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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Q&A: Neil Manthorp

Test Match Special commentator Neil Manthorp answered your e-mails on the Friday of the fifth and final Test between England and South Africa.

Manthorp has been in the TMS box throughout the series watching Graeme Smith's team perform beyond his expectations.

"South Africa have played as well as we hoped they would," was his honest assessment with Smith's men - yet again - in a position of dominance on the second morning at The Oval.

We put the best of your questions to Neil.

In light of South Africa's current form, how do you think they would fare against Australia if they were to meet?
Ben Caufield

It's very tempting to say that it would be a very close contest and that South Africa might just pip the world champions but I think that would be ill-conceived and a touch arrogant.

It is only 12 months ago - the pain is still very fresh - that Australia won 5-1 in six Test matches, 3-0 in Australia and effectively 2-0 in South Africa with South Africa winning the last Test.

Things have changed massively. There's a new approach, but apart from Graeme Smith the personnel are really the same.

I don't think England have been at full strength and too much could be read into the fact that South Africa might well win this series.

Australia would still win but give us another 12 or 18 months and it might be a genuine contest.

Can you see Australia slipping from the top of the rankings and are South Africa best placed to usurp them?
Sarah Jackson

I can't quite see exactly how Australia are going to fall from their perch right at the moment except to say that Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne are coming to the end of their careers as is Steve Waugh. They've been the three pillars of the last decade of Australia's dominance.

I also believe in the in the cyclical nature of cricket and sport. Nobody stays at the top forever.

South Africa at the moment are desperately keen to become the best in the world so I do see it happening and South Africa are the best-placed team to do that at the moment, although keep an eye out for the West Indies.

Where does Graeme Smith rate in the list of South African batsmen and captains. How far can he go?
Omar Hanif

It's too early to judge, and that's not just me sitting on the wall.

He's got three Test match double hundreds and only Gary Kirsten has done that in the history of South African cricket so he's obviously right up in the highest echelons.

I don't think there was anything freaky about scoring two double hundreds in the first two Tests. It wasn't a fluke as you don't score Test double hundreds by accident.

He's a very classy player, but he has limitations and I expect the world's bowlers will work on those and work him out more, as happens to every top batsman.

He'll find it tough in the next couple of years, but he has the class and, above all, the mental strength to come through.

As far as his captaincy is concerned he's a breath of fresh air.

He's a very strict disciplinarian on the field but has a very human side off it. He insists that he will be able to marry the two styles, the disciplinarian and the player's captain who has a beer with his players afterwards.

Few captains have done that so there will be interesting times ahead, but he's just 22 and it's tough to judge him in any way at the moment.

Does South Africa's success under Smith spell the end of Lance Klusener's international career?
James Wilson

You can never say never but he'd have to have an attitude change, or attitude transplant.

He is very individualistic and is his own person. As far as Graeme Smith and this new regime are concerned that's fine, but you can't be that in a team situation or environment.

Klusener was a law unto himself and did things his own way. While he was winning matches and while he was South Africa's most exciting and explosive one-day player who won matches you can put up with just about anything.

But his form had been in serious decline and when you're reluctant to bat in the top six and bowl a full allocation of overs and want to be a bits-and-pieces player capable of the odd explosive innings, you do become a luxury.

He'll have to undergo a massive change in attitude and approach and, although you can never say never, at the moment it's not looking to bright for him.

With only a draw required in the last Test to square the series shouldn't Monde Zondeki have been retained to give him more Test experience?

Monde Zondeki is still suffering from a side strain. You don't want to throw anybody into a Test with any sort of injury, let alone somebody who has just turned 21.

As far as "only a draw" being required to retain the series, Graeme Smith has thought about this with so many people asking whether he was going to play for a draw.

The truth is, that despite a lot of thinking he actually doesn't know how to play for a draw.

Given the restructure of South African cricket announced recently, what is the feedback from the South African provinces on this development?
Andy Beevers

There's just about unanimous support for it in South Africa and those people who aren't too pleased with the re-structuring are the players who are not going to be retained when the existing 11 provinces are concertinaed in six franchises.

As harsh and insensitive as it may sound, they are players who are not really good enough.

South Africa has been desperately in need of a strength versus strength format for some time, the last five or six years.

The standard of first-class cricket has been in decline in South Africa and it's a massive and radical step, and it's every bit as radical and emotional as it would be in England if counties were to merge.

I can't help believing that if it's the way to go in South Africa and the way first-class cricket in Australia is run, it has to be the way for English cricket to be run as well.

People have to bite the bullet. It's going to be really hurtful and painful but South Africa have assured the provinces that are effectively being merged they will be able to keep their own identity, play games on their own grounds and preserve their sense of history. First and foremost the standard of cricket must improve

South Africa's preparation for the Rugby World Cup has been marred by race rows. How does South African cricket stand in regard to quotas and race issues?
Charlotte Healey

I would like to think that cricket is a little more advanced than the rugby.

There has been a history and culture of black cricket for over 100 years in certain areas of South Africa whereas rugby, to a larger degree, has been the white man's game.

Historians will be quick to tell me that rugby too has a history that stretches back 100 years, but not quite to the same extent that cricket does.

Quotas in South African cricket at first-class level were abolished six months ago highly controversially. But when they were abandoned the minimum quota for non-white players was three players and you find that no province will ever go below that with some provinces having as many as six or seven non-white players.

I wouldn't be naive enough to say that racism doesn't exist because I think it exists everywhere. Fortunately, and very happily, cricket has remained untainted by and large,

Rugby is going through a very unhappy time in South Africa at the moment, but hopefully it will be for the good that whatever prejudice exists is exposed and cut out.

Why is Hansie Cronje still such a revered figure in South Africa?
Gareth Steel

I'd love to know the answer to that as well.

He may appear to be very revered but it is with a minority section of the population and like many minorities they're very vocal.

The majority of cricket lovers in South Africa would prefer to forget about the shame, indignity and embarrassment he bought on South African cricket.

He was a brilliant manipulator of public image and opinion and he had the innocent look of the boy next door that appealed to a broad range of South Africans who have simply had difficulty, and a lack of desire, coming to terms with the reality of what he did.

You've seen a lot of England this summer. Who would you put in the team if you were a selector?
Tim Kerrigan

I'm well aware of the extent of the injuries to the England seamers and clearly Andrew Caddick has been missed.

There's no point talking about injuries because every team has injured players, but as far as South Africa are concerned the players that they would least like to play against are those that are experienced and with a track record and average of over 40 in Test cricket.

The South African dressing room and team have been relieved that it has taken the England selectors four Tests to bring Graham Thorpe back into the side.

From an England point of view you can argue that you've got to look forward and bring in fresh blood but Thorpe is only 34, a hardened, seasoned professional with a good track record.

Against the best teams you need to play your best players and forget about blooding youngsters and bringing new players in.

South Africa have been quite happy to bowl to Ed Smith and Anthony McGrath.

What do you make of Michael Vaughan's captaincy?
Bob Whittaker

I enjoy it. He's very strong in a quiet sort of way and he's absolutely right to stick to his way of doing things and not try to emulate other people, like Nasser Hussain.

Tactically he hasn't missed any tricks that I've seen. He rotates his bowlers well and communicates with his players.

Everybody reacts in different ways and needs to be motivated in different ways.

There are those who react very positively to a quiet word, a wink or pat on the back, but there are others who require a kick up the backside so he'll have to adapt.

If that doesn't come naturally to him he'll have to have a technique whereby he can find the right motivational tools for everybody in his team.

It's no good saying a captain shouldn't have to motivate his team, playing for your country should be enough. There are times when a player is down having bowled 20 overs and not performed well when he does need a lift from his captain.

Michael Vaughan will learn that in time. Generally I think he's a terrific prospect for England who speaks and thinks very well too which is important.

Links to more Test Match Special stories


Neil Manthorp
31 Jul 03  |  Presenter profiles


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