Cow Corner

Harris and Swann on song at Centurion

Cow Corner

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The two spinners were the big winners with Paul Harris and Graeme Swann igniting an otherwise drab third day of the first Test between South Africa and England at Centurion.

Prior to the match, England toyed with the idea of omitting Swann on the basis that the spinner had just recovered from injury and the pitch looked like the groundstaff had been drafted in from their 2010 football World Cup preparations.

But a blistering 85 proved that team director Andy Flower would have been orchestrating all but a farce without his presence - a kaleidoscopic innings with shades of Mark Waugh, Clive Lloyd and even Kevin Pietersen added to his five wickets on day two.

Equally, Graeme Smith owed at least one of his painful and uncompromising back-slaps to Simon Le Bon dead ringer Paul Harris, who racked up a haul of five wickets and five balls which turned (they did not correspond, much to the embarrassment of Messrs Ian Bell and Jonathan Trott).

In surely what is every club spinner's dream scenario, every England batsman attempted to play Harris as though the ball was turning square when in fact the deviations were about as minimal as an over of medium-trundle from a bowling machine. That novel approach did not prove at all successful.

Harris, for all his bewildering effectiveness, has two deliveries: the fast straight one and the slow straight one, but both Trott and Bell contrived to walk all around the spinner's 'arm balls' before hearing the death rattle behind them.

The morning was the kind of stalemate that makes an MCC committee meeting seem dynamic as the scoreboard operators took their cue from the pedestrian batting and sensationally sparse crowd to 'take a blow' themselves at one particular lull in play.

100th capper Makhaya Ntini got the first wicket of the day in the shape of Andrew Strauss and, as a result of his strike, the sponsors awarded everyone in the ground a free beer. Considering the ground was virtually empty and the time read 10:55, this was not as staggeringly generous an offer as it first appeared.

It has to be pedantically pointed out that while a rather goading placard in the stands read: Harris to bowl out South Africa for South Africa, the man in question was actually born in Harare himself, but as Strauss points out till he is blue in the face: 'All that matters is what badge is on your shirt now'.

Graeme Smith, sporting lurid green sunglasses ebayed from the dizzy remnants of a Simon Webbe music video, tinkered with his field placements with such incessant agitation that Pietersen even began to whistle to himself at one point - no doubt something from Liberty X's extensive back catalogue.

Harris, the man we have to officially recognise as the ninth best Test bowler in the world, was carted handsomely over the midwicket boundary with such bulldozer belligerence from Pietersen that Harris was left to stroke his blond mullet and wonder if slow, straight full-bungers have a place in the international game at all. The words 'take a blow there Paul' would have been very apt at that juncture had the spinner not responded with Trott's wicket moments later.

That brought Paul Collingwood to the crease, and then ensued a slightly surreal passage of play which was like watching a chess match played with only pawns as Collingwood thrusted his pad stoically forward to meet five successive Harris deliveries as the morning session went from serene to sedate.

At one point during Bell's brief knock, Kallis balanced three pairs of sunglasses, two sunhats and three caps on his head, as if to demonstrate how little he likes to move in the field - Jonty Rhodes would be disgusted with such an apathetic approach to fielding from a South African. But Kallis did later catch Collingwood in, surprisingly, the exact same position.

Then followed a shocking aberration from Bell as England's number six somehow mistook Harris for Muttiah Muralitharan and inexplicably let a very straight delivery arrow unerringly into his middle stump as he nonchalantly shouldered arms. The debacle conjured up memories of Adam Hollioake's face of incredulity as he let a Shane Warne straight one dart through his defences in 1997, but at least in the Australian spinner's case, he has been known to get the ball to deviate.

Smith no doubt proceeded to remind Bell that he can familiarise himself with where his off stump is when he is sat up on the England balcony in his board shorts and flip-flops, while the stump lay forlornly on its side just off the cut strip and with a fat cherry imprinted upon it.

Stuart Broad was furious with umpire Aleem Dar after he felt Smith had benefitted from a dressing room recommendation to refer the lbw appeal which had him dismissed, perhaps forgetting in his fury that the umpire was fully miked up. The South Africa huddle dallied for so long mid-pitch that all were left to wonder whether the plans of their evening's frivolities were being negotiated along with everything else.

The stage was then left to Swann to unfurl an array of shots rarely seen by an England batsman, let alone one which grins broadly while chirping merrily away to all and sundry after every delivery.

The off-spinner unravelled his full repertoire of strokes, paddles, slogs, dabs, nurdles, drives and flicks as an infuriated Smith tore into his beleaguered side at the end of every over with more team huddles than are seen at the Super Bowl.

SHOTS OF THE DAY: Swann's innings was like a highlights package, minus Mark Nicholas, as the spinner twice impeccably executed switch hits for four, before drilling two huge sixes over the Hennops River End, which prompted a seething Smith to dish out a fearful rollicking to his side mid-over as Harris clutched the ball sheepishly.

STAT OF THE DAY: Swann's 85 off 81 balls is the highest score by an England number nine for 38 years, since Peter Lever's unbeaten 88 against India at Old Trafford back in 1971.

USER COMMENT OF THE DAY: Let me tell you that I played cricket at a­ much higher level than county. I had a long and­ very successful career with my local village team so I­ am well qualified to pass comment on our national side.­ I would go as far as to say that in my capacity as acting­ captain -one match - (the regular skipper had some sheep to­ shear and the vice had to take his wife­ shopping), I would have only picked Strauss and Swann to­ represent us in our quest to get out of division four of­ our local league. (Kestephenson, who is, as he says, abundantly well qualified to comment).

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