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The Electronic Telegraph 2nd Test: S.Africa v England, Match Report
30 Nov-4 Dec 1995

Day 1 Report

Cork sparks fightback after England's gamble misfires

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

Failing to learn from the folly of the South Africans in the first Test, England made exactly the same mistakes at the Wanderers yesterday, and for much of the time only Dominic Cork's priceless late outswing spared them a downright debacle.

Yet by the close of a gloriously perplexing day Devon Malcolm had justified his recall by taking two wickets with the new ball and the second match of the series was intriguingly balanced.

South Africa, at 278 for seven, have handed back the advantage gained for them by Gary Kirsten's painstaking maiden Test centu- ry.

Had Brian McMillan still been in, a really significant total might still have been within their compass, but he was the last of the three wickets which fell for 18 runs in the last five overs and the fourth victim for Cork, whose performance in taking four for 74 was close to heroic all day. The evidence is grow- ing that England have found a team who can dig themselves from several feet under as efficiently as any mole.

Cork's arrival has made all the difference and, for all the bombastic edge to his boyish enthusiasm, it was symptomatic of his level-headed approach to the game off the field that he should have described the chance to take the new ball for England as ``a privilege''.

South Africa responded to England's generosity in putting them in by reaching 211 for two

He bowled no fewer than five spells yesterday and after being called upon so often only a fit and committed cricketer would have looked as waspishly incisive with the second new ball as he did with the first.

South Africa responded to England's generosity in putting them in by reaching 211 for two. Kirsten and Daryll Cullinan, steady grafter and dashing cavalier, had put on 137 in an admirable partnership for the third wicket when the day turned unexpectedly on Cullinan's dismissal for 69.

Graeme Hick, whose commitment to the team cause has never been more focused, was England's only spinner because of the decision to include Malcolm in Richard Illingworth's place, but he dismissed Cullinan as he pushed forward to an away-floater, Russell's 100th Test victim, and the gate was open.

England scarcely deserved to walk through it so painlessly. Mike Atherton and Ray Illingworth had put greater faith in weather forecasters - who never claim infallibility - than in the advice of all the local experts. Despite waking to unexpectedly pristine skies, they persisted with their determination to put South Afri- ca in if the coin fell the right way, though the manager admitted afterwards that it had been ``a marginal decision. Once we decided that, we had to play four seamers.''

They had judged the likely behaviour of the pitch by the stan- dards of English weather, not South African. What had seemed at least a feasible notion while the worst of the thunderstorms was raging on Wednesday afternoon had become a gamble by the time that the toss was made. The pitch will be at its quickest by the third day and, no doubt, at its toughest to bat upon by the fifth.

The bounce was more predictable than the slight patchiness of the grass had suggested it might be, there was no lateral movement off the seam and, as predicted, only swing gave the batsmen any consistent problems.

Malcolm, however, bowled his best spell of the tour with the first new ball and an even more menacing one with the second, and it was he and Cork, his opening partner from Derby, who have kept England in the game.

Kirsten almost shut them out of it for good. He received an early blow on the elbow from Malcolm, but he was soon punching the half-volleys through the offside gaps across a velvety outfield, and his defence, simple and based on a firm forward movement, looked as secure as his half-brother Peter's.

His opening partner Andrew Hudson was fresh from an innings of 153 not out for Natal, but in the seventh over he tried to turn an out-swinger of full length to leg and edged it to gully via his pads.

Hick's breakthrough eight overs after tea was rapidly followed up by Cork

Hansie Cronje came out bristling with intent, and several hand- some cover drives and a perfectly executed square cut rapidly proved that when it comes to profligate bowling Darren Gough, when not at his best, can challenge Malcolm any day. Bowling in sunglasses and a watch, he conceded 21 in three overs in a first spell which got what it deserved. Angus Fraser also overpitched far too frequently.

Atherton was looking increasingly forlorn when Cork came to his rescue by finding Cronje's outside edge.

Kirsten was sturdily entrenched by lunch, and in the first hour afterwards he and Cullinan added 60 off 16 overs. Now, however, Gough made amends as he began to reverse-swing the ball in a greatly improved second spell and, if he had been given a third slip, Cullinan would twice have been pouched from airy drives. Worse, at 55, he was dropped badly by Jack Russell playing the same shot.

Hick's breakthrough eight overs after tea was rapidly followed up by Cork, as Jonty Rhodes edged an away-swinger. By the time that the new ball was taken at 251 for four the tide had clearly turned, and the ball's extra bounce enabled Malcolm to find Kirsten's edge as he shaped to force off the back foot. He had hit 16 fours in comfortably the highest of his 30 Test innings.

Richardson was given out caught behind, apparently off the forearm guard as he ducked at a bouncer two balls later, and Cork had McMillan leg before, his front foot barely over the popping crease. It was resilience of a high order.

Day 2 Report

England pay for their folly

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

Second day: South Africa (332 & 5-0) lead England (200) by 137 runs

Here we go again. England were facing the probability, if not yet the cast-iron certainty, of going one down in a rubber for the sixth time in their last seven series when South Africa ended a second day of vivid, attacking cricket 137 runs ahead with all second-innings wickets in hand at the Wanderers.

England's decision to put their opponents in looked more irra- tional by the moment as the pitch yesterday quickened rapidly and the ball began to turn under a relentless sun. A rich mixture of swing, spin and peppery fast bowling, led by Allan Donald and in- telligently deployed by Hansie Cronje, limited England's first innings to 200, a deficit of 132 which South Africa should expand into a gap which will be almost impossible to bridge on a pitch which can only deteriorate.

The South African openers calmly played out the last four overs of the day and it will need an inspired bowling performance from someone today if England are to get themselves out of trouble in this Test. They may also have to do without Darren Gough, who suffered a badly bruised right arm when batting and may be unable to bowl today.

The best England could manage yesterday was a brave, utterly typ- ical 52 by Robin Smith, marked even more than usual by fierce cutting and gymnastic evasion of short-pitched balls searing to- wards his head. The image of Smith, with his back arched like a limbo-dancer's, encapsulated England's brittle, brief 69-over in- nings. Yet it was the reputedly innocuous left-arm slow bowling of Clive Eksteen which did as much as the quick stuff to unravel the innings in 12 overs either side of tea when England descended from 109 for two to 147 for six.

It all happened more or less as the groundsman and the other lo- cal sages had predicted. England's savants, Ray Illingworth un- doubtedly taking the main responsibility and therefore the blame, chose to ignore them and they are likely now to pay the penalty of defeat. There was not a sign of the thundery weather which, more than anything, blinded the manager into betraying his own great experience by handing South Africa the best of the batting conditions. Such was their subsequent grip that Eksteen, whose Test figures prior to the game were five for 359, came off after his only spell with an analysis reading 11-5-12-3. He had had, it is true, an outrageous piece of luck with his first ball when Graham Thorpe was given out caught off his pad, but England had already suffered any number of close shaves, and one extraordi- nary slice of fortune themselves.

On England's last visit there nine months ago, it may be re- called, Atherton scored four and eight, England were bowled out for 295 and 123 and lost by 329 runs.

The dropping of Alec Stewart, a dolly off the splice to Shaun Pollock at midwicket from Donald, was less costly than it might have been to South Africa because he added only 19 more to end an uncharacteristically sketchy innings. It was only Thorpe and Smith, relishing the fast surface and flying leather, who truly promised a major innings. The strategists have got that right, at least, and Mike Atherton's warm commendation of Smith's qualities before the game have been vindicated.

Atherton's own early dismissal, as it so often is, was an ill augury. The party line is that England play well on quick wickets, and it is true that during Atherton's time they sometimes have. Usually, however, it has been when the captain himself has led the way.

By the time that England had finished off South Africa's first innings, a duty which took longer to fulfil than they had planned, the sun and a dry, cool wind had hardened the pitch to the point where its surface cracks had begun to open and its pace was somewhere near Perth's. On England's last visit there nine months ago, it may be recalled, Atherton scored four and eight, England were bowled out for 295 and 123 and lost by 329 runs.

Atherton was out yesterday in the third over, Donald's second, after South Africa had added 54 for their last three wickets in the first 15 overs of the day. The gifted Pollock made most of them, hitting five fours in his 45-ball innings, the first a resolute pull off Devon Malcolm's opening bouncer, which showed he had not been cowed in any way by the four leg byes which had rocketed off his helmet the evening before. The cricket continued to be red in tooth and claw after Malcolm had earned himself two more wickets and Dominic Cork the one he needed for a five-wicket haul. His fifth victim, Eksteen, who had showed he could bat a bit, gave Jack Russell his sixth catch of the innings.

In a way this was another illustration of the crucial misreading of the pitch: had the ball moved off the grass as Illingworth had anticipated it would, there would have been more than the single slip catch in the two first innings.

No-one is batting better for England at present than Graeme Hick

Atherton had his off stump shaved by a ball from Donald which, given the angle from which he delivers, could not safely have been left alone. It came back off the seam a little to compound the felony and Mark Ramprakash therefore found himself entering the bullring in the most unnerving of circumstances. There was a crowd of 15,100, imposingly noisy, and there is no fiercer test in sport of a man's courage and temperament than to come in at No 3 against a fast bowler with his blood up.

Ramprakash was like a rudderless, rocking boat in a heavy swell, though he managed to hang on for the seven overs to lunch. He was, paradoxically, not helped by Donald's inaccuracy after the interval as he strove for pace without compromise and fired the ball down the leg side. Ramprakash finally cut a short ball past cover but he had hit only four of his 35 balls when he drove over an inswinger of full length, lost his middle stump and, barring one more chance, quite possibly his international career too.

Thorpe and Stewart stopped the rot, but not to the point that ei- ther became truly established. Their partnership in the early afternoon was compelling to watch, with both men hooking boldly against Donald and Pollock, but Stewart was beaten more than usu- al outside his off stump, notably by Meyrick Pringle's unfailing outswing.

It was Pringle who ensured that Pollock's dropped catch would not matter when Stewart turned him off his hip to short mid-wicket. The trap had been well set, but this was the third time on this tour alone that Stewart has fallen to this shot.

No-one is batting better for England at present than Graeme Hick so the catch that he drilled back at Eksteen two overs after tea was the wicket that mattered most. Eksteen bowled tidily, ex- ploiting the pressure and Russell was trying to fight back when he was caught at midwicket.

The story after that was mainly one of hostile short-pitched bowling with Pollock fierily to the fore. The tailend defence was inadequate and though Smith cut Brian McMillan over third man for six, a limp leading edge to a full toss just about summed up England's day.

Day 3 Report

Russell's painkiller

By Scyld Berry

Third day: South Africa (332 & 296-6) lead England (200) by 428 runs

Jack Russell'S equalling of the world Test record for wicketkeepers has been one of the few features here to hearten England. When they attempt to score at least 429 to win, on a pitch which will respond malevolently to all- out pace, there is even a possibility the rout at Edgbaston last summer will be evoked, if not the horror of 'Trinidad 46'.

Rain alone can save England. History undoubtedly won't: in the 16 previous Tests at the new Wanderers the highest fourth-innings total to win is exactly one single, sufficient evidence in itself for batting first if given the chance. But other, more immediate circumstances will press upon England too.

Allan Donald, as he strives for his 100th Test wicket, will be driven on by tremendous noise. The crowd of 21,700 yesterday made din enough as Brian McMillan iced South Africa's cake with three consecutive hooks for six, four and six off Devon Malcolm. But the banging on the wooden terraces, and the slapping of the boundary hoardings, will surely be louder still as Donald seeks to send his country 1-0 up.

Russell deserves his share of Bob Taylor's record of 10 dismissals in a Test for the resilience which led to his return to the England side last season. None of Russell's catches were taken when standing back to pace, whereas Taylor took all 10 standing back, largely to Ian Botham's bowling, in the Bombay Test of February 1980 against India. Yet as long as he celebrates, Russell will also rue his miss when Daryll Cullinan was 55 in South Africa's first innings and the game not gone from England's reach.

Russell declared afterwards that he is ``playing with more confidence than ever before'', and his work standing back has been exceptionally fine here to accept 10 chances out of 11. But there have been those missed stumpings off spinners, like that of Sherwin Campbell last summer, and they arise from his selfconfessed idiosyncracy of not watching the ball for the last two feet before entering his gloves.

For publicly casting doubt on Russell's catch of Dave Richardson in that first innings, South Africa's coach, Bob Woolmer, was censured yesterday by the ICC match referee, Clive Lloyd, and later apologised. Woolmer had said that Richardson was ``a little bit unlucky - he's got a sore fore-arm''. For this indiscretion, together with his criticism of the dismissals of Andrew Hudson and Graham Thorpe, Woolmer was given a strong reprimand.

All of Russell's agility - four more catches yesterday - could not, however, reinstate England in the game. Having conceded a lead of 132 they had to dismiss South Africa for 120 or less to have any rational hope of winning on this degenerating, cracking turf. Instead, the South Africans batted increasingly as they pleased to add 291 runs from 82.3 overs before bad light.

Psychological points were at least there to be won by Malcolm yesterday morning

If not the match, psychological points were at least there to be won by Malcolm yesterday morning, at the expense of Hansie Cronje, Jonty Rhodes and Gary Kirsten, and other survivors of the Oval. But if the thought entered Mike Atherton's mind, he soon discarded it, and spread the field for Malcolm, giving him one slip. Cronje was most happy to fend away the short balls with no-one closer than deep square leg. All too soon, therefore, Atherton reverted to what he has known best and most as captain, the holding operation. Two years of leading Cambridge students against men have left their mark, for it is as if he expects opposing batsmen to get on top, and the most that can be asked of his fielders and bowlers is to delay inevitable defeat.

Thus, the start was false encouragement when Kirsten sparred and edged much as he had to terminate his century. Hudson made Russell's eighth catch of the match when Angus Fraser's first ball held its own. The increase in sideways movement of the ball has, of course, assisted Russell.

A band from Soweto, clad in red T-shirts, struck up in midmorning beneath the electronic scoreboard and gave the ground a West Indian, carnival air - and why not? South Africa's lead went past 200 with eight wickets in hand as Cullinan played attacking shots like Kim Hughes. He seems to be the South African most adept on the back foot and the most at home against Malcolm's speed.

Dominic Cork was perforce over-bowled as Gough's injury had to be disguised as long as possible. Cork had delivered 27 overs on the opening day; bowled at the start and end of the second day, and batted in between; and now he had to bale out England again. The spirit was as ardent as ever, almost incandescently so, as the flesh wearied.

Malcolm could have been given a second, brief burn before lunch when it still mattered

Gough's appearance could not be delayed beyond the 24th over, and immediately Cullinan pulled and back-cut the bowling of a man who now toils in faint hope not bubbling expectation. In one brilliant moment Cullinan off- drove him. The blow to Gough's right fore-arm did not seem to affect his delivery of the wide halfvolley.

Malcolm could have been given a second, brief burn before lunch when it still mattered, but Atherton thought Hick might trouble Cronje more, and pushed out a long on to give him a single, when the die was still not cast once and for all. On the dozens of 'braais' or barbecues behind the pavilion, sausages and chops sizzled at lunchtime; but by the time the day had run its course, it was England who had been done to a turn.

Cullinan had pulled several times so the shot had paid its way for him when he was caught at mid-on, and he departed without waiting for Cork's valediction. Cronje soon followed, his side steered to safety, when he opened the face to guide Cork to third man. Live commentators are broadcasting on this Test in Swazi, Xhosa, Setswana, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English, but he was out in any language.

That made Russell's ninth catch, and he had to wait through a partnership of 99 until his 10th and most spectacular. Rhodes, sped on his way by an unintentional four first ball, rehabilitat- ed himself with a fifty, before attempting his favourite steer and edging low to the diving keeper's right hand.

It could have been worse for England if South Africa had declared with a lead of 400 and given England the worst part of 10 overs in fading light. Rather, the home side sadistically preferred to watch McMillan bash tired bowling, and England were no doubt happy to watch them do so, instead of having an early taste of the wrath to come.

Day 4 Report

Atherton defiant

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

Fouth day: England (200 & 167-4) trail South Africa (332 & 3469d) by 311 runs

For all Mike Atherton's indomitable excellence, Jack Russell's record of 11 catches in a Test looks like being the only thing for which England will remember their first Test in Johannesburg for 31 years.

The captain's defiance has given them a minuscule chance of es- caping from the game with a draw despite some ferocious and high-class fast bowling by Allan Donald on a pitch holding to- gether well, but without help from the weather today the odds are that South Africa will be one up with three to play by this even- ing.

With a new ball due in nine overs, it could be over before lunch. Atherton has a batsman of similar determination in Robin Smith with whom to resume the England second innings at 167 for four, 311 behind, and there is theoretical substance to the batting to come. In what was always going to be a series decided by the out- come of the conflict between England's experienced batting and South Africa's aggressive bowling, however, the home bowlers have so far done their job much the better.

Donald did not, in fact, take more than one wicket after South Africa had declared at 346 for nine in their second innings, set- ting England 479 to win in five sessions plus 20 minutes. But he was a constant threat, blunted only by Atherton's courage, cool- ness and near-perfect technique on the way to 82 not out. He has batted so far for 10 minutes under five hours and kept out 216 balls, hitting 11 of them for four, although, unlike some of his colleagues, he understood that run-scoring was relevant only as a means of keeping the bowlers in their place. England were never going to win on a ground where the highest fourth innings Test score is 261 and where the side batting second has yet to win a Test.

If there is justice, his ninth Test hundred will follow today

This was Atherton in the role he does best of all, gritting it out against fast bowling, and if there is justice, his ninth Test hundred will follow today. His greater desire, of course, is to save the game, an outside possibility which a ``40 per cent chance of afternoon thunderstorms'' would enhance if the second new ball were to be repulsed.

Atherton and the other England batsmen were confronted by a many-faceted challenge yesterday. Shaun Pollock almost matched Donald for pace, if not for variety; Clive Eksteen duly turned the ball dangerously out of the rough, and bowled nothing loose; Meyrick Pringle swung the ball away and took the precious wicket of a well-entrenched Graham Thorpe; and Brian McMillan, the best all-rounder in the contemporary game and the nearest to Ian Bot- ham since Botham, followed up his second Test century in two years at the Wanderers by blasting out Alec Stewart and the ab- ject Mark Ramprakash.

Somewhere between Stewart's incongruous friskiness and the unfortunate Ramprakash's nervous paralysis lay a path to survival but, as was so often the case when Graham Gooch was in charge, and throughout Atherton's reign as his successor, only the captain could find the way.

Although Stewart could not fully contain his aggressive instincts on a good pitch with a hard ball and attacking fields, he did at least help Atherton to put on 75 for the first wicket in 21 overs and the need then was for a No 3 to bat with application and au- thority.

John Crawley will get the chance again now and the verdict must be, alas, that it was a mistake to go back to Ramprakash for this tour, despite his blazing success last summer. A left-handed opener, probably Nick Knight, would have been the appropriate partner for Atherton, with Stewart, Crawley or even Nasser Hus- sain at three. Most people would have chosen Ramprakash for obvi- ous reasons but his intensity has simply proved unsuited to Test cricket. It is a tragedy for him and a pity for us all.

After Stewart had played round a near-yorker, Ramprakash did precisely the same two balls later, making the elementary mistake of not playing himself in against a fast bowler before attempting to take him on. Unbelievably, Thorpe very nearly made it three wick- ets for McMillan in two overs when he hooked wildly at a bouncer. Thorpe always seems to take a chance or two when first he comes to the crease but he soon calmed and with Atherton added 59 in the next two hours.

England came out to the strains of the National Anthem

It would hardly have mattered that Thorpe had not scored for 39 balls, and had made only one run in 75 minutes after tea, if he had held on with Atherton to the close. Pringle, however, swung a ball into his front pad and won the appeal, and when Donald was brought back for a third spell, he found Hick's outside edge be- fore he had laid a base. Marks to Donald, of course, but also to Hansie Cronje for bringing him back.

The day had begun with South Africa already 428 ahead and Russell one away from his record. England came out to the strains of the National Anthem, played over the ground's loudspeakers (and they are seriously loud) at the suggestion of their live-wire phy- siotherapist Wayne Morton. Such patriotism was willingly ack- nowledged by a South African board which had arranged for the Soweto brass band to play beneath the scoreboard all weekend. They sounded like the band at a Greek wedding, but they certainly added to the festival atmosphere felt by a capacity crowd of 30,000.

Their first excitement was McMillan's hundred, reached only after he had played himself in again shrewdly from a starting point of 76 not out. Dominic Cork, who will be a very tired man by Christ- mas unless the other bowlers can raise their own games, was back to his sprightly best after a night's sleep, and having trapped Pollock leg before with an outswinger of full length, he enabled Russell to take his 11th catch of the match off Eksteen's outside edge.

The luck has been just about even in a compelling match so far and England may require rather more than half of it to save the game today

Pringle, hit in the face last year, has been reduced to a wild slogger from a standpoint close to the square-leg umpire, so when Fraser had him caught at cover, only Donald remained to shepherd McMillan to three figures. He did his bit stoutly whilst that bear of a man went from 82 to 88 by clumping Fraser into the crowd at square-leg and, after some drama, to 100 with a risky single which would have left Donald stranded had Ramprakash's throw not missed the stumps by an inch.

South Africa's openers had failed on Saturday, Hudson for a second time, the victim of an Angus Fraser bowling more like his true self. All the other batsmen did their bit, however, none with more style and panache than Cullinan, none with greater as- surance than McMillan.

McMillan outscored Cullinan in the end, playing the ball late with his short backlift and strong bottom hand. He enjoyed him- self hugely against Devon Malcolm with the second new ball late in the day, hooking him three times in succession for six, four, six. He had appeared, when 52, to escape a thin inside edge to Russell off Fraser which would have been the record catch, but the luck has been just about even in a compelling match so far and England may require rather more than half of it to save the game today.

Day 5 Report

Atherton and Russell turn tide for England

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

Six wickets left and 312 runs behind on a pitch like a shifting jigsaw: a minuscule chance there may have been when the final day began, but it was a chance nonetheless and without so much as a drop of rain to help them Mike Atherton and England saved the second Test at the Wanderers with a resolution which will become part of the game's folklore.

By batting all day and losing only one wicket in 94 overs England performed one of the great rearguards of Test history; by scoring 185 not out Atherton set a new yardstick for the well-worn cliche of 'a captain's innings'; by keeping out seven South African bowlers for 75 overs and four hours 36 minutes without being parted, the captain and his wicketkeeper, Jack Russell, relegated Trevor Bailey and Willie Watson's stand at Lord's in 1953 to second place among England's most defiant post-war partnerships.

Atherton's truly heroic innings, both his longest and his highest for England, and the sixth-wicket partnership of 119 on a worn pitch, when cricketing logic still pointed to a South African victory after Robin Smith had cut Allan Donald to third-man 45 minutes before lunch, will be from now on the benchmark performances whenever a side is set an 'impossible' target on the fourth day of a Test.

Atherton batted, in all, for 10.75 hours, surpassing the last great rearguard innings, Dennis Amiss's 262 not out at Sabina Park in 9.5 hours in 1973-4. I was present for that performance and there has been none better of its type by an Englishman until yesterday.

Atherton took time to draw about him that cloak of utter assurance which he wears during a long innings such as this

Indeed it may be that Atherton's iron will, watertight technique and flawless concentration have only been exceeded in one innings, Hanif Mohammad's super-human effort at Bridgetown in 1957-8, when he batted for 16 hours and 10 minutes after Pakistan had followed on halfway through the third day of a six-day Test.

A crowd of 14,300, swelling the overall total to a satisfying 92,000, had gathered at the Wanderers by mid-morning yesterday, with no sign of rain to put them off and in full expectation, naturally, of a South African win.

The pitch had that pale appearance of a last-day surface after hot weather, but the cracks, and a hole on a fast bowler's length at the Unity Stand end, proved remarkably unproductive from the bowler's viewpoint.

Just occasionally a ball kept slightly low, or deviated more than usual off the seam, but it was astounding how little got past anyone's bat given the quality of much of the bowling.

England had the first of three slices of luck when in the third over Smith, pincered by a silly point and a forward short-leg, drove at a ball of full length from Donald and, as far as all close to the bat were concerned, edged it to the wicketkeeper. Darrell Hair was not convinced, and by the time Hansie Cronje took the new ball, 10 overs into the day, he had made four bowling changes in 40 minutes.

Atherton took time to draw about him that cloak of utter assurance which he wears during a long innings such as this. During that crucial first hour he edged Shaun Pollock just in front of first slip and twice ran Donald down past the slips for fours to third-man.

None of the remainder of his 28 fours were to come behind the wicket. At 99, he turned Donald hard into the chest of Gary Kirsten at short-leg, but the ball cannoned back to earth. The next ball was short and Atherton rocked back to hook it with utter certainty to the square-leg boundary for his 15th four. His hundred, coinciding neatly with his 4,000th Test run, was his ninth for England and sixth as captain after 26 games in 2.5 years.

He celebrated with unusual animation, both his arms immediately raised in triumph, and allowed himself to be hugged by Smith.

Thereafter his mien and expression hardly altered. Every ball was treated on merit, with the left shoulder leading, the line and length perfectly measured. His very walk about the crease and up the pitch to chat to his partner after each over was taken at the same measured pace.

Russell joined him when Smith, who had cut sixes over third-man in both his previous innings in this series, this time fell short of the boundary by 10 yards. For all his strength, Smith needs to go back to his method of cutting over the pitch of the ball, not under it.

Russell, like Atherton, was in his element

Into the breach, 45 minutes from lunch, stepped Russell. By lunch he had scored nine, by tea a further eight runs off 104 balls and by the moment the match was called off, eight minutes from its scheduled close, he had scored from only 14 of his 235 balls.

Soon after he came in, Russell flicked a ball from the aggressive Brian McMillan in the air between short-leg and midwicket and, when on five, he was reprieved off a relatively simple caught and bowled to Meyrick Pringle.

Thereafter, Russell, like Atherton, was in his element, just as he had been at Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1990 before Curtly Ambrose, with the new ball, and the pitch's treacherously low bounce finally denied him the satisfaction of saving the game.

Yesterday Russell's ability to line the ball up from a square position and decide very late whether to play or to leave it, worked as well as Atherton's orthodox, back and across, technique.

They were equally effective, too, against Clive Eksteen, who bowled from both sides of the wicket and turned the ball often enough from the rough, but who lacked the flight to lure defensively-obsessed batsmen into a mistake. Only when he dropped short was he punished by Atherton, by crisp, decisive pulling.

Inevitably there were appeals, but the umpiring was unflappable and, if Smith should have been given out, that was the only discernible error.

When the long drama was done, Ray Illingworth called Atherton's innings ``one of the greatest innings of all time'' and added: ``It's a big up for us, a very, very big down for South Africa.''

Atherton, realistic as ever, summed things up by saying: ``I thought we played poorly for four days, but we got out of jail today. You must become a hard side to beat in Test match cricket.

``You can't afford just to throw games away when you play badly. We took it ball by ball, hour by hour, session by session and we got there in the end.

``Once we got through to the last hour I felt that the game was safe. Jack was on constantly in my ear telling me about Bridgetown in 1990, when England lost their last wicket with 12 minutes to go, so he kept my concentration going right to the end. He played every ball as if his life depended on it and he had a wonderful match.''

``Either something's gone drastically wrong or the wicket's gone very flat, or someone's played a brilliant innings''

Atherton and Russell were jointly made men of the match by the adjudicator, Johnny Waite, for Russell's 11 catches and Atherton's epic innings, but the bonus will come to the team. Johannesburg 1995 is the game which may well mark the moment when the tide of England's Test fortunes turned for certain.

After South Africa had added Jacques Kallis to their 12 for the third Test at Durban, coach Bob Woolmer called Atherton's ``one of the great rearguard knocks of cricket, certainly of my generation.''

Saying that England had done ``really well'' to draw the match, he added: ``Our bowlers bowled magnificently; they tried their hearts out for five sessions and if you can't win a Test in five sessions, either something's gone drastically wrong or the wicket's gone very flat, or someone's played a brilliant innings.

``Still, if we'd caught two catches we would have won the game by tea.''

Day 5 Report

Greatness embraces captain

By Mark Nicholas

Mike Atherton is not given to extrovert emotions, in fact he is not given to extremes at all. He is a singular, sometimes silent man, whose resilience when his country has most needed it has been remarkable. For Atherton, the greater the adversity the greater the performance.

It is not ideally how he would like it, since adversity has dogged his international career. He would much prefer some efficient victories fashioned by some other equally efficient blokes, but it seems not to be, not often enough anyway, so he plods on, the finished article in an unfinished team.

Yesterday, against South Africa in Johannesburg, he played his greatest innings, one of the finest defensive innings played by an Englishman in Test cricket, possibly even the finest defensive innings in Test cricket anywhere.

Most surprisingly he allowed himself plenty of that emotion, hugging all and sundry throughout the longest day when his memorable batting saved his team, and our nation, from the disembowelling of all the ambitions that motivate this fascinating tour.

Wesley Hall, manager of the West Indies team last summer, gave the England captain the man of the series award at the Oval in August. He said that Atherton ``led from the front, taking the fire of the West Indian pace bowlers unflinchingly'' and went on to praise his unflappability, good humour and quiet dignity.

This from a monument to the traditions of intimidation; this from the most dangerous bowler who was revered by all who saw him; this from a man who would know.

Hall's words may just as well have come last evening for no one will better appraise Atherton's contribution to this fabulous second Test of the series, which was played, praise be, on a fabulous pitch.

Fast and true, it allowed cricket in all its guises to thrive save some wrist-spinning, or any real spinning from England at all for that matter - and thankfully, through its even bounce, allowed batsmen the chance to duck and weave with confidence against the alarming - better say it, illegal - amount of shortpitched deliveries that they received.

The self-destruct button had, for once, been pushed by his opponent

England had begun this extraordinary rearguard 20 minutes before Sunday lunch. Immediately they were made aware of the sort of contest that lay before them, as Allan Donald, in a bloodcurdling first over, fired the ball into Atherton's thigh pad before the batsman had moved a muscle and then, after the ensuing leg-bye, thudded an even more lethal delivery into Alec Stewart's rib-cage only marginally above his heart.

Stewart, clearly shocked, went on walkabout, taking deep breaths and working quickly to steady himself. But the damage was done because next ball he flashed wildly outside his off-stump and edged to the wicketkeeper. Fortunately, a no-ball was called and the vice-captain survived; the self-destruct button had, for once, been pushed by his opponent. Stewart survived bravely through the same pattern of play during a fourth afternoon that was not for faint hearts. The South Africans, smilers off the field, are bruisers on it, and I doubt if even the West Indians have such aggression in their intent.

Atherton has a pedigree - is the prize scalp - in the way that Graham Gooch was before him. His head and heart are targeted by the relentless high-speed radars that have been pointed at him for more than two years now.

In this last calendar year and against the most powerful enemies - Australia, the West Indies and South Africa - he has made more than 1,000 Test match runs. This is a phenomenal achievement which suggests an almost masochistic pleasure derived from defiance.

The dressing room was in ecstasy; better than any Test they had won was the consensus

The Atherton game is based on his back foot, on his straight bat and on his concentration, which is faultless. The watching John Snow commented that: ``Atherton had out-Boycotted Boycott'', which was some recommendation, but Atherton did more than that because he responded to his aggressors with thrilling strokes on both sides of the wicket and off both feet.

One stroke, early in the piece, when he hooked Donald's new ball over mid-on, was astonishing; another, at the end of the piece, when he flicked Donald through midwicket with clinical precision, was breathtaking. But the moment, the stroke of the innings, came when he was on 99 and, one supposed, just a little tense as he had been dismissed on 99 a couple of times before. Tense? Not a bit of it. He simply swivelled and crashed the Donald bouncer into the boundary boards. Awesome.

After the swivel, the celebration. He threw his arms aloft and, grinning uncontrollably, threw them around Robin Smith, who had come to congratulate him. It was quite uncharacteristic, involuntary perhaps, and wonderful to watch.

He had another hug later with Jack Russell after the job had been done and then another and another and lots more, as first Graeme Hick, then Illingworth - yes Raymond hugged him too - then Smith again and then the rest greeted his glorious return.

The dressing room was in ecstasy; better than any Test they had won was the consensus, better even than any series they had won. The music began to roar from the ghetto blasters, and the beers began to tumble from the fridge.

The beers will go on into the night, and they will honour the man who played the hand of his life.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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