Cricket: England fail to build on flying start

Second Test: Rhodes and Cronje launch South African recovery after Cork makes the early breakthrough; South Africa 135-4 v England
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The Independent Online
GLOOMY, INTERRUPTED days are meant to favour bowlers not batsman and, until Jonty Rhodes and Hansie Cronje set about England's bowling, the theory was running true to form. In danger of being crushed after Dominic Cork's four-wicket burst had removed their early order, South Africa recovered to something approaching parity at the end of a day in which 56 overs were lost to bad light and rain.

Having won the toss, England, though not Cork, will be more than a little disappointed. In helpful conditions, and after a dream start, they squandered their advantage - although Cronje later claimed he would have batted anyway - by bowling an unacceptable number of four balls. In fact 78 of the eventual 135 runs scored came from boundaries, an unreasonably high proportion in seamer-friendly conditions.

While it is true that a breezy strokeplayer like Rhodes can disrupt a bowler's concentration, line and length - about all that are needed when heavy cloud and a damp pitch are involved - should be a basic ability to which all professional bowlers can resort if needs be. England forgot this and Cork and Fraser's early spells apart, the bowling lacked the necessary discipline.

Cork opened, as he so often does, with an over of liquorice allsorts. A first-ball bouncer was followed by a couple of unplayable deliveries, before a wide half-volley, gift-wrapped, duly presented itself to Gary Kirsten.

It was the only scoring shot Kirsten managed as he succumbed to the first ball of Cork's second over. So often the steadfast anchor around which his chancier team-mates float their cameos, Kirsten was undone by a ball whose steep bounce brought a change of mind, the batsman's late attempt to shoulder arms delayed just long enough for the ball to find its way on to the stumps via the under edge of the bat.

For South Africa, who lost the toss, it was the worst kind of start to a day that eventually got under way at 1.30pm, following some persistent drizzle in the morning. Prospects, always uncertain when heavy cloud cover shrouds Lord's, did not improve when, two overs later, Jacques Kallis was bowled for a duck.

Kallis, who played for Middlesex last season and one who should be well aware of the little idiosyncrasies of the square here, was undone more by the pair of snorters that preceded his dismissal than the ball that actually got him out. Twice beaten by extravagant movement down the slope, he planted both bat and front leg inside the line of a ball that pitched on, and then hit, off-stump.

At that point, rain sent everyone scurrying and the hover cover arrived to take its place over the pitch. Earlier, in an understated ceremony that was typically English, the Duke of Edinburgh had cut the ribbon to the magnificent pounds 11.5m Grand Stand, a structure that has boosted the ground's capacity to just over 30,000.

For the home of cricket, Lord's has become something of a high-tech mecca. Nevertheless, when play resumed 75 minutes later, it was the old-fashioned virtues of aggressive line and length that brought further reward for Cork. Given a second wind by the break for rain, the Derbyshire captain, still finding the regular swing of old elusive, managed to test and tempt in equal measure with his commendably full length.

Getting batsmen to play shots is a crucial aspect of taking wickets. It was a knack that was possessed by Cork's hero, Ian Botham, and it was significant that Adam Bacher, preferred here to Gerhardus Liebenberg, had just cover-driven Cork to the boundary before a repeat of the shot found the outside edge.

As catches go, it would have stretched Alec Stewart's recovered back, just enough for the one that followed. On his day, Daryll Cullinan is a class act and a dangerous one. Having come through a torrid few overs, he was just beginning to look settled when, aiming to force Cork off the back foot, he edged behind. With the adrenalin flowing, Stewart was confident enough to grab the chance out of first slip's lap.

At that point South Africa were 46 for 4 and struggling. Indeed after tea, England should have made their day at headquarters a thoroughly miserable one. Instead, Jonty Rhodes, the visitor's saviour at Edgbaston, was dropped at third slip in Dean Headley's first over, Michael Atherton only able to parry the edge as it flashed through at shoulder height.

An over later, Rhodes responded with a crisply hooked six off Cork, before being caught by Atherton off a no-ball. Uncowed by these close calls, Rhodes continued to throw the bat, a tactic that appeared to confuse England, who suddenly started to bowl erratically.

Following the steady but luckless Angus Fraser from the Pavilion End, Headley conceded 24 runs from only three overs. Perhaps over-eager to prove his worth after being missing out at Edgbaston, the Kent fast bowler never settled, and Rhodes was given ample width upon which to feed his whirring bat.

The nature of the blitz even encouraged the cautious Hansie Cronje to join in and England surrendered the initiative as the pair added a rapid 89 before the fourth stoppage of the day brought proceedings to a close.

With a heatwave promised by the weekend, England will have to part this pair promptly this morning, if the initial advantage offered by winning the toss is to prove decisive. Batting last, as England must now do, is no easy task when the opposition have a decent total on the board.


England win toss

SOUTH AFRICA - First innings

A M Bacher c Stewart b Cork 22

(63 min, 43 balls, 4 fours)

G Kirsten b Cork 4

(13 min, 7 balls, 1 four)

J H Kallis b Cork 0

(10 min, 8 balls)

D J Cullinan c Stewart b Cork 16

(48 min, 36 balls, 3 fours)

*W J Cronje not out 38

(90 min, 61 balls, 5 fours)

J N Rhodes not out 47

(80 min, 54 balls, 7 fours, 1 six)

Extras (lb3,nb5) 8

Total (for 4, 154 min, 34 overs) 135

Fall: 1-8 (Kirsten), 2-16 (Kallis), 3-43 (Bacher), 4-46 (Cullinan).

To bat: S M Pollock, L Klusener, M V Boucher, P R Adams, A A Donald.

Bowling: Fraser 14-3-38-0 (10-3-28-0 4-0-10-0), Cork 14-3-53-4 (nb5), Headley 3-0-24-0, Ealham 3-0-17-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Wet outfield delayed start until 1.29pm. Rain stopped play 1.59-3.15pm 21-2 (Bacher 13, Cullinan 4) 6.3 overs. 50: 78 min, 17 overs. Tea: 52-4 (Cronje 3, Rhodes 4) 19 overs. 100: 122 min, 27.1 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.26-6.13pm 118 -4 (Cronje 32, Rhodes 39) 31 overs. Bad light stopped play 6.26pm.

ENGLAND: M A Atherton, S P James, N Hussain, *A J Stewart, G P Thorpe, M R Ramprakash, M A Ealham, D G Cork, R D B Croft, D W Headley, A R C Fraser.

Umpires: G Sharp and D B Hair. TV Replay Umpire: B Dudleston.

Match Referee: Javed Burki.