Cricket: First Cornhill Test: England left breathless by De Villiers: South Africa's artful bowler joins forces with Donald's pace to knock the wind out of Atherton's new batting order

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South Africa 357; England 141-7

LORD'S by itself usually produces the same chemical reaction on England as salt on a slug, so when the Met Office tossed in an official smog yesterday (albeit without the special aroma which undermined Lord Ted's troops in Calcutta two winters ago) a day of coughing and spluttering was more or less guaranteed.

First, the South African tail made England's attack labour for a good deal longer in the heat than they would either have anticipated or welcomed. Then, on a pitch which remains largely bland, England's batsmen produced the kind of resistance which, on the scale of historical skirmishes between these two nations, lay some way below Mafeking.

England resume this morning on 141 for 7 in reply to South Africa's 357, and so inept did they look that you would not bet a huge amount on them making another 17 to avoid the follow-on. This South African attack might not offer too much in the way of variety, but their nagging, dripping tap routine was more than enough for the palsied opposition they encountered yesterday.

The opening day, perhaps not surprisingly, gushed with so many welcome-back embraces that it was a wonder the bacon and hamburger stalls had not been replaced with fatted calves on revolving spits, but whatever emotional shackles might have inhibited South Africa on Thursday had clearly been discarded overnight.

Resuming on 244 for 6, South Africa spanked a further 113 runs in only 29 overs, aided and abetted by England bowling which was so metronomic in its landing area that the appropriate field setting would have been a couple of men on the cover-point boundary, and at least three third men.

Craig Matthews carved his way to a Test-best 41 from only 36 deliveries, most of which were short and wide, and the only thing slower than England's inability to cotton on to bowling straight (Angus Fraser excepted) was their over rate. They could neither bowl properly, nor manage anything better than an average of 13 overs per hour.

All this meant that it was not until 20 minutes after lunch when Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart became the first England opening pair since Geoffrey Boycott and Bob Barber to emerge from the Long Room against South Africa, and when Allan Donald disappeared for 13 in his opening over, the tourists' highest total against England at Lord's began to shrink in the wash. It was, though, as perky as England were to feel all day.

Stewart bottom edged into his stumps in Donald's second over (replacing D J Brown c Barlow b Pollock R G as the last South African Test wicket at Lord's) and John Crawley emerged to start a Test career that has been scarcely less trumpeted than Graeme Hick's at the time of his own debut in 1991.

Crawley struck two pleasant boundaries off his legs, his trademark shot, but by then applying one of Hick's, the tentative jab outside off stump, he was picked up at third slip off Fanie de Villiers. He might be the wrong side of 30, but De Villiers is an artful bowler - very much in the Terry Alderman mould - who wobbles it around both ways, and bowls straight.

De Villiers should then have had Hick's wicket for a third ball duck, when Hick offered no shot to a ball that nipped back from just outside off stump and would probably have struck the same piece of timber. However, the Tasmanian umpire Steve Randell, who is a neutral ICC appointee and most certainly not an Australian fifth columnist dropped behind enemy lines to ensure Hick's selection this winter, kept his finger firmly holstered.

This was just the slice of luck Hick needed, and for a while he looked like making the most of it. Raymond Illingworth's pep talk to him before the game included imagining he was at New Road, and Hick began to play so beautifully, we wondered whether Illingworth's powers extended to having Worcester Cathedral moved to St John's Wood Road.

Perhaps it was also being surrounded by familiar accents, or a whiff of biltong from the visiting dressing-room, but just when Hick was into his stride, the England version - full of shuffling introspection - suddenly reappeared. It took a good one from De Villiers to get Hick, caught behind off a thin edge, but by then he had been fretting for half an hour without a run. In the end, it was a typical Hick score. Neither one thing nor the other.

By this time, Atherton had edged Donald low to first slip, Graham Gooch had fallen - five short of overtaking Viv Richards in the list of Test run makers - leg before to De Villiers, and Craig White had embarked upon an innings which suggested that his method of combating the London smog was to keep his eyes firmly shut.

England lost their sixth wicket at 136 when Brian McMillan dipped one through the gate to uproot Stephen Rhodes' off stump, and in the final over Donald had White caught behind. It was a toss up as to which was the most ghastly. White's shot, White's innings, or England's day.

Sandra Barwick, page 11

County cricket, page 19

(Photograph omitted)