TEN minutes before play began yesterday the England A team bowlers had a miserable day in prospect. Then a West Indian captain and a South African doctor intervened.
Less than half an hour later there appeared no play in prospect for anyone, this time it was the South African Defence Force to the rescue.
The Eastern Province captain, Eldine Baptiste, astonishingly chose to bowl first on a soporific wicket in steaming heat thus enabling England's bowlers to enjoy a stylish, unbeaten century by John Crawley from their air-conditioned balcony. Then Dr K P Swart gave the injured Martin Bicknell the first good news he has had all tour.
In between Brian Jerling, reserve umpire and SADF warrant officer, took on the further role of handyman to fix the revolving sightscreen which a power cut had left stuck on a blue-and-green slogan.
In the event play was only delayed 50 minutes, much of which was made up and no one appreciated the reprieve more than Crawley.
Batting with easy confidence and composure he took full advantage of a featherbed wicket and weak bowling to record the first of the four 'big scores of 150-odd' he pledged a fortnight ago.
Indeed, Crawley, having narrowly avoided being run out for the third time of the tour, timed his 150th run as well he did his strokes, reaching it with his 24th boundary off the last ball of the day.
His captain, Hugh Morris, who batted well for 79, said of Crawley: 'It was a super knock. He showed great shot selection, waiting for the bad balls and punishing them. It was a very mature innings.'
The 22-year-old Lancashire opener batted fluently throughout his near six-hour innings, although it must be said that - Baptiste apart - the bowling was about as electrifying as the local power station.
It was Baptiste who exposed Mark Lathwell's tendency to play away from his body when play
resumed after umpire Jerling had fixed the sightscreen manually. The Somerset opener had already edged just short of first slip when Baptiste again caught him flat-footed and he edged to Steven Pope, nephew of former Essex stalwart Ken McEwan, at third slip.
Crawley and Morris - who was briefly troubled by his recurring right knee injury - added 153, though not without both suffering run-out alarms.
'I have felt in good nick all tour but keep getting out early on so it was good to get runs under the belt,' said the captain, who admitted he feared the worst on losing the toss and would certainly have chosen to bat.
Bicknell, who it was feared would be heading for Heathrow tomorrow, will be staying with the team for the time being. An isotope bone scan has revealed his rib muscle injury to involve soft tissue rather than bone. He had a steroid injection to speed recovery and he has pencilled in next Thursday's one-day match against Western Province Invitation XI for his return with a view to the subsequent four-day match. If he fails to make, it the situation will be reviewed.
(First day of four; Eastern Province won toss)
ENGLAND A - First Innings
M N Lathwell c Pope b Baptiste5
* H Morris c Huckle b Shaw79
J P Crawley not out150
A P Wells not out51
Extras (b6 lb4 w6 nb9)25
Total (for 2)310
Fall: 1-24 2-177.
To bat: M B Loye, S J Rhodes, R D B Croft, D G Cork, M J McCague, M C Ilott, P M Such.
Bowling: Lyle 16-2-64-0; Baptiste 19-3-53-1; Roe 13-2-49-0; Huckle 31-5-95-0; Shaw 20-7-39-1.
EASTERN PROVINCE: P G Amm, M C Ventner, L J Koen, S C Pope, A Botha, * E A Baptiste, G Morgan, T G Shaw, A G Huckle, R A Lyle, G Roe.
Umpires: R Koertzen and R Noble.Reuse content