x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Test cricket for the soul

Tension during closing moments of the Cape Town game between England and South Africa on Thursday was as good as it gets.

Graham Onions, right, and Graeme Swann helped England to a draw against the South Africans in the Cape Town Test match.
Graham Onions, right, and Graeme Swann helped England to a draw against the South Africans in the Cape Town Test match.

I love my cricket and have been like a hippo in mud watching the terrific Test matches this week. I am loving Twenty20 and all that but please don't ever tell me Test cricket isn't head and shoulders above anything else for drama and soul. The tension during the closing moments of the South Africa versus England Test that concluded in Cape Town on Thursday, was as good as it gets. One wicket needed and England tail-ender Graham Onions stood firm - again. England will have to be careful or they will gain a reputation for backbone.

I knew the Aussies would win from absolutely nowhere against the Pakistanis. They are mentally tougher than anyone else, and the rest of the world knows it. Until the other teams can overcome that barrier, they will remain the best. The South Africa-England series between two team who have been so well matched has been compelling. OK, fast bowler Stuart Broad is getting a bit weird with the odd hissy fit, and I could have understood middle-order batsman Kevin Pietersen if he had had a go back after he belittled him for failing to stop a ball - just to calm him down a bit. The whole ball-tampering thing is well out of hand (or foot) and reduces the game to playground cobblers.

"He scratched the ball with his boot." "No he didn't you did." "No we didn't...you did." Panto season's over and it just sounds pathetic. Come on lads grow up and get on with the real thing. There's nothing like a whiner to get on people's nerves. The highlight of the whole series, without question, has been commentator David Lloyd, or "Bumble" as he is affectionately known. On the Showtime feed we unfortunately miss out on the best commentary team in sport, which is the Sky Sports cricket boys. Former England players Ian "Beefy" Botham, Nasser Hussain, Mike Atherton, West Indian Michael Holding and, during the Ashes, the brilliant former Australia leg-spinner Shane Warne. Instead we have a more South African feel with Keppler Wessels, Daryll Cullinan, Shaun Pollock and Robin Jackman.

I am not saying they are humourless (OK I am), but I won't cry if I miss their Christmas night out. When they're laughing half-heartedly at their own "jokes", I can't get a brilliant Stan Boardman line out of my head. Some thieves nicked Bob Monkhouse's joke books a few years back and there was a national search to find them. Stan, quite rightly, asked how the police would know they were joke books when they found them.

In fairness it's hard for the South African boys because Geoff Boycott and "Bumble" have reduced them to also rans. "Boycs" is from the love-him-or-loathe-him camp whereas Bumble's rapidly becoming a national institution. What he does, he does naturally with a humour the common man can identify with. No ego, no side, just bang on the mark with that slow and deliberate Accrington drawl. I wouldn't call him a doyen, because that word conjures up images of say....Dan Maskell in tennis, or...Peter Alliss in golf, and I could never imagine me sharing a drink with those boys. With "Bumble", you feel like he is your mate, yet he is been a Test cricketer, an umpire and an England coach, so he has got the T-shirt and talks from a position of real knowledge. Somehow England are one up having been hammered in two of the Tests, with one more to go. Enjoy the rest of the series and enjoy David Lloyd ... top, top commentator, and top lad too.

A big well done to Phil "The Power" Taylor this week after winning his 15th world darts title at the Alexandra Palace in London. Taylor is one of those rare champions people still want to win time after time. Usually with someone that good, everyone wants him knocked off his perch but fans everywhere love "The Power" and long may it continue. I once invited the great man to a sportsmen's evening where all the other stars were being paid to attend. "Is it for charity?" asked Taylor on the phone. "Yes," I replied. "Then I don't want any payment, or please give my fee to the cause." Class. @Email:sports@thenational.ae