THE weather was blissful, the ground was packed, the VIP count broke all known records, and Lord's has never put on a more splendid bib and tucker. The perfect stage for an historic occasion. Bit of a shame about the cricket, really.
It was by no means the dullest day ever seen on Thomas Lord's pastures and it would be a touch unfair to suggest that when people say, in years to come, 'I was there', the obvious response would be: 'bad luck'.
However, for all the extravagance of the build-up, this was old-fashioned attritional Test cricket as South Africa chiselled out 244 for 6 against an England attack who stuck at it well on a typically sluggish Lord's pitch. Nelson Mandela might have been disappointed not to have made it, but he will cheer up a bit when he sees the highlights.
There was a history-making aspect to the cricket as well as the occasion when the South African captain, Kepler Wessels, became the first player in the game's history to make a Test century for two countries against England. This is perhaps not surprising given that most players have not had the opportunity, but it is a unique achievement none the less.
Much has changed since the South Africans were last here in 1965, not least the players' shirts. As the teams fulfilled their date with history by emerging from the Long Room to a standing ovation, it did not so much look like England versus South Africa, as Tetley Bitter versus Castle Lager.
The Springboks/Proteas won the toss, as they did on their last visit here 29 years ago, when the ceremony was conducted with an old threepenny bit, or some other pre-decimal coin. Choosing to bat first was not a difficult decision, even though the ball (as was not the case in 1965) now seams around here for the first hour or so.
This would have added to the nerves of the opening batsmen as they became the first South African pair since Eddie Barlow and Tiger Lance to negotiate the journey from the dressing-room, and they did well to avoid the fate of David Steele on his debut against Australia, when he found himself taking guard in the Gents.
After the first delivery of the match, Andrew Hudson should have been making an embarrassed journey back, but fortunately for him, the Tasmanian umpire Steve Randell may also have been rendered misty-eyed by the sense of the occasion. When Hudson played no stroke at a ball from Phillip DeFreitas that darted back from outside off stump, Randell's not-out adjudication was not shared by many.
Hudson and Gary Kirsten then scratched their way uncertainly to 18 against DeFreitas and Darren Gough when Hudson's hook off Gough spiralled towards one of the few men on the field old enough to remember the 1965 South Africans.
Whether or not Hudson had seen Graham Gooch at long leg, or had perhaps mistaken the elderly figure in white for one of the Mound Stand stewards, Gooch's team-mates were placing heavy bets on the ball when the old boy astounded everyone - himself
included, most probably - by plucking it from the air in mid- canter.
Not even when Gooch made 333 on this ground has he looked so deliriously happy, and the crowd cheered and applauded him for the next half hour. Gooch, in fact, had been deputed to field at long leg at both ends, and he probably thought of his former Essex team-mate, Keith Pont, who once, under similar circumstances,
borrowed a spectator's bicycle to get around between overs.
Gooch's erstwhile position, under the helmet at short leg, has now passed (as is traditional) to the new boy, and John Crawley's sharp reflex catch there, when Hansie Cronje thick edged Angus Fraser onto his pad, reduced South Africa to 35 for 2.
There was no better man for the crisis than Wessels, and while neither he nor his left-handed partner, Gary Kirsten, bore much
resemblance to Graeme Pollock, their 34-over partnership of 106 was threatening to wrest the initiative from England until Kirsten, driving at a ball from Graeme Hick which turned out of the rough, spooned a catch to cover.
South Africa were still well placed at 159 for 3 at tea, but Peter Kirsten thin edged a good one from Gough to the wicketkeeper, and two more wickets in the final few overs tilted the balance back England's way.
Whether Craig White would have been bowling had DeFreitas not been off the field with cramp is a moot point, as Mike Atherton once again seemed unaware of his existence, but when Wessels and Jonty Rhodes had put on 75, White speared one between bat and pad to rattle Rhodes' off stump. Soon after, Wessels got an edge chasing a near wide from Gough, quite an aberration for someone whose game (173 dot balls in 217 faced) oozes self- denial.
(First day: South Africa won toss)
SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings
A C Hudson c Gooch b Gough . . . . . . . .6
(42 min, 32 balls, 1 four)
G Kirsten c DeFreitas b Hick. . . . . . .72
(206 min, 145 balls, 12 fours)
W J Cronje c Crawley b Fraser. . . . . . .7
(25 min, 18 balls, 1 four)
* K C Wessels c Rhodes b Gough . . . . .105
(298 min, 217 balls, 15 fours)
P N Kirsten c Rhodes b Gough . . . . . . .8
(37 min, 39 balls, 1 four)
J N Rhodes b White. . . . . . . . . . . .32
(107 min, 79 balls, 3 fours)
B M McMillan not out . . . . . . . . . . .2
(20 min, 10 balls)
D J Richardson not out . . . . . . . . . .1
(5 min, 5 balls)
Extras (lb6 nb5). . . . . . . . . . . . .11
Total (for 6, 376 min, 90 overs). .244
Fall: 1-18 (Hudson), 2-35 (Cronje), 3-141 (G Kirsten), 4-164 (P N Kirsten), 5-239 (Rhodes), 6-241 (Wessels).
To bat: C R Matthews, P S de Villiers, A A Donald.
Bowling (to date): DeFreitas 13-4-36-0 (7-3-13-0, 5-1-19-0, 1-0-4-0); Gough 18-5-43-3 (nb2) (7-2-21- 1, 5-1-10-0, 4-1-11-1, 2-1-1-1); Salisbury 23-2-59-0 (5-0-13-0, 5-0-18-0, 13-2-28-0); Fraser 17-5-54-1 (nb3) (6-2-22-1, 5-0-15-0, 6-3-17-0); Hick 10-5-22-1 (1-0-2-0, 6-4-15-1, 1-1-0-0, 2-0-5-0); White 9-2-24-1 (4-2-6-0, 5-0-18-1).
Progress: 50: 93 min, 21.1 overs. Lunch: 76 for 2 (G Kirsten 39, Wessels 22) 28 overs. 100: 150 min, 34.2 overs. 150: 221 min, 52.2 overs. Tea: 159 for 3 (Wessels 61, P N Kirsten 8) 59 overs. 200: 299 min, 72.5 overs.
G Kirsten's 50: 143 min, 92 balls, 9 fours. Wessels' 50: 123 min, 95 balls, 8 fours. 100: 275 min, 204 balls, 15 fours.
ENGLAND: * M A Atherton, A J Stewart, G A Gooch, G A Hick, J P Crawley, C White, S J Rhodes, P A J DeFreitas, D Gough, I D K Salisbury, A R C Fraser.
Umpires: H D Bird, S G Randell, M J Kitchen (TV replays).
County cricket reports and scoreboard, page 38
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