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Stewart's prayers answered

By Mark Nicholas

7 July 1998

IT wasn't Agincourt nor was it quite Johannesburg two years ago, but it was pretty good all the same. For 11 hours and 20 minutes England's mistrusted team resisted the unforgiving South Africans and turned the jeers of Saturday's crowd to the cheers of a thin Monday audience.

For the final hour Alec Stewart sat on the players' balcony swallowing hard and holding his hands in prayer - why did I risk that hook stroke, oh why ... oh why, oh why - and in the end his hook received forgiveness and his last brave batsman saved the day.

England, and Stewart most especially, deserved the applause for their response to the stick they have had all weekend, but their escape from jail must not disguise the faults of first-innings performances in which they continually shot themselves in the foot.

They simply must bat more convincingly as a team, all of them in the determined, uncomplicated manner of the past and present captain - the manner of their life depending on it. To see Robert Croft and Darren Gough refuse to yield an inch yesterday evening was to prompt the question, why now? Why don't they always bat so passionately instead of relinquishing their wickets with meek, often silly strokes which betray their concentration.

It will not do to say it isn't their job, that they're picked to bowl. The lower half of the South African order frequently bale out their more celebrated colleagues because they are all in it together, because no one player assumes more importance than another. More thirties like this one from Croft and some twenties and thirties from Gough will do wonders for morale, let alone for total scores.

The South Africans will wonder where it went wrong. Well it didn't really, it was just that on a flat, slow batting pitch and with Lance Klusener injured, a fraction too much was asked of the 21-year-old Paul Adams and Makhaya Ntini and a lot too much of Jacques Kallis. That they so nearly bowled England out twice was something in itself and they must thank Allan Donald whose pure guts through the pain of a damaged ankle led him to six magnificent wickets.

Donald is a cricketing colossus, a marvellous rhythmical athlete with strength, stamina and self-control. He has a good brain for bowling, a heart the size of Table Mountain and is, without argument, the finest, truly fast bowler in the world. He was knackered by the end but still found the energy for a memorable yorker to Angus Fraser, which struck his pads and brought the mother of all appeals. It was refused and he was finally sapped, so Fraser survived.

This was the drama that only a Test match can bring, the embers of a game alight with one team's hope and another's desperation. No other form of cricket gets close to this and it should be the main business of the game of cricket at large to ensure that it is preserved.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 07 Jul1998 - 06:16