To bat first, or not to bat first…

The answer to this Shakespearian question is not as simple as some would think.

At the time of writing, Australia was on 369 for 7 in their first innings.

There was a lot of debate about Smith’s decision to field first. Ryan McLaren is quoted as saying that, statistically, the side batting second has a better chance of winning.

“It was moving around a bit in the beginning but then it became slowish off the wicket. In the first hour we bowled well and we had an opportunity to make some inroads.”

At 98 for four, it seemed that it was the right choice, but after two centuries by Marsh and Smith, a lot of “experts” showed their superior hindsight skills and chastised the Protea skipper.

An article on Cricinfo states:

With Australia 98 for 4, McLaren wanted South Africa to push home the advantage but said Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith made that difficult. “They played really well. They had pretty much a chanceless partnership. Shaun adapted well and the longer he stayed there, the easier it became.”

By the same token, South Africa did not make the necessary adjustments. McLaren explained that they needed “to err on the side of a fuller length” in the morning and then “pull it to back of a good length” later on as the surface became more sluggish.

The wonder of test cricket is, of course, the way the game fluctuates over the five days. One will only be in a position to judge the wisdom of Smith’s call once the match is concluded.

I enjoy test cricket between South Africa and Australia immensely, mainly because of the mental strength of both sides. None of the other top test cricketing sides can weather psychological blows in the same way as these two sides do. If you can get into the heads of the English side, for instance, they tend to waiver and falter, aided and abetted by their own media and ex-captains.

This is going to be a series of immensely enjoyable cricket. Sit back, relax, and savour the many moments of delight yet to come.

Sharks on a Steak Diet?

If one can believe the common thread running through articles on the opening match in Durban on Saturday, this will be the case.

The Sharks are favourites to win the competition, thanks to personnel changes at board level, in the training set-up and, most importantly, in the players at their disposal. The Bulls, in contrast, have experienced structures in the first two departments, but they field some very inexperienced players who still have to cut their teeth in this tough competition which is taxing, both mentally and physically.

Gavin Rich points out that there is one area where the Sharks are at a disadvantage. Laurie Mains commented a few years ago about the humidity as a factor when the Sharks prepare in Durban. Having been there last Friday, I can attest to the energy sapping effect of the coastal town.

Under Jake White, the team changed their practice times from early morning and late afternoon to the middle of the day. An article in Supersport quotes White as saying:

“In the past the guys trained early in the morning and in the evening. But this time we have decided we want to use the conditions we experience here to our advantage during the competition. So we have frequently trained from 9:30 to 11am and from 3:30pm in the afternoon, when it is really hot. The reason we did that was to turn the conditions into one of our strengths.”

I have in the past remarked that they appeared to be uber cool, to the extent that they almost appeared over casual in their approach. The impact of the humidity may have been to blame, not their attitude.

The weather also impacts on handling, and this will affect both teams equally. We all know that the first few games are normally fraught with handling errors, and a slippery ball exacerbates this.

Most Superbru pundits will opt for a win for the Sharks, and with plenty. Pierre Spies, of course, has to be upbeat:

“We have some goals to achieve and we’ve worked hard to make sure we are ready to compete against any team at any venue. The younger guys in our team bring a lot of energy to our effort and I am pretty pleased to have them in my side, rather than playing against them.” Then there is the experience of 125 Super Rugby matches in the form of Oom Victor Matfield, which should have a calming influence on players almost half his age.

Ek is net bly daar is nou iets meer sinvols om te doen oor die naweek as gras sny of swembad skoonmaak.

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