FOR FOUR hours yesterday the West Indies were identifiable as a genuine, competitive Test team, a rare occurrence on their ill-starred tour of South Africa. It took Allan Donald five overs to transform them back into their more familiar guise and commit them to another desperate fight for survival after two days of the fourth Test.
Their bowlers, supported by slick fielding, responded to the hamstring strain that ended Curtly Ambrose's day in the second over after lunch with the purpose and discipline they have rarely shown all series, to convert South Africa's over-night 272 for 2 to 406 for 8 declared, at tea.
That effectively put the match out of reach but it should have been motivation enough to prompt their unreliable batting to finally show its worth on an ideal surface. The optimism was rapidly dispelled as Donald, fast and compelling, removed the makeshift opener, Junior Murray, with his fifth ball, his hefty partner, Philo Wallace, in his fourth over and the altogether more significant captain, Brian Lara, in his fifth.
Immediately, Donald left the field to seek treatment, like Ambrose, on a damaged hamstring, but his own damage had already been devastating. The tenacious South Africans are not inclined to relax on their laurels and, in Donald's absence, the medium-pacer David Terbrugge snared Shivnarine Chanderpaul as well to leave the West Indies 89 for 4 at the close.
They are still 117 away from what seemed a straightforward follow-on target of 206 but now looms as steep and imposing as nearby Table Mountain.
Donald's speed once more exposed the West Indies' batting problem that has dogged them since the break up of the great opening partnership of Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes. But Murray, a wicketkeeper with no experience in the position prior to his promotion in the third Test, and the heavy-hitting, but leaden-footed, Wallace, caught off edges, were small fish.
It was Lara that set Donald and his team-mates off on a Zulu war dance that could have done nothing for his suspect hamstring. Jumping back to fend his fifth ball off his chest, Lara's right heel pressed against the leg-stump and dislodged the bails.
Carl Hooper, with an elegant 53, and Daren Ganga, 16, batted through the final 50 minutes in adding 55 but a fourth successive Test defeat looms for the West Indies.
Throughout the first two sessions they had shown rare heart in restricting South Africa to 124 for 6 off 56.5 overs on the day. Ottis Gibson, the Barbadian fast bowler drafted in from the South African provincial scene following the injuries that sidelined Courtney Walsh and Franklyn Rose, finally ended the third-wicket partnership between the century-makers, Jacques Kallis and Daryll Cullinan, that started on the previous day at 235.
Kallis was caught behind off a perfectly-pitched, late outswinger for 110. Cullinan went on to make the highest of his six Test hundreds, 168, before Nixon McLean bounced him out but he could not find the rhythm of the first day and spent three hours adding 46.
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