Cricket: England humiliated as SA make history: First Cornhill Test: Atherton's miserable weekend is completed as his spineless batsmen are dismembered by superior tourists

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South Africa 357 and 278-8 dec

England 180 and 99

South Africa win by 356 runs

We will have to play a damn site better at Headingley and The Oval. Mike Atherton, defeated England captain.

The South Africans outplayed us in all aspects of the game. All round they were much better than us. Atherton.

It was a great win. We are obviously very excited and happy. We got the breakthroughs at the right time and our bowlers did extremely well this afternoon. Kepler Wessels, South Africa's captain and man of the match.

THIS Test match had been so firmly in South Africa's pocket since Friday afternoon, that the pocket will doubtless be subjected to rigorous examination by the International Cricket Council's forensic specialists in order to determine whether there has been anything suspicious about the tourists' highly polished performance.

However, the fact that England were providing the opposition is probably the only explanation required. They are, at times, enough to make you weep, and when people start fishing around in their pockets when England are at work, they are unlikely to be delving for anything more sinister than a handkerchief.

South Africa's first Test match here since 1965 ended in a resounding 356-run victory (the largest winning runs margin in their history) after England's batting, on another steamy, oppressive day, evaporated more rapidly than an ice cube in a gin and tonic. England's 99 all out - in the first Test of their three-match series - was their lowest at Lord's this century, eclipsing their 116 against Australia in Bob Massie's match in 1972.

On Friday evening, the England team manager, Keith Fletcher, was offering the excuse of a deteriorating pitch, although this is one of the more curious Lord's pitches as it appeared to deteroriate only when England were batting on it. It was uneven certainly, and the ball swung all match, but ever since South Africa were 35 for 2 shortly after midday on Thursday, England's cricket has made all the talk about a brave new dawn seem a ludicrous piece of tosh.

Whatever shortcomings there might be on individual talent pale into insignificance next to their capacity to approach a dogfight with all the vertebracy of an amoeba. No other team folds quite so spinelessly quite so often, and against no other opposition does it stick out quite so glaringly. South Africa have a modest team, but when it comes to a scrap, they are as soft a touch as an old-time Boer commando unit.

Yesterday began with Atherton emerging from the pavilion with hands thrust into both pockets, a whimsical gesture no doubt, but it was to be a symbolic enough portent of England's slovenly performance. There was not even much inclination to cheer when Darren Gough took two quick wickets with big inswinging yorkers, and Atherton might even have thought about taking Gough off for making the ball behave suspiciously like the one Waqar Younis was boomeranging around here two summers ago.

That one remains under lock and key in the Lord's safe, but this one apparently passed an umpires' examination on Saturday as thoroughly as Gough's yorkers through bat and and pad. Gough's performance, in fact, has been just about the only bonus in the entire match.

Stephen Rhodes has kept wicket indifferently here, missing a bad stumping off Ian Salisbury yesterday morning with Brian McMillan stranded a long way down, although it scarcely made any difference to South Africa's morning plan to declare at lunchtime. This they did, leaving England to make a record 456 to win. However, the fact that England have had more practice than most at chasing record fourth innings targets, has made them no better at it.

Atherton, his mind perhaps cluttered by other matters, was beautifully caught low down at second slip by McMillan, and a similar fate (this time via a bad shot rather than a nasty ball) befell John Crawley.

Alec Stewart, who has been getting himself out lately through overdosing on adrenalin, tried a different method yesterday and took 54 balls to reach double figures, but was at least grinding it out until he changed his bat. The first contact with his new blade was an outside edge, and the wicketkeeper, Dave Richardson, took a brilliant diving catch.

Graeme Hick was the victim of an lbw decision from Steve Randell almost as hopeless as England's batting, and Graham Gooch got one which kept unkindly low. However, the old boy at least had the consolation of scoring the five runs needed to pass Viv Richards on the list (fourth) of Test match run-scorers. He also became here the first player to score 2,000 Test runs at Lord's.

Craig White's achievement was to get out to the two worst shots in the same Test at Lord's, and Gough, hit by Allan Donald was forced to retire hurt with a bruised arm as England's tail did not so much wag, as resemble a Manx cat. The last six wickets went down for 25 runs in 14 overs.

Atherton later described England's performance as the 'worst under my captaincy', and conceded that next weekend's selection meeting before the second Test at Headingley would not be a short one.

Atherton denied that the incident over the ball had affected him yesterday, although Raymond Illingworth, the chairman of selectors who fined him, did not express a similar sentiment. 'It affected my day, I can tell you. I barely saw a ball bowled.' In which case, Raymond, you should count yourself extremely fortunate.

(Photograph omitted)