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Bowlers may leave South Africa wondering, as hosts seek to make something from nothing

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If you want to guess how much goes on in Port Elizabeth, use today’s play as your most revealing clue. With 224 runs scored and four wickets taken, you will conclude that not that much happened and you would not be wrong, on the field and off it.

This is the sleepiest of the four venues for this series, a place where life seems simpler. There’s one go-to beachfront strip, one hipster neighbourhood and one team in the premier soccer league. Likewise, there’s one thing to expect from the St George’s Park pitch: it will be slow.

That means fielding teams need to think innovatively, especially if they have to make first use of the surface in trying conditions, as was the case today. It was the hottest day of the week, with barely a breath of wind, even though the bowling-friendly easterly was forecast, and South Africa decided an extra bowler was necessary.

Dane Paterson, who bowls in the high-130s, became the 109th player to be capped post-readmission and replaced Dwaine Pretorius, whose speeds are in the low-130s. On the face of it, it does not seem like a bad idea. Extra pace, albeit at the expense of an allrounder, could have its uses but not when used the way South Africa did today.

Paterson shared the new ball with Vernon Philander, despite the presence of out and out quicks, Kagiso Rabada and Anrich Nortje. South Africa’s bowling coach Charl Langeveldt explained the decision as part of a strategy to ensure England’s openers were not allowed to leave too much. “On this surface, we needed to make the new ball count and the captain and management decided we would go with Paterson because he bowls a fuller length and makes the batsmen play more,” Langeveldt said.

England left 10 balls in the first eight overs, so perhaps South Africa achieved their aim but Zak Crawley admitted the decision not to use Rabada upfront surprised him. That statement should tell South Africa everything they need to know about the dangers of taking the pressure off the opposition in the opening exchanges, which should be as attritional as possible.

It also puts the spotlight on Philander and won’t be amiss to go as far as to question his inclusion in the XI, considering his contribution, or lack thereof, and the conditions. Philander delivered an opening spell of four overs, in which Quinton de Kock was standing up to him, a mid-morning session of four overs and then did not bowl again until the second new ball. He was the least-used seam bowler on the day, delivering only 11 overs, but Langeveldt said team management were not expecting any more from the soon-to-be-retired seamer. “The surface doesn’t suit Vern that much. It’s quite slow so off the wicket batsmen can adjust. Vern is great with the new ball, but we decided to use him sparingly,” Langeveldt said.

Would South Africa have got more from Pretorius, in terms of overs or impact? It’s tough to say, especially because Faf du Plessis has previously explained the expectation on Pretorius is to contribute 10-15 overs a day and keep it tight and Langeveldt called Philander and Pretorius “basically two of the same”. So South Africa chose one of them, and may spend the rest of this Test wondering if it was the wrong one.

The outcome of all that is that Keshav Maharaj had to put in overtime and bowled 30 overs in succession, from before lunch until before the second new ball, and two overs to close the day. Not only did Maharaj keep England quiet and allow the quicks to rotate from the Park Dive End, but he also created several chances and made the breakthrough that changed the meandering mood of the day into something more meaty. De Kock was the man who spotted that a wicket was on offer when Maharaj struck Joe Denly on the pad, just before he inside-edged the ball. De Kock was the lone voice to appeal and asked for a review; replays showed that the ball was hitting middle and off-stump.

That brought Ben Stokes to the crease, to resume a cat-and-mouse game with Maharaj that was evenly poised after the first two Tests. Maharaj dismissed Stokes in the second innings at SuperSport Park and Stokes took Maharaj on at Newlands. Here, they danced again.

Maharaj hit Stokes on the back pad and du Plessis reviewed but Stokes survived on umpire’s call on the impact just outside the line and responded with a sweep through midwicket for four. In the next over Maharaj again had a review off Stokes, for a delivery that spun past the inside edge and off the pad, for what looked like a slip catch. Replays showed that there was no bat and no chance of an lbw with impact outside the line. Stokes responded with a cut for four. In the next over, Maharaj kept Stokes on the back foot and set him up for the nudge to short-leg, but the chance fell just short of Pieter Malan. Still, it showed that some parts of the South African attack are working to a plan, specifically the leg-side plan that dismissed Dom Sibley.

Du Plessis set 6-3 fields to Sibley, who showed South Africa his willingness to play the ball in the air on the onside. He did it several times in the morning session and one too many in the afternoon, when he steered a back-of-a-length Rabada ball to Dean Elgar at backward square leg.

Rabada enjoyed that wicket but not as much as his next one, the England captain Joe Root. Post-tea, after Maharaj’s crucial intervention with the wicket of Denly, Rabada beat Root for pace and pegged back his off-stump. He sent Root off by screaming at the stumps, a celebration reminiscent of his performance here two years ago against Australia. Then, Rabada went full tilt against Steve Smith, with a shoulder charge that almost earned him a suspension. Then was also the last time Rabada took a five-for and the last time he seemed to get properly riled up.

Since then, Rabada has looked everything from lethargic to overworked and though he remains South Africa’s most feared bowler, he has not always enjoyed the returns that come with his reputation. Even though Rabada was South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in 2019, it was his Rabada’s leanest full calendar year as a Test cricketer and led to questions about whether he was bowled too much, too soon, and was maybe becoming a little jaded by it all. His reaction to dismissing Root said otherwise. “KG is always looking for a scrap. It gets him fired up,” Langeveldt said.

On a pitch like this, that’s what South Africa need: an inspired spell from someone who can make something out of nothing. That doesn’t often happen in Port Elizabeth, but the next four days could be different.



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Hill takes four as England make short work of Nigeria | Cricket

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George Hill had a good day with the ball © Getty Images


England allrounder George Hill, playing his first game of the Under-19 World Cup, finished with figures of 4 for 12 to help England bowl Nigeria out for 58 in 27.5 overs in the final Group D game at Kimberley. England, for whom this was their first win of the tournament, won by eight wickets with opener Sam Young finishing the game off with a six, as England racing to 64 for 2 in just 11 overs.

Nigeria had opted to bat first, but the England seamers reduced them to 19 for 3 early. A 23-run fourth-wicket then took Nigeria past the forties, but then offspinner Hamidullah Qadri, who also took four wickets, and medium-pacer Hill bowled them out soon after. Nigeria captain Sylvester Okpe top-scored with 16.

Young was brisk in England’s pursuit of 59, crunching five fours and two sixes in his 33-ball 39, while Hil, who batted at No.4, was not out on 7 when the winning runs were hit. Both teams will move to the Plate League stage of the tournament, having failed to come in the top two of their group. West Indies topped the group, with Australia finishing second.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo


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Hitting ‘thousands’ of balls helps Josh Philippe find form for BBL finals

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Josh Philippe has followed the lead of his idol Steven Smith and is reaping the rewards for hitting “thousands” of balls over the last few weeks, as he battled a mid-tournament dip in form which he has turned around with the Sydney Sixers preparing for the Big Bash finals

The Sixers’ route may yet be tougher if the Adelaide Strikers take second place, and the double chance at qualifying for the final, but they are comfortably in the mix. Three wins on the bounce to finish the group stage has been an impressive way to overcome a stretch where they suffered at the hands of Marcus Stoinis’ 147* and were on the wrong end of some rain.

Philippe has made half-centuries in the last two of those outings against the Brisbane Heat and the Melbourne Renegades which came after a run of five matches where he managed 8, 6, 7, 1 and 10 following his unbeaten 83 against the Strikers in Coffs Harbour. He is the Sixers’ highest run-scorer from the regular season with 401 runs at 36.45, and a strike-rate of 126.10.

“To be honest I’ve hit thousands and thousands of balls, I’ve hit so many balls in the last few weeks. The thing with T20 cricket is when you miss out a few times it feels like it all happens so quickly,” Philippe told ESPNcricinfo. “We’ve had so many games close together, just the last few weeks where I didn’t get too many it felt like it all happened at once and I just kept backing myself, hitting a lot of balls, and hoping it would work out which it kind of did, which is nice.

“In the last couple of games I’ve just taken a few more balls to get myself in then starting to go, but sometimes you are chasing massive scores and don’t have time to do that. It’s all about reading the game, reading the situation, and the more you play the better you get at that.”

Hitting masses of deliveries at training is something associated with Smith, and the pair have had the chance to bat together for the first time in their careers in the last two games. Smith was instrumental in getting Philippe to sign for the Sixers in 2018 and is never shy of saying how far he believes the younger man can go.

“Geez, he was striking some balls very cleanly again,” Smith said after his unbeaten 66 completed the chase against the Renegades. “I’ve said it so much that kid has got some serious talent and he showed that again today. He just let me get into my innings before I could start getting a bit more expansive. That really helped.”

When asked about direct comparisons, Smith joked before lauding his striking: “He’s got a tiny head like me, so the boys give him a bit of stick about that. He’s got a pretty unique swing, the way he hits so clean, that six he hit to the on side early on against [Dan Christian] was an amazing shot, the way he check-drove it and gained so much power just shows the talent he’s got. He’ll enjoy playing in those pressure situations, he’ll learn. He’s so young, he’s got so much time on his hands.”

What is it like to hear Smith so often praise your game? “It’s amazing, really nice to hear so sorts of things. He’s a massive idol of mine and I look up to him,” Philippe said. “I’d love to one day get half as many runs as he’s got at the next level. It’s really cool to have that, and fingers crossed, I can keep making runs.”

And if someone had told Philippe a few years ago that he would be batting alongside Smith he wouldn’t have believed them. “I would have said ‘you’re dreaming’ but it’s pretty amazing. I’m stoked to be here and be in a really cool set-up with the Sixers. It’s such a bonus that we get Smith, [Josh] Hazlewood and [Nathan] Lyon back playing and it’s really cool to mix with those guys.”

As Philippe noted, the Sixers have their Australia players back and there remains some hope that Sean Abbott may yet be able to return from the side injury that ruled him out of the ODI squad to tour India. That would be a boost because the one issue the Sixers have to ponder is how to fill to the hole left by their leading wicket-taker Tom Curran, who departs for England duty now the regular season has finished, having claimed 22 wickets capped off with 3 for 27 against the Renegades.

“[He has] some great skills, he has been magnificent with the ball and under pressure with the bat,” Smith said. “Watching on TV that game that got to the Super Over [against Sydney Thunder] that was one of the best knocks I’ve seen at this Big Bash. He’ll be a big loss. He’s done his job as an overseas player, helped get us to the finals, now it’s our job to get it done for him.”



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AB de Villiers' magic keeps Brisbane Heat alive

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The Melbourne Stars have been uncatchable at the top of the points table for a while, but they have now lost three matches in a row



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