Cricket: Cook succumbs to fear factor

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South Africa A 357 and 156-3

England A 329

SOUTH AFRICA'S Eastern Cape is the most shark-infested stretch of ocean in the world. A protected species, they can even be viewed by tourists from inside cages dangled temptingly into the water.

Bit of a tease really, rather like this A-team 'Test match'. The prospect of the best of English and South African fringe talents showing their abilities under full Test conditions had been eagerly anticipated. The reality has been a dull match of defensive cricket which, though illuminated by patches of enterprise, has been dominated by fear of failure.

The South Africans, who begin today's fifth and final day 184 ahead with seven second-innings wickets standing, have been bewitched by the lure of a place against either Australia in March or on the tour of England. Thus batsmen as good as Jimmy Cook and Adrian Kuiper became consumed by fear and remained scoreless for long periods.

England, after one defeat in their 13 tour matches, know a draw is enough for this tour to be regarded as a success, while defeat would diminish its achievements. Once they had lost the toss on a neutered wicket they adopted a policy of percentage cricket which, combined with South Africa's caution, kept the home side to a sub-standard 357.

That it earned South Africa a first-innings lead of 28 was due to some poor umpiring decisions and a far superior ground-fielding display, despite England's improvement. The worst decision was suffered by Alan Wells, the one player whose performance was enhanced by the general atmosphere of caution. His excellent innings of 130, which has probably restored his position as the middle-order replacement for the Caribbean, was, by his own admission, his 'most responsible of the tour'.

His last-ball departure leg before, together with the equally dubious bat-pad against Adrian Dale in the previous over, left England on 269 for 7 on Saturday night and still vulnerable. Robert Croft, batting with careful intelligence, ensured that the lead would be minimal, being left unbeaten on 32 when England's innings finished shortly after lunch yesterday.

South Africa then produced a repeat of their unadventurous first day, making 49 in the 27 overs to tea for the loss of both openers to Darren Gough - Mickey Arthur caught at square leg and Karl Liebenberg at extra cover.

Gough added the wicket of Cook, pulling a ball that kept low, but not before South Africa had transformed their approach following a tea-time ear-bashing from their coach, Eddie Barlow.

Cook, batting with elegant timing, added 63 in 15 overs with Rudolf Steyn. His exit failed to halt the flow as, with Steyn playing anchor, Kuiper finally flexed his bat.

(Fourth day: South Africa A won toss)

SOUTH AFRICA A - First Innings 357 (E O Simons 88, G F J Liebenberg 79; M C Ilott 4-71).

ENGLAND A - First Innings

(Overnight: 269 for 7)

S J Rhodes c Martyn b Martyn 7

R D B Croft not out 32

D Gough c Palframan b Pringle 13

P M Such c Martyn b Crookes 5

Extras (b5 lb10 w2 nb5) 22

Total 329

Fall: 1-4 2-49 3-63 4-92 5-263 6-268 7-269 8-287 9-317.

Bowling: Pringle 23-3-72-2; Martyn 29-7-72-2; Simons 26-11-40-1; Eksteen 41-21-48-2; Crookes 21.5- 7-61-1; Kuiper 7-0-21-2.

SOUTH AFRICA A - Second Innings

J M Arthur c Lathwell b Gough 7

G F J Liebenberg c Wells b Gough 18

P J R Steyn not out 54

* S J Cook b Gough 48

A P Kuiper not out 27

Extras (lb2) 2

Total (for 3) 156

Fall: 1-21 2-26 3-112.

To bat: E O Simons, D N Crookes, S J Palframan, C E Eksteen, M W Pringle, A Martyn.

Bowling (to date): Ilott 11-5-13-0; Gough 14-2-52-3; Dale 13-3-31-0; Such 10-1-30-0; Croft 9-3-28-0.

Umpires: C Mitchley and B Lambson.