Back when we were younger men, the concept of a warmup was something to be scoffed at. When you’re as unfit as the average 51allout writer, doing any sort of pre-game activity is a waste of valuable energy. Nope, the only warming up that we were interested in came in the form of some (purely medicinal) brandy. Or possibly some mulled wine, or even some gin that had been left in the sun. We now know that this attitude, and this attitude alone, would one day prevent us from reaching our true destiny as top-level sportsmen.
In modern cricket, the warmup matches have taken on a new form of significance in recent years. In the olden days a tour would include a number of First Class fixtures around whichever country a team was in. Nowadays there isn’t time for that, so it’s often a case of scoring runs and/or taking wickets in a warmup match (or two) or quite possibly being in charge of counting bottles of weak lemon drink onto a tray for the duration.
With both England and South Africa about to start potentially challenging Test series, we felt we’d better actually pay attention to their warmup matches, to see if we could learn anything new or exciting. Or maybe just fill one of those awkward gaps in our article schedule.
Going into the tour of India, there were two questions to be answered about the makeup of the side: firstly, the selection of an opening partner for Alastair Cook and secondly, whether to go for a sixth batsman or an allrounder. Neither of these were addressed on the opening day as England bowled against a fairly strong India A side, including the likes of Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and former Manchester United striker Louis ‘Wriddhiman Prasanta’ Saha.
As bowling efforts go it wasn’t a bad one, with India A restricted to 369, albeit at a fairly jaunty 4.09 runs per over. James Anderson (2/65), Tim Bresnan (3/59) and Graeme Swann (3/90) all got some decent spells under their belt, while Samit Patel got through 20 fat-busting overs, finishing with 1/95. The only downside, and as downsides go it was a fairly large one, was Steve Finn bowling just four overs before suffering a thigh injury that may rule him out of the first Test. Manoj Tiwary top-scored for India A, making 93, while Abhinav Mukund made 73 and Yuvraj 59.
England’s reply was all about Nick Compton’s first appearance at the top of the order. And as first appearances go it was up there with Jonathan Woodgate at Real Madrid, lasting all of three balls.
The rest of the England batting lineup fared somewhat better. Jonathan Trott made 56 and Matt Prior 51 while Cook (119) and Patel (104) both made excellent centuries, taking England to a comfortable total of 426. Yuvraj Singh took 5/94 including, somewhat inevitably, the wicket of Kevin Pietersen (23).
Aside from Compton, England’s biggest disappointment was Ian Bell, who made just five. This is an important tour for Bell; following his fantastic performances in 2010 (786 Test runs at 68.50) and 2011 (950 at 118.75), 2012 has seen him regress somewhat (500 runs at 31.25). With him set to miss the second Test when his missus drops a sprog, there are no guarantees that he’ll walk back into the side, particularly given his horror show against spin in the UAE earlier this year.
India A’s second innings was a largely pointless affair, with Anderson taking 2/20 and Ajinkya Rahane making 54.
England’s second game saw them wobble horribly in their first innings before recovering to dominate a fairly tame draw. Batting first, the top order collapsed in comedy fashion. The lovely-haired Compton made his best score in an England shirt, one, and Ian Bell just four before Trott and Joe Root were both dismissed for 28, leaving the tourists 66/4.
In a crisis, call for a ginger. Luckily for England they had two gingers to call on. Eoin Morgan made 76 while Jonny Bairstow, keeping wicket in place of the rested Prior, made a superb 118. Patel then followed up with another 60 to take England to the comfort of 354/9 and a declaration.
The second day saw England struggle to bowl out Mumbai A, a sentence that should give a good indication of how the upcoming Test series might go. After a couple of early wickets – including one for Root – Cheteshwar Pujara and Shah (not the twitchy run out basket case one) batted for the majority of the day as the visitors huffed and puffed (literally in Patel’s case) to little avail.
Quick breakthroughs on the third morning saw the home side bowled out for 286, spin twins Monty Panesar (3/64) and Patel (3/44) reaping the rewards of the previous day’s hard work. There were also two wickets for Graeme Onions and a minor heel injury for Stuart Broad.
England’s second innings was set up for a Root vs. Compton showdown. As epic battles go it was hardly Country House vs. Roll With It, but Compton eventually emerged on top, making a patient 64*. Root made 24 and Trott 30 before Bell also enjoyed some time at the crease, being dropped first ball before going on to finish on 28* as the game reached its inevitable drawn conclusion.
South Africa’s tour of Australia couldn’t be more succinct, consisting of one warmup game then three Tests before getting on the first plane back from Perth. It’s almost as if they don’t want to see Australia’s fantastic tourist spots, such as Wave Rock (a rock that looks like a wave), Mullewa Zoo (a tennis court with a half-dead emu on it) and a really long straight road.
Said warmup game took place at the SCG and, thanks to those delightful people at Cricket Australia, was available to watch on the internet. Not that we actually watched it, apart from the bits with Steve Smith in, obviously.
In the end it turned out to be little more than batting practice for both sides. Australia A made 480/7 before declaring, taking up more than half the match in the process. After Liam Davis (ten), Phil Hughes (five) and Andrew McDonald (a duck) all went cheaply, Steve Smith wowed the crowd with a typically maverick 67 before deliberately getting out LBW to give someone else a go. Generous to a fault, is our Steve. The home side then continued to pile on the runs, Rob Quiney making 85, Glenn Maxwell 64, Tim Paine 60* and Alex Doolan a rather splendid 161*.
For South Africa’s bowlers it was a proper workout. Imran Tahir got through 40 fairly filthy overs, taking 2/157. Dale Steyn took 3/54 and Rory Kleinveldt 2/60 while Vernon Philander (0/88) struggled. Even Hashim Amla had a bit of a bowl, great news for beard fans everywhere.
South Africa’s response saw both Amla and Graeme Smith make half-centuries before retiring, while every other batsman enjoyed some time at the crease. The Australian bowlers failed to pull up any trees, although Steve Smith did get through seven overs. Which was nice.
After South Africa declared on 277/6 there was just enough time for Steyn to bowl a very fiery five over spell, picking up the wicket of Davis, before Quiney’s cultured 11* convinced the Australian selectors that he was definitely the man to replace Shane Watson, presumably purely to annoy Phil Hughes.