Cricket: DeFreitas puts dampeners on: Texaco Trophy: Rain holds up England's victory bid after tight bowling puts pressure on South Africa

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MODERN one-day cricket is essentially a stereotyped game. But while the majority of contests are decided by singles rather than sixes, its curious appeal continues to draw huge audiences wherever the game is played. That Old Trafford could have been sold out twice over for yesterday's contest between England and South Africa amply bears this out, for this is a venue that is rarely full come the Tests. Furthermore, both these sides concentrate on playing the percentages.

Whereas England were by far the more clinical at Edgbaston, their chance to complete a second stroll to victory after South Africa had scored a paltry 181 was stalled after they lost their first four wickets before tea. With the game evenly poised, heavy rain soon after the break delayed proceedings long enough for play to be called off and the game carried over until today with England, at 80 for four, needing a further 102 off another 28.1 overs. In the event of more rain today, England would need to have scored 100 runs at the 30-over mark - the minimum amount of overs that constitute a match -to win on a superior run rate.

This was an unsatisfactory way to end the day, but it had its talking points. Alec Stewart's dismissal was tinged with controversy, for although Daryll Cullinan appeared to make a clean catch of it, rule 32.2a(i) states - somewhat ambiguously - that 'the catcher must retain control of the ball until its further disposal'. The batsman had no problem with the catch, but as Cullinan went to throw it up in celebration, he dropped it as if something a little nastier than Donald's war paint had found its way on to the seam.

A distinctly greenish tinge to the pitch meant that once Atherton had won the toss and inserted South Africa, runs were always going to be a struggle for them and England's bowlers and fielders applied a stranglehold that only Cullinan was able to break.

Phillip DeFreitas - as he has done all summer apart from his lapse at Lord's - again bowled beautifully, combining control and late movement to return the remarkable figures of one for 12 from his 11 overs. He may have taken only a single wicket, when he had Kepler Wessels lbw to one that came back into the left-hander, but it was his 100th in one-day internationals.

Seeing DeFreitas bowl with the same confidence as he did against New Zealand here earlier in the summer, it is hard to believe that this was the pitch that he cited as breaking his spirit when he left Lancashire for the greener pastures of Derbyshire. With his demons behind him, he goes to Australia with the kind of irresistible form he showed against the West Indies in 1991.

His opening partner, Darren Gough, was less impressive and his slower balls and yorkers are better suited to the end of innings hack than cautious starters. In his last spell he had Richardson caught by Chris Lewis and Tim Shaw was bowled through a rusty gate. By resting Devon Malcolm and Angus Fraser again, the stage was set for a head-to-head between Lewis and Dominic Cork, both vying for the all- rounder's spot on this winter's tour.

Cork, swinging the ball away from the right-hander, bowled well enough to remove Gary Kirsten, caught by Lewis in the gully, and Jonty Rhodes, lbw first ball. Later in the innings, he bowled Craig Matthews, but the slog was on, and the position of the batsman's head looked as if it was trying to locate the flight home rather than that of the ball.

In between the careless strokeplay, there were two even more careless run-outs. The first again involved Cork, who managed to get stumpside of Hansie Cronje, the non-striker, after Kirsten had dropped the ball in front of him and set off for a single. It was a sharp bit of fielding by Cork, who was following through in another direction but his wristy flick found Cronje well short, and in no need of the replay. If this smacked of carelessness, then Cullinan's removal some three yards out when Fairbrother's throw broke the stumps was pure stupidity.

It was a disappointing end to another plucky innings by Cullinan. Without his 54, South Africa would have struggled to make half their score and their eventual 181 owed much to his powerful clips and drives.

England's reply was swift and sure after Atherton had clipped the first ball off his legs for four. Alec Stewart was also quick to show his intent, but as he has done so often recently, over-confidence was to be his undoing. Having driven Fanie de Villiers to the boundary through extra cover, the shot of the day, he then pushed lazily at Donald to be caught at mid-off. This brought Hick to the crease but his stay (two balls) was much briefer than of late. With Atherton soon following him to the pavilion, caught at first slip off one that bounced, England were in need of repair work. But no sooner had Thorpe and Fairbrother retrenched than Thorpe, turning Shaw's first ball to leg, called his partner for a run that even a fielder of lesser speed than Jonty Rhodes would have found easy to prevent. As expected Fairbrother was well short as Richardson whipped off the bails. At 80 for four when play was halted, England now need to dig deep for victory.

(Photograph omitted)