Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Merciless visitors take no prisoners

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Vernon Philander of South Africa celebrates the wicket of Kane Williamson of New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images
Vernon Philander of South Africa celebrates the wicket of Kane Williamson of New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images

The South African bowling unit is almost famous, but not nearly as famous as it should be. New Zealand were awful in the second cricket test in Hamilton, and a please explain is required from John Wright as to how Brent Arnel got to play and Trent Boult didn't. It's hardly even fair on Arnel to expose him to a level way beyond a provincial trundler.We might be bad, but we're not that bad.

Apart from that, Ross Taylor's beleaguered bunch were cut down by an attack that ranks with the most lethal to visit this country.

South Africa have just about all the bases covered, from the dead-straight scariness of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to the silky-smooth brilliance of Vernon Philander and craft and craftiness of Jacques Kallis, who can still rip one down when necessary. This is a staggeringly good attack and it was a pleasure to watch them go to work, even if it was at New Zealand's expense.

The only respite, offered in small doses, came from the leg spinner Imran Tahir, who lacked the chutzpah to make up for an absence of fizz off the wicket. But he still demanded plenty of concentration from the New Zealand batsmen, helping to further drain the life from a fast-depleting battery.

There have been a handful of wonderful-slash-scary bowling attacks in the past few decades, led by the famous West Indian battery that literally battered. Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis spring to mind, while the speed and spin of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne and their various back-ups were virtually unbeatable for a time.

In terms of fame and name, these South Africans don't get the neon-lights treatment they deserve ... yet . Steyn's average places him among the finest fast bowlers of all time, and the early stages of Philander's career have him on track to be among the great medium-quicks. Philander's control of direction and movement in Hamilton was superb. You suspect the best is still to come from the raw-boned Morkel, who takes no prisoners.

New Zealand's weak spots are so obvious and longstanding, the solutions so obscure, that it is pointless to start delving into them yet again. Considering that cricket - despite a strong media profile - is still an elitist, niche sport in this rather small country, we do okay internationally. But it means that New Zealand will be chewed up and spat out now and then, and that's exactly what this fabulous South African team are doing.

Still, that Arnel/Boult business is a weird mystery. Boult is a true prospect and offers the left-armer advantages. Arnel is - was - an extremely ordinary workhorse at test level, to put it very nicely. He has been dropped and will not be seen again, his selection a stain on Wright's reputation as a selector although not that of his unusual cohort Kim Littlejohn, a lawn bowls bloke from across the Ditch.

Baypark beefs

The quality of Super 15 games often correlates to the quality of the stadium. Coming in at nought out of 10 is Baypark in Tauranga, which provided a dire atmosphere and viewing experience (on television in my case) that no doubt contributed to a mainly dreadful match between the Chiefs and Brumbies.

The playing area is far too far away from the stands at this raceway. The gloomy TV pictures were accompanied by the type of noise-atmosphere you get when the neighbours two doors away have a party in their garage. In other words, rather than being lifted by the crowd, the TV viewer got a strange din in the background. A colleague who attended the game also complained that his wife, who was seated on a bottom row with their kids, had to fight tooth and nail for new seats because the stream of people heading to the tuck shop continually blocked her view.

And while the referee, Ian Smith, apparently did an excellent job of keeping the players informed, there was another New Zealand ground clock cock-up which left the crowd out of sync and confused about how much time was left.

Bottom line: Baypark should be scrapped as a rugby venue - it just isn't good enough. Waikato has a smashing stadium, one that is too good to ever be ignored if Baypark is the alternative. Chiefs fans in the Bay of Plenty will have to travel. Administrators must realise that players respond to great atmospheres and spectators respond to great arenas. A line should be drawn in the sand - give Baypark the boot.

Wellington almost came to the rescue on Saturday night - the stadium isn't perfect, being oval, but it still generated a reasonable buzz even though amazingly short of being full for a stirring match between the Hurricanes and Highlanders. With the Otago debacle fresh in the air, there must be nervousness why only 15,000 people turned up in a downtown stadium once regularly packed to watch Tana Umaga, Christian Cullen and co in the crazy, freewheeling days of frustrated Hurricanes glory.

Savea coming up

Julian Savea is on the rise. The giant Hurricanes wing showed what he is capable of with a couple of smashing runs and tackles against the Highlanders. If his stamina and positional sense are up to scratch, his raw power can't be ignored. He was an early dark-horse tip by some for the World Cup squad but didn't get close. Savea's time has arrived.

MAGIC MOMENT

Another gripping, close finish involving Jamie Joseph's rough 'n' tough Highlanders.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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