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Black day in Lord's sunshine

By Mark Nicholas

22 June 1998

WHAT a poor match for England. A catastrophic surrender from the loftiness of Thursday afternoon when South Africa were four down for zip to the lowliness of a black Sunday. To go with it came the news that Mark Ramprakash has been hauled over the coals for his indiscretion on Saturday. And all this under the brightest, bluest sky at a sparkling up-to-the- minute Lord's.

What a shame that England could not do the grand ground justice; how thrilling for South Africa to grace it so absolutely.

On Saturday evening Mike Procter and Barry Richards said they doubted that a team of Richardses, South African or West Indian, could have resisted Allan Donald and Sean Pollock during that morning, so consummate was their display of fast bowling and so ideally did they complement each other.

Donald was seriously, seriously fast and yet still he was remarkably accurate. Pollock probed with swing and alarming bounce from his impressive delivery position which is unusually close to the stumps for a bowler of his pace and which gives him the advantage of making the batsman play so often.

What's more the thick, thunder-filled cloud brought a heavy atmosphere and with that came the exaggerated movement which stripped the England batting bare. The slow scoring reflected the relentless threat of the bowling, the low total reflected its skill.

But that, of itself, should not have been enough to win the match by such a thumping margin and in such a short time. Twice England had South Africa biting their nails in concern and twice they blew their well-won position with ill-conceived play.

If Dominic Cork had been given realistic, uncompromising support on the first afternoon and on the second morning, South Africa could not possibly have breached 200. It is not that the others bowled badly, just that they did not, at any time collectively, bowl really well. Too much of the bowling allowed for free strokes and too often 'release' balls directed at middle and leg were worked away to the vast leg-side spaces.

This gave Jonty Rhodes and Hansie Cronje breathing space from the intensity of their plight while regularly adding to the scoreboard. In clear contrast, when South Africa had England on the rack on Saturday, their few bad balls were outside off stump where the slip catches waited and where Rhodes lurked mischievously at cover. England were locked up, South Africa were let lose.

Then yesterday, the unfortunate end to Alex Stewart's innings, wrongly judged caught at the wicket, signalled the end of England altogether. Boy, when England collapse do they collapse; 222 for three was 228 for eight in a blink and did no justice to Nasser Hussain's second quite superlative rearguard hundred in three Tests.

In Antigua his run-out opened a gate through which Courtney Walsh made his charge, here at headquarters, Hussain's lbw allowed Jacques Kallis to complete the figures of his life.

Why is this? Do England not have the stomach to repel a swarming opponent? Surely they do, Atherton, Stewart and Hussain told us as much. Or is the dressing-room too busy grumbling about the rub of the green - in this case Stewart's wicket - to have a clear mind for the business of batting?

If any dressing-room believes that an umpire is not in their favour they are most likely wrong and if they are not wrong they must not bicker among themselves about injustice. This is not a fair world, or for that matter a fair game; it has never been, was not meant to be and it is the strong, intelligent characters who rise above the hard-done-by moaners who will make the most of the challenging world of Test match cricket.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 22 Jun1998 - 11:14