Simon Jones: Frankly speaking, this might be my kind of town
Sunday 19 December 2004
On the morning of this First Test, the England team prepared for their final practice to the strains of Frank Sinatra. He will have been played in a million different settings over the years for a million different occasions but Ol' Blue Eyes probably never expected that he would get an airing in a cricket dressing room in South Africa.
Mark Butcher sang along, a few of us ribbed Graham Thorpe for the choice of music. But it signified that we were relaxed for what was ahead. The first morning of the series, especially overseas, is always a special time. This is what you've been waiting for since the squad was picked, what you've been working towards. Like Christmas, it's suddenly here.
After Sinatra had strutted his stuff on our arrival at St George's Park he was then turned off as the start drew nearer. Frank might have been prepared to fly us to the moon but we had business closer to hand. The boys became much more introverted. The banter was much more subdued. We lost the toss, continuing, at the risk of getting on the wrong side of Michael Vaughan by pointing it out, the captain's poor run of form with the coin since taking the job.
Of course, you want to win the toss in a Test, put a large total on the board and then bowl out the opposition twice without the need to bat again. But as a bowler I go to the ground on the morning of the match expecting to bowl. There is no point doing otherwise and when the captain signalled that we were fielding there was no sense of disappointment. You just get on with it.
Not that this looked likely to happen - getting on with it, that is - after my first brief spell. The captain took me off after those three overs went for 14 runs. My rhythm had felt good but something was going wrong in the delivery stride. The move was obviously inspired because Stephen Harmison was brought back and bowled Jacques Kallis. It was a low full toss but anything travelling at 92mph is potential trouble.
I was out in the country for a while but in the afternoon the skipper turned to me again, and this time I don't think I let him or the team down. This time, I felt like a Test bowler. I've had my moments since I came back after the knee injury that kept me out for so long - five wickets in Trinidad, a good, controlled spell against New Zealand at Lord's when I achieved consistent reverse swing - but this was the best I have felt.
I observed last week that in practice I was as fluent as I had been. Well, this was that practice put into a match. I bowled quick at times as well and there is definitely more to come in the speed department. Look, it wasn't perfect and I didn't get a wicket on the first day but we stopped South Africa getting away.
Apparently, the former Test batsman Geoff Boycott seriously doubted my ability, on Radio Five Live. His opinion should never be less than respected but I think his assessment might be much too hasty. My intention was to do what the team required and I hope Boycs was watching when I removed Boeta Dippenaar with one he had to play just after his century yesterday.
The wind is a factor in this match. I have played Colwyn Bay so I know what coastal breezes can do to bowlers, but I've never experienced anything like this. It came at you from the front and it came at you from the back. Bowling into it not only kept you honest, but made it extremely difficult to get your balance and poise.
I thought both Jacques Rudolph and Dippenaar played well and they made it clear that this series will be tough. Neither side will fold easily, I believe, and it should make for a fascinating few weeks. I didn't think I was going to be part of it and I don't intend to depart easily from the proceedings now.
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