England practice escapes from nets

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The Independent Online

Details are gradually emerging of an English idea that could revolutionise cricket. Like all the best ideas it is so stunningly simple that it is frankly bizarre nobody thought of it before. To practise playing pressurised cricket in the middle, England are playing pressurised cricket in the middle.

In a departure from the norm, they have been regularly spotted in South Africa having games of what look suspiciously like cricket with batsmen at either end, fielders and a bowler.

Cricketers have spent most of their training time until now having nets in which the bowler frequently forgets the front-foot rule governing no-balls and the batsman plays shots which might or might not have caused his dismissal in a game had there been a fielder in position to catch the ball.

Now England have changed all that. Of course, it is not simply practice in the middle, it is practice in the middle with a twist: the replication of possible real-game scenarios.

Guided by assistant coaches, Ottis Gibson and Richard Halsall, the players are attempting to imitate events that may happen in a one-day game. So the batting side might be told that they are chasing 54 to win in seven overs but can lose only two wickets while doing so.

The players, being competitive animals, sense it could happen in a real game and respond accordingly. It might be a trickier in replicating scenarios for Test matches. "Right, lads, you have two days to bat and seven wickets in hand to win, draw or lose the Test, starting now." Nets will still have their place to iron out technical glitches or for learning new skills bat and ball by repeating them.

There is no question that England have responded to the new regime of pressurised middle practice and it will form a regular part of their programme from now on. It will be difficult in Durban this week because of the persistent rain, which is set to last well into the weekend.

With England leading 2-1 in the one-day series with one match to play here on Friday there is speculation that the hosts will drop the struggling left-hander J-P Duminy and bring back one of their old favourites, Herschelle Gibbs.

The South Africa coach, Mickey Arthur, insists, however, that they will stick with Duminy despite his weakness against the short ball. There might not be much wrong with South Africa that the return of all-rounder Jacques Kallis would not rectify. But Arthur said yesterday that he remains doubtful for the first Test in a fortnight. But England doubtless will be practising as though Kallis is there.