Cricket: Bicknell buckles as England struggle

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The Independent Online
MARTIN BICKNELL broke down four overs into his comeback for England A yesterday and once again appears likely to be heading back home.

His injury heralded a dreadful start to the match against Natal for England who, having put Natal into bat, then failed to take a wicket for four hours in 30C heat.

But with England's other returning fast bowler, Martin McCague, having better fortune they recovered to take six wickets in the last 35 overs. McCague, who took 2 for 48 in 21 overs, was well supported by the persevering Peter Such who took 3 for 71 in a marathon 35 overs.

But England's inability to hold their catches was again evident with four clear chances being missed.

Bicknell, playing his first first-class match of the tour following knee, thigh and rib muscle injuries, suffered painful back spasms after the first ball of his fourth over. He finished the over but went straight to the dressing-room where he spent the rest of the day in pain from the middle of his back.

The injury may be related to the side strain he suffered 17 days ago and the tour manager, Bob Bennett, said, 'I cannot see him taking any further part in this match.'

England's management met last night to consider Bicknell's condition and, although they are not prepared to discuss the possibility, there must be a strong chance of his being sent home. It is a heavy blow for Bicknell who played the fourth and fifth Tests last summer only to pull out of the sixth with a knee injury and then found himself dropped for the Caribbean tour.

Without Bicknell, England's seam-bowling resources looked thin as the rookie openers Bruce Armstrong and Doug Watson, both in their first season, put together easily the best partnership England have encountered this tour.

Armstrong, having made 11 in the first hour and a half, blossomed to hit 14 fours and a six only to be well caught at silly point by Alan Wells three short of his maiden first-class century in the last over before tea. The wicket was a belated reward for Such who bowled unchanged from shortly before lunch until the new ball was taken more than an hour after tea.

He had already seen Watson dropped at slip when 61 by Hugh Morris and later had Neil Johnson missed by John Crawley who was at short extra for just such a chance.

Both batsmen eventually fell to McCague who bowled a series of quick, threatening spells. Having earlier hit Watson on the side of the helmet he had the 20-year-old caught mis- hooking to midwicket and, with the new ball, later yorked Johnson.

While Morris redeemed himself with a brilliant one- handed diving catch to dismiss Mark Bruyns, two other catches were missed. Though Mark Lathwell's lame attempt at short leg to catch Derek Crooks off McCague merely delayed things - Such returning to dismiss him - Wells's straightforward miss at slip of Dale Benkenstein off Darren Gough was expensive. The hugely talented 20-year-old, then on 14, went on to score 40 not out by the close.

It would be tempting to blame the lapses on New Year's Eve excess but the team just had a restrained celebration in their hotel. Given the steaming humidity it was a wise move.

(First day of four; England A won toss)

NATAL - First Innings

C R B Armstrong c Wells b Such. . . . . . . . . 97

D J Watson c Gough b McCague. . . . . . . . . . 87

N E Wright c Rhodes b Gough. . . . . . . . . . . 9

M L Bruyns c Morris b Such. . . . . . . . . . . .6

N C Johnson b McCague. . . . . . . . . . . . . .22

D M Benkenstein not out. . . . . . . . . . . . .40

D N Crookes lbw b Such. . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

] U H Goedeke not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 0

Extras (b5 lb8 nb6). . . . . . . . . . . . . . .19

Total (for 6). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 296

Fall: 1-192 2-200 3-214 4-222 5-265 6-292.

To bat: L Klusener, * M D Marshall, S M Pollock.

Bowling: McCague 21-7-48-2; Bicknell 4-2- 4-0; Gough 22-1-103-1; Dale 18-5-57-0; Such 35-9-71-3.

ENGLAND A: * H Morris, M N Lathwell, J P Crawley, A P Wells, M B Loye, A Dale, S J Rhodes, M P Bicknell, D Gough, M J McCague, P M Such.

Umpires: W Diedricks and D Orchard.