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Captain Cook gives rallying call to England players

We can beat the 'boks again if we show same hunger, urges skipper

By Stephen Brenkley

Published 02/01/2016

PIETERMARITZBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 19: Alastair Cook of England has a drink as he cools down during nets and media access ahead of the tour match between South Africa A and England at City Oval on December 19, 2015 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
PIETERMARITZBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 19: Alastair Cook of England has a drink as he cools down during nets and media access ahead of the tour match between South Africa A and England at City Oval on December 19, 2015 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Two days after a magnificent opening victory, England must pitch up 1,000 miles away today at Newlands seeking to maintain their series lead.

In an age where data is scrutinised to within a nano bit, players are molly-coddled, massaged, ice-bathed, instructed when to eat and how to exercise and advised whether it is appropriate to open the front door, this is the tour schedule of the madhouse.

Whoever signed it off on England's behalf, whoever asked on South Africa's has yet to fully explain themselves. The break between matches is one day fewer than the ICC regulations governing Tests, which itself is a tight enough squeeze.

While it is the same for both sides, England will possibly have the worst of it because they had to field last in the first Test in Durban and are the away team. The journey between cities hardly equated to a voortrek but being consigned to a small aeroplane seat on a packed flight for two hours is not the most advisable policy for professional sportsmen, especially tall fast bowlers whose limbs need to spread.

The need to make the most of the Christmas and New Year weekends, which may provoke the rare sound of South African cricket cash registers ringing, is the obvious reason for the fixtures being designated as they are. If there is something to be said for that, then there should be less of the need to protect the chaps at all costs. Let them play.

The upshot is that the tourists have had no time to savour their outstanding win at Kingsmead, which has given them a 1-0 lead in the series, the home side have had none to dwell on the paucity of their performance. This may work against one, in favour of the other. Alastair Cook, England's captain, has obviously given this some thought.

"2015 was a year where we were up and down a lot," he said. "It was great to finish with a performance like that in the last Test, a real relentless performance from pretty much ball one. Can we do it again? Can we have an Edgbaston, Trent Bridge fortnight and can we do that in Durban and Cape Town?

"With the number of English people here, it's going to be a great Test to be part of. But we've got to be careful we don't get carried away.

"It took a lot out of us to win in Durban. We had to come through some tricky situations: 40 for 3; times when we didn't quite get it right bowling and we managed to drag it back through absolute determination and skill.

"It's just a case of whether we have the same hunger in us to do that again."

England were considering only one change to the team which played with such elan earlier in the week, impeded though it was occasionally. South Africa, beset by injuries and wretched form, were uncertain where to turn.

It seemed improbable that England would reintroduce Jimmy Anderson, leading Test wicket-taker and leader of the attack, unless he could wholly satisfy them of his fitness. There is no mistaking the fact that a fit and firing Anderson would be in any England Test XI but their most recent two wins, against Australia and South Africa, have been achieved without him.

Conundrum though it is, South Africa doubtless crave something similar to it. Their captain, Hashim Amla, confirmed that the fast bowler Dale Steyn would not play because of a shoulder injury. His place will be taken by the highly promising Kagiso Rabada. Quinton de Kock may come in as wicketkeeper-batsman. This would relieve the burden on AB de Villiers but mean that one of the other five batsmen would have to be dropped after a single Test. They are still in a state of confusion about who is best equipped to open the batting, a problem no doubt being addressed by the former captain Graeme Smith, who has been engaged as a batting consultant.

Many of these concerns afflict England, who disguised them brilliantly in Durban. After the wonderful Kingsmead shifts by Nick Compton they would like nothing more than for Alex Hales to assemble a meaningful innings here. The last thing England want when this series is done is to relaunch the search for yet another opening batsman.

It may really be time then to ask Andrew Strauss to reconsider his retirement. Many before him have batted for England at the age of 38.

The other priority on the individual wish list is for an uncluttered, error-free game by the wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow. His batting was splendid in Durban but every lapse he makes behind the stumps from now on will be accentuated. The trouble is that it cannot be long before it dawns on someone (and it already should have done) that with England's present batting line-up they may as well pick the best wicketkeeper. If that is Bairstow, so be it.

The pitch looks as though it will contain plenty of runs. Whichever side bats first can expect to bat long. England have not won here since 1957, South Africa have not lost here to anybody except Australia since 1962. Were those records to go now the jubilation in one camp and despair in the other would be measured in yottabytes.

Belfast Telegraph

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