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An England tour still a highlight for young players

England's Jonny Bairstow (C) and England's Zak Crawley (R) in the slips appeal unsucessfully for an lbw decision against India's Cheteshwar Pujara. Photo: AFP

England's Jonny Bairstow (C) and England's Zak Crawley (R) in the slips appeal unsucessfully for an lbw decision against India's Cheteshwar Pujara. Photo: AFP

Published Jul 6, 2022

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Cape Town - A tour to the sub-continent is often a cruel reality check for any young international cricketer.

The unfamiliar surroundings, hectic travel schedule, heat and humidity, and of course, the pitches that may have been prepared on another planet.

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Equally, Australia is not for the faint-hearted. Imposing stadiums filled with raucous home fans is one of the biggest challenges the game has to offer.

Yet, a tour to England remains the highlight. Some of the allure may have been lost due to touring teams no longer playing as many matches against local counties between Tests, but it remains a special tour.

It is unlike any tour due to the players and support staff travelling to each venue by luxury coach. There are no hassles of airport check-ins that alleviate plenty frustration.

It creates a special camaraderie among the players who spend so much time together. It is almost a throwback to schoolboy tours for many of the players; a time when they played for pure enjoyment.

The knowledgeable local support is also much appreciated. Heckles there will be at Headingley, but arguably nowhere else are visitors’ performances appreciated as much as in England.

And then there’s the Lord’s honours board that captures the imagination. Proteas legend Makhaya Ntini is the only South African to have his name chiselled into the famous wooden plaques – on two occasions in one match when he claimed a ‘10-fer’ at the home of cricket in 2003.

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It has been a hard-fought struggle for supremacy in her majesty’s kingdom between the Proteas and England since SA’s readmission to cricket in 1991.

Despite some marvellous individual efforts – like Ntini’s Lord’s heroics and Graeme Smith’s successive double centuries in 2003 – it was not until 2008 when the Proteas first tasted success before their crowning glory in 2012 when Smith lifted the ICC mace as the World’s No 1 ranked Test team at Lord’s.

Unlike Australia where the Proteas have completed a hattrick of Test series wins since 2008, England reclaimed the ascendancy in 2017.

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This sets up an intriguing contest over the course of the next couple of months, especially with the English Test side in the midst of a resurgence under their new leadership regime of coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes.

It was only a couple of months ago that England were rudderless and sinking in the Caribbean, but now “Bazball” has created a fresh sense of excitement and energy around the English Test team.

Young players are playing with confidence and veterans like James Anderson and Stuart Broad are strutting around like teenagers in the autumn of their international careers.

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The Proteas too have turned the corner in the Test arena after a couple of years languishing at the basement, and are now realistic contenders to secure a place in the second ICC Test Championship final. A series victory over England will go a long way towards achieving this.

It is all set for another crackerjack instalment of a rivalry steeped in tradition.

There is no doubt it will provide enthralling entertainment.

@ZaahierAdams

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