity that comes from 22 yards away.

Long live the leather flingers – and the grounds­men that leave just enough en­cour­age­ment on the sur­face to keep them com­ing back for more.

May New­lands not be the last we see of them this blockbuster sum­mer.

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