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4th Test: South Africa v England at Trent Bridge

Reports from The Electronic Telegraph

23-27 July 1998

Day 1: Cronje cashes in on Stewart's gamble

Hansie Cronje, with his first hundred in 11 Tests against England and his first in 45 Test innings for South Africa, triumphantly and expertly exploited Alec Stewart's decision to play with fire at the start of an engrossing opening day here. South Africa have made 302 for seven after being put into bat but if England had bowled them out for 200, it would still have been an unwise gamble, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Deceived by a grassy but crucially dry pitch, which, in practice, offered his bowlers little help, Stewart was saved from complete calamity only by Darren Gough's verve and the sudden return of Angus Fraser's rhythm in the second half of the day. Yet it had been only a borderline decision to keep Fraser in the side at the expense of Alan Mullally shortly before the coin was tossed. Once again, the faithless had been overlooking his fundamental accuracy and questioning his ability to take wickets on good pitches.

Picking up Daryll Cullinan with a leg-stump ball immediately after lunch was a bonus for Fraser but either side of tea, he took one for eight in seven overs and when given the new ball with seven overs left, he immediately produced a snorting delivery to end a sixth-wicket partnership of 96 by Cronje and Shaun Pollock, and added Mark Boucher's wicket when he padded up six balls later to one which nipped back sharply. Half suffocated and staring probable defeat in the face when the new ball was taken at 285 for five, the ailing English patient was sitting up in bed half an hour later and asking for something to eat.

Still, a total of more than 300, Cronje's excellent innings and the way the pitch played - comfortably and much as it almost always does here - all underlined the misguided decision to field first. England's strategy - Stewart must take the responsibility but the muddled thinking was undoubtedly collective - was a speculative investment in hope rather than a reasoned application of experience. Over the last 10 years, England have put their opponents in 13 times in Tests, lost five times and won only three.

They will have to bat with great authority for the next two days if they are to improve on that evidence and first they must quickly finish a South African tail which starts further down than expected as a result of the late substitution of Steve Elworthy for Makhaya Ntini, who injured a foot in practice on Wednesday. Playing in his first Test match, and his only first-class innings of the tour to date, Elworthy was relieved when bad light stopped play two balls into the 87th over of a day otherwise interrupted only by a brief morning shower.

From the outset, it was a day of surprises. Three times in this series already, the captain winning the toss has chosen to field first. Cronje's decision at Edgbaston might have succeeded if his bowlers had not collectively had a bad day but the fact is that England made 462. At Lord's, South Africa recovered to score 360; here it was soon evident that the grass was dry and that there would be neither bounce nor movement to assist Gough and Dominic Cork with the new ball.

Nor was there even the expected swing through the air on a bright, breezy day which a crowd only 1,000 short of the capacity of 14,500 must have relished.

The unfortunate Gerry Liebenburg, one of nine South Africans averaging above 50 on the tour, was caught behind driving at a good-length ball from Gough in the ninth over and in the 11th, Gary Kirsten played on, as he often does and so nearly did when he inside-edged the first of his 210 runs at Old Trafford. Slight away movement in the first instance, a little extra bounce in the second, gave Gough his rewards but Cullinan at once looked to be in magnificent form, following a handsome square cut off Gough with a flowing cover drive.

By lunch, South Africa were 67 for two. Cullinan, unwisely spared a challenge from the leg-spin he does not like, already had 30, Jacques Kallis had laid a base and the omens for England were not good. But in the second over of the afternoon, Cullinan flicked Fraser off his leg stump to square leg, and South Africa's captain entered, flexing his bat, at 68 for three, with the day's direction still uncertain.

Cool, determined and resourceful, Cronje confirmed his reputation as a masterly commander of spin bowling by simultaneously kick-starting his own innings and ruining Ian Salisbury's nervous and so far miserable return to the side.

An opening maiden to Kallis, which included a close lbw decision in the batsman's favour as Kallis swept and missed, was followed by a calculated dance down the pitch by Cronje and a classical drive back over the bowler's head.

In Salisbury's next over, Cronje rocked back to pull a ball only a little short mightily over midwicket and thereafter, the leg-spinner was putty in his hands as he struggled to bowl a consistent line in a strong cross-breeze and the full tosses and long hops of old returned. His next six overs cost 41; two more after tea a further 16.

The lack of swing rendered Cork innocuous and no one was inclined to fall into the trap of hooking to one of the two deep leg-side fielders posted in vain for both Cork and Fraser.

Andrew Flintoff came to the rescue of a harrassed captain. Already, he had produced a direct and lively morning spell and now, in his sixth over as a Test cricketer, he zipped a ball back off the seam at a respectable 76 mph to take Kallis's inside edge as he drove. Flintoff might have had Cronje, too - and established a Bothamesque reputation for a golden arm with it - if Butcher, at point, had been able to cling on to an uppish cut at a wide long hop.

Jonty Rhodes made his customary confident and assertive start but Fraser surprised him with a ball which cut back to hit the top of his pad and a debatable decision for once went England's way. But Shaun Pollock distinguished himself during an extended evening session and he matched his captain for elegance as he pierced the covers with increasing frequency off either foot. No one was more surprised than Pollock by the sharp bounce which Fraser summoned to take the shoulder of his bat with his first ball after Gough had taken the new ball. It has given England's highest current wicket-taker figures of four for 42 and his team-mates fresh hope.

Day 2: Butcher and Atherton keep home hopes alive

ENGLAND are still in the fourth Test with a chance but even an outstanding opening partnership of 145 between Mike Atherton and Mark Butcher was not sufficient to give them ascendancy over their tigerish South African opponents at Trent Bridge yesterday, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

Twice taking a brace of wickets when a major total was within England's sights, Hansie Cronje's unified and utterly committed team finished the day with eight close fielders surrounding a night-watchman.

Having started with an equal flourish, adding 72 at a run-a-minute for their last three wickets, South Africa had demonstrated their resilience once again and England their tendency to allow strong positions to slip away. Two leg before decisions which might have gone the other way had to be weighed against the benefit of the doubt given to Butcher in Shaun Pollock's opening over before, with minimal flourish but maximum power, Surrey's left-hander settled to play the innings of the day.

Still 176 behind with six wickets left, England must summon up at least one more partnership of real substance and bat all day if they are to create a winning opportunity on a pitch which, despite increasing signs of uneven bounce, is still easy-paced. A new ball is due in nine overs and, stoutly as Ian Salisbury held up an end through the last five overs, the match may be determined by the contest between the South African fast bowlers and the middle-order of Mark Ramprakash, Graeme Hick and Andrew Flintoff.

Jacques Kallis and Steve Elworthy have already bowled briskly and well in support of the opening pair. Unlike Flintoff, Elworthy is making his first Test appearance in a confident side. Driving with the bottom hand in control at anything pitched within his range, he helped Cronje raise the total to 325 before Angus Fraser took his fifth wicket just as the eighth wicket stand was becoming really threatening.

Trying to run the ball down to third man, Cronje was deftly caught by Hick high to his right but 49 more had been added by adventurous batting before Elworthy hooked to deep square-leg and it took another fine, high catch by Hick to give Darren Gough an expensively earned fourth wicket.

Clouds had gathered by the time that Atherton and Butcher took strike 35 minutes before lunch. For a time, either side of the interval, Atherton was severely tested by Pollock's superb command of swing and cut but he lost his rhythm later, bowling nine no-balls and against Allan Donald, Atherton was as secure as a mortise lock in defence and quick to square-drive when he drifted wide of the off stump.

Butcher, his head and feet in perfect unison, was no less secure. With neat, precise strokes though mid-off and mid-on he led the way to 27 for no wicket by lunch and 105 by tea before an impressive acceleration at the start of the evening session. Butcher's polished performance underlined the wisdom of the selectors in going straight back to him despite a faltering return for Surrey after recovering from his thumb injury.

It was a telling measure of their achievement that the partnership of 145, following their 179 at Edgbaston, was only the third opening stand of more than a hundred achieved against South Africa in the 52 Tests since they returned from the wilderness.

Butcher is the fourth of Atherton's opening partners to have shared a century stand and at the present rate - three hundred partnerships in seven matches together - it may not be long before they surpass the six which Atherton has shared with Alec Stewart and the seven with Graham Gooch.

What a difference it might make to England's winter in Australia if Atherton and Butcher could make a habit of this in the first innings. Has there ever been an unsuccessful Test side with a consistently successful pair of opening batsmen? Certainly not one who also have an effective pair of opening bowlers.

It was Donald who bowled South Africa back into the match with a typically unyielding spell after tea. Atherton believes that Donald can be rattled when a batsman hits him as hard as he himself bowls and in the first over of the evening session Atherton drove him past cover, hooked him equally fiercely and then played a controlled push through mid-on to reach his fifty from 136 balls, 33 more than it had taken Butcher. It was a good way for Atherton to celebrate his 50th home Test and he has now passed Denis Compton's aggregate of 5,807 to become England's eighth highest scorer.

Butcher not only played the fast bowling well, keeping still for as long as possible before committing himself, but suggested that his relative weakness against spin is on the way to being overcome. Not that he was likely to be greatly tested by Paul Adams on a pitch as easy-paced as this. He had just square-cut and pull-driven him for two fours in an over when Donald made the double strike which brought South Africa back into the game.

Forty-eight overs into the innings, Atherton cut at a ball which left him and gave Mark Boucher the chance to take another of his spectacular diving catches - this time right-handed in front of first slip and so low that it would not have carried. Daryll Cullinan must have had six catches almost within his grasp in this series but the gymnastic Boucher has trusted him to take only one of them.

Butcher's dismissal was less deserved by Donald, unless stamina, determination and a willingness to experiment are deserving in themselves. The ball with which he claimed the left-hander was bowled from a wide angle round the wicket and would surely have had to straighten more than it did to hit the leg stump. Butcher's 75 had taken him 73 balls fewer than his 75 at Edgbaston, but batting here had been altogether easier.

It was, however, a different game again with two new batsmen at the crease. For 20 minutes Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart blazed away as if they, too, had done the hard work of playing themselves in. A mixture of brilliant and streaky shots kept everyone on their toes until Kallis took over from Adams and began a long spell from the Pavilion End which absolutely demanded a disciplined response.

In bowling as in batting, Kallis is a model. With his superb, sideways-on delivery against a braced left leg he is Bedser-like not just in his appearance but in his follow-through. Swinging the ball away more consistently than anyone, he staunched the flow of off-drives from both Stewart and Hussain and in the seventh over of his spell got a ball to bounce a little higher, drawing Stewart into a firm push some way from his body. Kirsten held the fast edge above his head at second slip.

Three overs later Elworthy earned his first Test wicket when Hussain pushed forward, played outside the line and was given out. Elworthy gets less close to the stumps than Kallis or, especially, Pollock, but with his rocking action he generated an average pace of 84mph in an honest, assertive performance which epitomised the resolve of his team.

Day 3: England dig in their heels

By Scyld Berry

ENGLAND have been chasing this game ever since they sent in South Africa or, at any rate, since only two of their bowlers performed to international standard on the opening day. But they nearly caught up with it in the final session yesterday when South Africa, blessed with a lead no more than modest, lost three cheap wickets at the outset of their second innings.

The brilliance of England's opening stand in its later stages lured those who followed into playing their shots before they had played themselves in, and those charged with the greatest responsibility, Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain, were the most culpable, not the least.

Somebody yesterday therefore had to play a major innings, either Mark Ramprakash or Graeme Hick, or even Andrew Flintoff, to keep England in touch. Ramprakash responded with an innings that was major in terms of time, 4.5 hours, but not sufficiently so in terms of runs to prevent South Africa taking a lead of 38.

At every turn Allan Donald was there to hound and harry England, though the pitch was benign at heart even if the ball swung, until their innings had run its course. Seven spells he had, from the Radcliffe End, and, where the footholds were less worn, the pavilion end, and in taking five wickets in a Test innings for the 14th time he took his aggregate for the series to 24 wickets at an average of 20.

Far as he has towered above England's bowlers, Donald has also been head and shoulders above any other South African. His opening partner Shaun Pollock, who has missed one Test this summer, has taken nine wickets.

It could be said that his most useful partner has been Mark Boucher, who has already set a record for the most dismissals by a South African wicketkeeper in a series against England, and yesterday broke a world record by posting 50 dismissals as early as his 10th Test match.

It was therefore a peaceful preliminary when Jacques Kallis and Steve Elworthy picked up the old ball at 202 for four. It was when Donald took hold of the second new one that England's difficulties began, and long and hard though Ramprakash tussled, never ceased.

Donald went round the wicket to hit Ian Salisbury's off stump through the gate when England's nightwatchman had done his job. He then set himself at Hick, who has always had the ability to attract the hottest fire from opponents. Donald and Pollock against Hick and Ramprakash: a critical doubles match at 244 for five.

Donald swung yorkers in at Hick's feet to find they were no longer made of clay. He passed Hick's outside edge, but Hick was relaxed as could be, and more sideways-on than when last he represented England. He was unlucky too, though, for his final shot was not that of a frozen man but still dragged the ball into his wicket.

A first Test innings is like driving on a motorway for the first time in that everything happens more quickly than before. When the ball was up, Flintoff found it a familiar game and drove it handsomely; when it was short and climbing round his ears, it was a different one. But it was much the same when another England debutant had his first innings on this ground 21 years ago, Ian Botham.

Cork and Gough came and went, their better work to be done later (Gough's batting has so lapsed that he has scored 82 runs in his last 16 innings for England). Ramprakash hung on, seldom piercing the field, or trying to, until Fraser joined him as his final partner and played his first ball - a leg-glance for four - as if he had been Ranjitsinji. Only Ranji was able to play other strokes.

Now at last Ramprakash began to flourish, when unable to contain himself any longer against some of the wide balls that swung wider still. Some of his off-driving was beautiful as he let himself go, which he had never really done at a Test match in England before. As a badge for his efforts he passed his first 1,000 Test runs.

To add 134 runs had taken England the first two sessions of the day, such was the weight of the tourists' bowling. The full house had been properly restrained - shallow stands seem to curb excessive behaviour - but the pent-up enthusiasm wanted something to cheer, and within the first 12 overs of South Africa's innings, England's bowlers had offered the opportunity for three of them.

Gerry Liebenberg was the first to go, as he normally will be, as his technique is so remote from Test class that his presence in the touring team is almost an anomaly. But England will not complain, for so long as Liebenberg is around to open South Africa's innings, they must have a chance of making it collapse.

If that wicket was no great shakes, that of Kallis was, and especially for Cork, who had underperformed first time round. Only at Lord's in this series has he swung the ball, until the last session yesterday, when his opening deliveries swung into Gary Kirsten and away from the right-handers. It was not for want of effort either from England's bowling coach Bob Cottam that Cork retrieved his stock ball, as the pair of them have worked beside the square each morning to recover the secret.

If Kallis was not pleased by the decision that he was caught behind the wicket, it looked the closest of shaves as Cork swung past his outside edge. And in the following over Fraser wrung a leg-before decision out of the New Zealander Steve Dunne, when from round the wicket he struck Kirsten - loath to play forward so soon after a blow in the groin - on the roll of his pad.

South Africa were thus 63 runs ahead with seven wickets left, most of them stubborn ones, but the ball was swinging for England. At this juncture the touring captain Hansie Cronje joined Daryll Cullinan in an attempt to stem England's passable imitation of a resurgence.

Boldly, Cronje and Cullinan went for their drives to re-establish the South African superiority. Cronje has never batted anything like as well in his previous series against England, while Cullinan has Australian mettle against pace if not against spin. Together they took the South African lead to three figures without the loss of a further wicket.

Day 4: England face Test of will

IT will cost senior citizens and children only UKP 4 for entry to the final day at Trent Bridge, but it may not be wise for anyone with a weak heart to watch, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

The cricket last night was elemental as England, chasing 247 to win, battled through the last three hours of a fourth day of almost painful intensity. Michael Atherton and Allan Donald, indomitable cricketers as they are, fought a duel within the main struggle which was as much a contest of will, strength and skill as any prize fight.

When stumps were drawn at the close of a cloudy day of tense cricket, on which the luck went decisively the way of the home team, England were 108 for one, needing 139 more today to level the series, with one game to play at Headingley on Thursday week. The bowlers did their job admirably yesterday, Angus Fraser to the fore again with his second 10-wicket Test analysis this year. Against a side less competitive than South Africa, 247 runs, although England have scored so many to win only five times in their history, ought to have been scored relatively comfortably.

It was anything but easy, however, as Atherton, playing superbly but surviving confident leg-before and caught-behind appeals when seven and 27, made 43 not out and Nasser Hussain, dropped when 23, batted no less obdurately in pursuit of what would be an important victory.

England last scored more than 247 in the fourth innings to win a home Test in 1902, the final Test against Australia at the Oval when George Hirst and Wilfred Rhodes made 15 for the last wicket. England had been 48 for five and Gilbert Jessop had turned the tide with his greatest innings.

South Africa's bowlers are quite capable of turning this game around, too. This, after all, is the side which took six wickets for 11 runs at Lord's. Hansie Cronje, after another outstanding innings, tried all he knew yesterday, with frequent switches of bowling, to initiate a similar slide. But on a dry pitch and fast outfield, batting was as comfortable as it ever gets in the later stages of a Test.

Excellent, if never confident, progress was made by Atherton and Mark Butcher when they launched the innings 12 overs before tea. Butcher was again admirably positive in making 22 of the opening partnership of 40 before Shaun Pollock found his outside edge, straightening a ball from round the wicket. But Hussain hit with his customary fluency through the offside against the medium pace of Steve Elworthy, Jacques Kallis and Cronje, and Atherton was exemplary, waiting for the bad ball and putting it away.

Pollock could not find the wicket-taking length, and Donald decided that the short-pitched ball was the answer. His opening spell was demandingly fast, bowled from the Pavilion End in the hope of exploiting the extra bounce outside the off stump which had been expertly used by Fraser. What confronted Atherton after Donald believed he had broken his resistance with a ball which seared past his chest, glancing a glove en route to Mark Boucher, was savage.

It looked with the naked eye that the glove which the ball hit might well have been the one withdrawn from the bat at the last instant - in which case Steve Dunne's decision was right, but television commentators thought it was out and so did an incensed Donald. Three bouncers of close to 90 mph were hurled from round the wicket, along with some angry words, at Atherton, but the object was immovable.

In his next over Donald, vengeful but not losing control, continued to pepper his man and Atherton dared to hook, top-edging tantalisingly over square-leg. By now some of the South Africans, definitely not getting the rub of the green, had worked themselves into a positively English state of righteous indignation. Pollock disputed a call of wide, Hussain survived a ``try-on'' appeal and then, next ball, to Donald's almost inconsolable chagrin, edged to Boucheronly for the wicketkeeper to drop the chance of his 20th catch of the series.

In some ways, indeed, the South Africans did not help themselves. Having lost their first three wickets for 21 on Saturday evening to Fraser, Darren Gough and Dominic Cork, Cronje and Daryll Cullinan had restored the slight advantage of a 38-run lead on first innings with batting of high quality. In yesterday's 11th over, however, Cullinan was out playing a precise replica of the loose flick off his legs which had spoiled his first innings and things now went England's way with a vengeance.

Jonty Rhodes was given out caught down the leg-side off his pad - leading, regrettably, to an exchange of words with the England captain - and four overs later Pollock went too, flailing at a wide outswinger from Cork, whose effectiveness seems sometimes to depend on the height of his arm, sometimes the ball itself.

Boucher gave Cronje, whose off-driving was commanding, valuable support with some handsome strokes of his own before the captain top-edged a cut at another wide ball from Cork and Alec Stewart swooped to make a brilliant catch in front of slip.

With only a short break after a 90-minute morning spell, Fraser was a tower of strength. He deliberately bowled from slightly wider of the stumps than normal in order to shift his metronomic line marginally to the off and in turn Boucher drove to cover, Elworthy swung across the line and Paul Adams snicked a leg-glance to give Stewart his fifth catch.

On Saturday England had done no more than to keep themselves in the game, adding a mildly disappointing 134 in the first two sessions with Mark Ramprakash doggedly determined to stay in but unable to take the initiative. He had been batting more than four hours for 46 when the arrival of Fraser as last man persuaded him to release his inhibitions and play his natural attacking game.

It has taken Ramprakash seven years and 47 Test innings to pass 1,000 Test runs and there is still an apparent refusal to believe that he has crossed the Rubicon. This was certainly an occasion for him to assert himself earlier than he did, but it was still another in his growing list of valuable innings, the more so because Graeme Hick and Andrew Flintoff were unable to lend support for long. Hick was unlucky that a hook at Donald, played fractionally too early, resulted in a bottom edge on to his stumps. On a lucky day such shots go to fine leg for four.

Flintoff was teased - in effect bored-out by Kallis, who persistently aimed well wide of his off stump, inviting suicide. Flintoff eventually obliged with a big drive at a very wide ball, but two other drives, past cover and straight past the bowler, had shown the quality as well as the strength which makes him a potential matchwinner of the future.

Today he may share the joy of an England win. If so, its significance would be immense. It would boost ticket sales at Leeds, raise the stakes in the television negotiatons and, more important, inflate the morale of all involved in the game.

Day 5: Atherton's lead hands first win to Stewart

Banishing the mordant prophets of doom, England won the fourth Test against South Africa by eight wickets, levelling the series, creating a rush of ticket sales for the final Test at Headingley next week and putting a smile back on the game, writes Christopher Martin-Jenkins.

The sun shone, 12,000 people, the biggest crowd for the last day of a home Test for at least 15 years, came to Trent Bridge and there were schoolboys playing on the outfield after Alec Stewart, with a blaze of brilliant strokes, had rushed his side to victory on the back of one of Michael Atherton's greatest innings.

Atherton missed his fifth Test hundred at Trent Bridge by two runs but it was he who, at half past two on the fifth day, after a stand of 152 with Nasser Hussain and an innings lasting five minutes short of six hours, stroked the winning runs through mid-on. Had he been given out caught behind when 27 England might not have won but for a long time they have tended to be unlucky with marginal decisions - even with the weather - and they were overdue some fortune. The test of their true worth will follow.

They beat Australia in style last summer but were eventually completely outplayed. Having beaten the West Indies in Trinidad last winter, they lost a crucial toss and, for many reasons, never recovered. For the time being this, too, is a one-off victory which changes small things only, but it has the potential to be the start of a revival. In Stewart and Atherton, as in Angus Fraser, the senior bowler and chief architect of this victory, there is a burning desire to win a five-match series, something none of them has experienced. Thanks to the cliff-hanging survival at Old Trafford and this ultimately decisive victory, it remains possible.

Hansie Cronje, gracious in defeat and reacting to the slings and arrows of a fortune which was indeed, at times, outrageous, blamed his batsmen rather than his bowlers, for losing early wickets on Saturday evening and failing to extend their subsequent recovery far enough. Invited to blame bad luck too, he said: ``It happens that way in sport and I think you make your own luck.''

Stewart, whose first win this was in six Tests as captain, was no less diplomatic. It was not, in fact, the captain but one of the other England players who had a brief verbal joust with Jonty Rhodes on Sunday after the South African's unfortunate dismissal. That Stewart should be anxious to make this clear is encouraging confirmation that he is aware of the wider responsibilities of a role which he is beginning to relish. ``I rather enjoy winning and I'm hoping for a few more,'' he said.

There is genuine hope that his wishes will be fulfilled, now that Atherton is batting like Geoff Boycott at his best - he has 476 runs in the series and has found the right partner in Mark Butcher - and Fraser, Dominic Cork and Darren Gough, the best available combination of fast bowlers, are working effectively as a unit. To win here after putting South Africa in and seeing them get 374 in the first innings was a remarkable achievement but the England attack still needs another genuinely quick bowler and a successful wrist spinner if success is to be consistent.

Had England lost, their own batting would have been blamed again, but for once the quality of their bowling was sufficient to give them an equal chance and they took it wonderfully well. On paper there was still much to do when they set out in fine weather yesterday to make the 139 runs still needed, but in practice it transpired that the really hard work had already been done, by Atherton, Butcher and Hussain, on the torrid evening before.

Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock went flat out again from the start but Atherton expertly turned two leg-stump half-volleys from Pollock to the square-leg boundary in the third over and in the next Donald, coming briefly over the wicket again, was sweetly driven to the cover boundary by Hussain.

Pollock found Atherton's outside and Hussain's inside edge in quick succession but on so easy-paced a pitch neither ball was wicket-threatening and Donald had one more attempt to blast Atherton out from round the wicket. Three bouncers in one over were ignored by umpire Steve Dunne - a cool, competent and experienced official for all his occasional and inevitable errors - as perhaps they might not have been on a faster, bouncier pitch. Atherton evaded them all but Hussain was no less secure on the back foot, rising with the bounce like a jockey negotiating Becher's.

Cronje gave Steve Elworthy, Jacques Kallis and Paul Adams a chance in turn - though Adams went round the wicket only when it was too late but Atherton commanded them all, hooking often and decisively despite the technological evidence that Elworthy, at 85mph-plus, is only fractionally slower than Donald's average of around 90mph.

By lunch Atherton was 87, Hussain 57 and only 57 more were needed but the sixth ball of the afternoon was edged to second slip where Kallis held a marvellous catch, diving low to his right. It was Donald's 25th wicket of the series but he and Adams were now treated to a dazzling reprise of the vivid strokeplay by which Stewart finished off Australia at Edgbaston in 1997. Sweeping his first ball for four, he drove and pulled eight more boundaries in his next 29 balls, finishing with 45 off 34 balls and, with Atherton's blessing, denying his predecessor the hundred he deserved.

And so, for the South Africans, to Leeds via Chelmsford. Having rather cold-shouldered their senior all-rounder, Brian McMillan, they will surely have to pick him now. Adam Bacher has become the third member of an increasingly battle-scarred touring team to return home injured and with Gerry Liebenberg, despite excellent form against the counties, proving something of a rabbit against the new ball at Test level, the option of opening with Kallis - or even with the experienced McMillan himself - may well have to be taken.

England will not necessarily choose the same XI, though there is a good case for doing so. Ian Salisbury failed as a bowler here - so did Adams - but the googly which bamboozled Mark Boucher showed doubters what he could do. It is to be hoped that Salisbury and Andrew Flintoff remain in the fold and feel part of a long-term plan.

Suddenly, after all, the long term does not look so bleak.

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Date-stamped : 28 Jul1998 - 10:15