Deadpan Duncan plays it straight with Raving Ray

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Going into this Test series the differences between the sides were obvious and mounting. South Africa seemed transient, unsure of which players to pick or where they should come from. England were assured - the number two team in the world, and wearing their continuity as a badge of honour.

Going into this Test series the differences between the sides were obvious and mounting. South Africa seemed transient, unsure of which players to pick or where they should come from. England were assured - the number two team in the world, and wearing their continuity as a badge of honour.

This was enhanced by the fact that nobody's perception changed after England's defeat in the solitary warm-up match. It was exhibited yesterday when South Africa's play bore all the hallmarks of wary attrition. They understood that was how it had to be, partly because of the state of the team, partly because of the state of the St George's Park pitch.

True, the two men who might have made it otherwise, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, were bundled off stage for no runs between them, but it was still a measure of how the series might be played out. The home side may well know they are up against it but they are buggered if they are going to show it or give anything away easily.

Australians receive a lot of credit for being cussed opponents, but the etymology of the word cussed is probably hidden somewhere deep in Afrikaans.

But there will be no more fascinating way to chart the progress of this match and the four to follow in double-quick time than the demeanour of the opposing coaches. It has already been a treat to watch Ray Jennings, of South Africa, and Duncan Fletcher, of England, in action. Raving Ray and Deadpan Duncan. If ever things get too tough for them in the world of cricket coaching they could form a stage double act. Deadpan Dunc could be the straight man, saying next to nowt, apart from the occasional world weary aside, while Raving Ray rants at the audience.

They are from two entirely distinct coaching moulds and if one has been more obviously successful so far, it is not difficult to work out who would add more to the gaiety of nations. Prising words, or occasionally even normal social graces out of Deadpan, is seriously hard work. Raving is not only readily available to interviewers, but invariably has something challenging to say. Fletcher might criticise an individual player in public if the wild horses that would drag it out of him were not extinct; Jennings has already been through the South African team's card from one to eleven. Fletcher, in his deadpan manner, would simply not countenance making himself a hostage to fortune, Jennings simply pays the ransom and gets on with it.

In his eve-of-match press briefing, Deadpan was prickly. He said the side were ready and not much else. In reply to one question, he said that he had already answered it, though nobody could remember him doing so. Raving, by contrast, invoked the imagery of bazookas and cannons. You could smell the emotion. In Fletcher's case you could have used all five senses and a sixth for good measure and still sensed nothing approaching emotion.

Part of this is because of their different natures, part of it is because Fletcher thinks his job is on the training pitch and has had five years of listening to asinine questions, and part of it because Jennings is desperate to convey his message and uses the media to boost his troops.

Every discussion about Fletcher's method contains the phrase: "But he's an excellent coach," as if it explains anything. Jennings would crave that appendage, and the signs after the loss of his two big men yesterday were that he infused something into his charges and that they will not be going quietly.

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