SOUTH AFRICA warmed up for this week's trio of Texaco internationals with their third successive win on tour, one which despite the modest quality of the opposition suggests they are still a force to be reckoned with in the one-day game.
The disappointment for the 4,000 crowd basking in the glorious sunshine was the absence of seven Kent regulars. Two were on England duty preparing yesterday at the Oval and two, including captain Steve Marsh, were nursing injuries.
But front-line players like Dean Headley, Alan Wells and Carl Hooper were simply being rested. Perhaps Kent were doing England a favour by not exposing the tourists to the full potential of our domestic game or maybe it was the lack of prize money -but this once more raises the question of the continuing validity of such fixtures.
Bob Woolmer, the South African coach, did not seem perturbed. ``We accept the opposition for better or for worse,'' he said. Of greater interest for Woolmer was the way his side is shaping up for the bigger challenges ahead.
It is possible that this will be the make-up of the South African team for the first international tomorrow, with Brian McMillan the one possible alternative - though the depth of existing all-rounders makes it likely they will plump for the extra batsman in Gerhardus Liebenberg.
Liebenberg, who scored 98 in the first game at Worcester, was in aggressive mood from the off once Kent had chosen to field first. He took three fours off Martin McCague's fourth over, including one finely stroked cover-drive, but survived a hard chance in the slips off Alan Igglesden.
Liebenberg and Jacques Kallis added 115 in 22 overs, McCague going for 37 runs in six. Then, as soon as Julian Thompson came on, Kallis meted out similar punishment, using his feet to smack him for six over extra-cover.
Kallis fell in Min Patel's first over, sweeping him deep into the hands of midwicket after scoring 61 off 70 balls. Then Liebenberg was lbw, seeking to whip Graham Cowdrey off his legs, for 72 off 94 balls.
Hansie Cronje maintained the pace with 18 in an over off Patel and had reached 64 off 45 balls when the bowler had him caught in the deep. Igglesden came back with three wickets in the final overs, including that of Daryll Cullinan, who helped himself to 48 off 54 balls.
South Africa then had a taste of their own medicine in the shape of Robert Key, 19, a member of the England Under-19 side who won the World Cup in South Africa in the winter and was making his one-day debut.
Key's mother, Lynn, once played for Kent ladies and apparently taught her son the rudiments of the game. That he has progressed more than somewhat since then was evident by the way he gave Lance Klusener the hammer and then went to his fifty in 57 balls with his ninth boundary, a glorious lofted cover-drive off Cronje which cleared the boundary with one bounce.
The introduction of Pat Symcox sealed Kent's fate. In his second over, Key charged at a flatter ball to become the first of the off-spinner's three victims.
Roger Telemachus is returning to South Africa with a dislocated shoulder suffered in fielding practice last week. Steve Elworthy, the former Lancashire all-rounder called in to replace him, arrives tomorrow.