Ryan Harris. Photo: Morne de KlerkPitch scares groundsmanPitch won’t stop MitchPhilander worked out
As we were doing our game-day warm-up and the I saw the commentators talking to Graeme Smith after the toss, meaning he’d won it, we all started walking off thinking we were bowling. When someone said ‘No, we’re batting’, it was a shock – but a nice shock. Three days’ out you would’ve bowled on that pitch, because it looked so green, but on the day of the game it looked a very good wicket. The way Shaun Marsh and Steve Smith batted on it on day one proved that. As a team, we never looked back from there.
Even though Mitch Johnson is a teammate I was still able to marvel at what he did – but I’ve been doing that all summer with Mitch. And I’m adamant it wasn’t just because of the pitch, which all of us got to bowl on. I was at short cover to him a few times and the pace his balls were going through at was just unbelievable. I’m glad I’m not facing him. Morne Morkel is a similar pace but, I’m not sure what it is, just wasn’t having the same impact. Maybe it’s because Morne gives you a better look at the ball. But he’s definitely still tough to face. With Mitch, I don’t know whether it’s just the angle of his arm but the balls he’s hitting their blokes with and getting nicks from are just scary – right at the helmet badge, right at the throat. That’s hard to play. I say it’s great to watch because he’s on my side. If he was against us I wouldn’t say that though.
Sometimes Mitch bowls so fast it makes you feel like you’re not pulling your weight. It’s not nice to feel like you’re ‘the slow one’. But I never get cranky when he’s taking wickets and I’m not. If I ever got that way I’d hope someone would come up and give me a rocket. I was rapt when Mitch got Graeme Smith in the second over of the match, after he’d hit me for 10 runs in the first. I wasn’t unlucky though. It was a rubbish over from me to start with. I look back and realised I started to sledge a bit in the match, which I don’t normally do. That probably shows I was a bit frustrated. A couple of things came out, although nothing silly.
I’ve played well over a decade of first-class cricket but suspect nerves got to me a bit, playing South Africa for only the second time. I reckon I tried a bit too hard, ran in a bit too hard in that first innings and focused too much on how fast I was going to bowl rather than where I was going to put the ball. It was just one of those days where not everything clicked.
You won’t hear me complaining when people chip me after bowling like that, because it’s warranted. I know when I’m not bowling well. Even Boof came up to me and said it wasn’t my greatest effort, but not to worry. I knew that already, no-one had to tell me. I’ve built my career through consistency, but at Centurion I wasn’t consistent. It was as simple as that. I was happier in the second innings, bar the last two overs when I against started bowling rubbish and Vernon Philander got me away a few times. I just didn’t put the ball in the right spot enough.
At Port Elizabeth it’s got to be better than what it was at Centurion. That’s why my focus since the match ended has been on putting in the work in the nets before Thursday, to get back that feel that I want.
It’s important for Sidds and I to be bowling well because we’re going to be targeted because Mitch is dominating so much. They’ll obviously be trying to get through Mitch’s spell then come after us. We’ve just got to make sure we’re building the pressure. If we bowl the way we did in our summer then they’re not going to get us away, and they’ll have to take risks to score.
As amazing as Mitch was I’ve got to also give credit to A.B. de Villiers. Even though you never want to pump up the tyres of blokes on the other side I must admit there were a few comments about, when Mitch was bowling to de Villiers, that it was the world’s form bowler against the world’s form batsman.
He’s a bloody good player, de Villiers. How else could you get to 50 in 11 straight Tests? It tells you the bloke’s in pretty fair nick, hitting them nice and straight. Even Mitch he was handling pretty well. He’s obviously got a clear plan to Mitch and stuck to it really well. I reckon he looked tired out there though. A few times I saw him on haunches between balls or between overs. To get past that shows he’s an elite sportsman, and he’s obviously very tough mentally as well.
The challenge for us now is to get de Villiers earlier. The key to doing that is drying his scoring up. I’m going to have to do that a lot better to him, and the rest of the South African batsmen, than I did in Centurion. I didn’t have to wait for the team meeting for Boof or anyone else to tell me that.