ONLY 50 overs were possible here yesterday after torrential rain ended play early. But if the stint was not long enough to lend a definite shape to the game, it afforded ample opportunity to see that Alex Tudor is still not the fast bowler who took 5 for 108 on his Test debut against Australia this time last year.
That was at the WACA in Perth, a pitch with a reputation as the fastest in the world. Since then, as the surfaces have slowed, so has Tudor's progress. Indeed, some would say he has gone backwards, at least with the ball, though this would be a harsh view of a 22-year-old whose career has not been without its interruptions.
Twelve months can be a lifetime in sport, and many - as the Australian golfer Ian Baker-Finch can testify - have gone from boom to bust within that timespan. For Tudor the year has comprised of a single leap, as denoted by his unbeaten 99 at Edgbaston, followed by a hundred disappointments - one for every day of cricket missed after a knee problem was diagnosed in late July.
Injuries, even ones that clear up, can sap confidence and Tudor has looked apprehensive on this tour, especially in the middle where he has given a passable impersonation of a man running through deep sand. It is a view shared by Phil Russell, a Derbyshire stalwart of the 1970s and now KwaZulu- Natal's director of cricket.
Russell feels Tudor has looked "tentative" recently, a reaction that may have something to do with the fact that his brother, Ray, had his career at Surrey prematurely ended by injury 10 years ago. More likely is that he has still not got used to his body. Bowling is rarely pain- free and part of the apprenticeship is knowing which pains to ignore and which to heed, something the Surrey pacemen is clearly still coming to terms with.
He looked better yesterday, however, and he upended the opener Doug Watson after hitting him in the chest with his third ball. He even managed a brace of wickets, including the important one of the captain, Dale Benkenstein, for 45. But the excellence was sporadic and even his new-ball spell went at more than five runs an over.
Fortunately for England, Andy Caddick, who finished the day with 3 for 25 from 16 overs, was close to his probing best. Maintaining a tighter line than he did in Johannesburg, he troubled all the batsmen and but for a solid innings from John Kent, whose unbeaten fifty included a six off Phil Tufnell, England's position might have been even stronger.
Caddick's return to form, after the disappointment of the first Test, was the best aspect of the day for his captain, Nasser Hussain, who also learned that both Alan Mullally and Chris Silverwood had been given cortisone injections, in left side and left ankle respectively.
Both the injured players are expected to be bowling in the nets on Monday, though this should be taken lightly given that there was not even the merest hint 12 hours earlier that the pair needed jabs. As both would be in front of Tudor in the pecking order for the next Test, it is a cause for concern.
Considering the weakened nature of their opponents, who had three players aged under 20 years, including the 16-year-old captain of Durban High School, England should have been more dominant.
Only Caddick, who struck in the third over of the day when he had Mark Bruyns caught at third slip, was guilty of dropping a catch, a difficult running chance at long-leg. It was Caddick, too, who dispatched the schoolboy Hashim Amla, caught by Andy Flintoff at second slip after a lengthy but not overawed stay at the crease.
Like his elder brother, Ahmed Amla, who fared little better, he wears spectacles while playing, an unusual sight in cricket these days. Whether their glasses actually helped them locate the ball any better under the leaden skies is a moot point. Had bad light, rather than rain, been the culprit, England would have been embarrassed further after refusing the use of floodlights to prevent time being lost.
This is the second time England have declined to switch on the floodlights and last winter the Australian press had a field day when the suggestion was turned down flat. Then England's point that they were unused to it was a valid one. This time their lack of adventure in such a low-key match is pathetic and wholly unjustified.
First day of four; KwaZulu-Natal won toss
KWAZULU-NATAL - First Innings
M L Bruyns c Butcher b Caddick 1
D J Watson lbw b Caddick 12
A M Amla c Atherton b Tudor 4
*D M Benkenstein lbw b Tudor 45
J C Kent not out 50
H Amla c Flintoff b Caddick 1
R E Veenstra not out 14
Extras (b1 lb3 nb5) 9
Total (for 5, 50 overs) 136
Fall: 1-7 2-19 3-23 4-97 5-110.
To bat: D L Brown, G H Bodi, G M Gilder, K P Pieterson.
Bowling (to date): Caddick 16-5-25-3; Tudor 13-1-57-2; Flintoff 8-1-32- 0; Tufnell 13-5-18-0.
ENGLAND: M A Atherton, M A Butcher, *N Hussain, M P Vaughan C J Adams, D L Maddy, A Flintoff, C M W Read, A J Tudor, A R Caddick, P C R Tufnell.
Umpires: D L Orchard and W Diedricks.Reuse content