Cricket: Forgiven South Africa arrive through front door: A tenacious young team settle down in England with an evangelical zeal to spread word of their progress. Glenn Moore reports

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HAD the South African team, who arrived almost unnoticed this weekend, come here four years ago they would now be under seige at their hotel with the media and protestors harrying their every move.

Instead, with the country preoccupied by Irish footballers, Kiwi cricketers and missing French tennis players, it is the press who are more likely to be harrassed by them as they spread the word about the new South Africa.

Fritz Bing, the tour party's manager, said on arrival that his team come to 'the Mother Country not as rebels, beggars or enemies but as confident, happy children. We are no longer naughty children creeping in through the back door sheepishly; now we come proudly through the front door.'

It is a pride that England must beware. South Africa are a good side made better by the bonds forged during their country's traumas and we will hear much of their deeds in the coming months. For now, though, it is apposite to reflect on the changes since 1990 before they are taken for granted and forgotten.

In cricketing terms, South Africa then was, for anyone under 35, a country that existed only in the pages of Wisden. Sure, there were talented individuals (several of whom were playing for England) and the Republic was constantly in the news for its rebel tours but as a national entity they had been consigned to history and looked like remaining there.

Then, in February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released. Cricket, which had moved from slow, possibly token efforts at multi-racial sport to become the cutting edge of integration, was quick to catch the mood. Mike Gatting's tour was cut short and its second year cancelled. The African National Congress brokered the unification of black and white administrations and the following July, South Africa was re-admitted to the International Cricket Council.

Their return was made concrete in November 1991 when, in front of around 100,000 spectators, South Africa played India in Calcutta. Since then they have progressed as quickly as international cricketers as their country has politically. The comparison is neither odious nor irrelevant. Cricket has become one of the embryonic democracy's most unifying forces.

Eighteen months ago, when India were touring South Africa, the majority of South Africa's million-strong Indian population supported the home side. Last year, when the South African cricket board were looking for a figure to promote the game in the black townships both Brian Lara and Waqar Younis (West Indies and Pakistan had been touring) were proposed. Preliminary research rejected both, the overwhelming hero of young black cricketers, as he is of young white cricketers, is Jonty Rhodes.

Even though there are no black cricketers in the national side, nor likely to be for some years, there is a general acceptance that this is solely because no one is yet good enough. They will be, but in the meantime the South African side, unlike in the days of Mike Procter, Barry Richards and the Pollocks, when non-whites would support the opposing side, is backed by all the nation's communities.

They may have much to cheer this summer. Since narrowly losing their first Test after isolation in Barbados, South Africa have lost only twice more, both during the winter as they drew one-each home and away to Australia. India, at home, and Sri Lanka, away, have both been beaten.

They are a formidable side, tenacious, full of spirit and imbued with an almost evangelical zeal and self-belief - indeed several players are born-again Christians. Their cricket is based on giving little away, especially with the ball. Allan Donald spearheads a strong seam attack backed by superlative fielding.

The batting can be brittle but there is both experience and promise with Hansie Cronje and Andrew Hudson on the verge of becoming batsmen of the highest order.

The main weakness is in playing and purveying spin, yet their most impressive victory came on a turner in Sydney. Behind 123 on the first innings they dismissed Australia for 111 to win by five runs. Wessels, who promoted himself up the order despite suffering a fractured finger and ruptured knee ligaments, set the tone.

They are tough and talented yet not unbeatable, but only England's best, in selection and performance, will suffice.

June: 23 v Earl of Carnarvon's XI (Highclere); 25-27 v Kent (Canterbury); 29-1 July v Sussex (Hove). July: 2-4 v Hampshire (Southampton); 6-8 v *Gloucestershire (Bristol) or Derbyshire (Derby); 10 v Scotland (TBA); 12-14 v Durham (TBA); 16-18 v Northamptonshire (Northampton); 21-25: FIRST CORNHILL TEST (Lord's); 27-29 v *Nottinghamshire (Trent Bridge), Lancashire (Old Trafford) or Worcestershire (Worcester); 30-1 August: v Leicestershire (Leicester); August: 4-8 SECOND CORNHILL TEST (Headingley); 10-12 v Minor Counties XI (TBA); 13-15 v Glamorgan (TBA); 18-22: THIRD CORNHILL TEST (The Oval); 25 FIRST TEXACO TROPHY INTERNATIONAL (Edgbaston); 27: SECOND TEXACO TROPHY INTERNATIONAL (Old Trafford).

*Matches depend on outcome of NatWest Trophy matches.

GLENN MOORE'S SKETCHES OF SOUTH AFRICAN TOUR PARTY

KEPLER WESSELS Captain, Eastern Province, age 36, left-handed batsman, 37 Tests (24 for Australia).

Intense, brave and determined cricketer. Regularly and fiercely criticised by public and pundits at home but remains indispensable to a side moulded in his own image. Captaincy has a tendency to be negative. Has played for six domestic sides, including Sussex and Queensland, and two countries. Former boxer, now moving into promotion of the sport.

HANSIE CRONJE Vice-captain, Orange Free State, 24, right-hand bat, right-arm medium pace bowler, 13 Tests.

Heir to the captaincy, showed remarkable coolness when leading side in Wessels' absence in Sydney. Also rapidly supplanting his mentor as the key batsman, despite being youngest member of regular XI. Useful and accurate medium-pacer.

DARYLL CULLINAN Border, 27, right-hand bat, 7 Tests.

Cultured batsman who took a decade to fulfil promise of his teenage years only to be tortured by Shane Warne in Australian series. Made domestic South African record of 337 last winter.

FANIE DE VILLIERS Northern Transvaal, 29, right-arm medium-fast bowler, 6 Tests.

Overcame serious injury and temporary blindness to emerge as the hero of South Africa's recent Sydney Test win. Unrecognisable from the player who failed to make an impact with Kent a few years ago.

ALLAN DONALD OFS, 27, right-arm fast bowler, 14 Tests.

Brian Lara's impact for Warwickshire has provided an extra incentive for South Africa's quickest bowler to underline his worth. Capable of great pace even on unhelpful wickets and he has so far survived a daunting workload without missing a Test.

ANDREW HUDSON Natal, 28, right-hand bat, 14 Tests.

Another ever-present and a solid, often attractive opening batsmen. Having been dismissed for a first-ball duck on South Africa's international return in India, he recovered to make 163 against the West Indies in his maiden Test innings. Averages 44 in Tests.

GARY KIRSTEN Western Province, 26, left-hand bat, off-break bowler, 9 Tests.

Younger half-brother of Peter. Has not missed a Test since being called into the side on their tour to Australia as a replacement. An unconventional but effective left-hander who can bat anywhere in the top four but who will probably open with Hudson.

PETER KIRSTEN Border, 39, right-hand bat, off-break bowler, 9 Tests.

Also sent to Australia as a replacement, sheer weight of runs forcing a recall having struggled in series with India. Experienced, gritty batsmen very familiar to Derbyshire supporters.

GERHARDUS LIEBENBERG OFS, 22, right-hand bat, wicketkeeper, 0 Tests.

One for the future who will start tour as a reserve opener. Though not a specialist he will also provide wicketkeeping cover. Well-organised, he made 200 runs in four innings against England A during the winter.

AUBREY MARTYN Western Province, 22 on Thursday, left-arm fast-medium bowler, 0 Tests.

Sharp left-arm bowler, who impressed in two outings against England A. Possesses a dangerous slower ball. Yet to play international cricket. Keen Manchester United fan.

CRAIG MATTHEWS Western Province, 29, right-arm fast-medium bowler, 8 Tests.

Steady and intelligent bowler on the brisk side of medium. Provincial captain. Probable Yorkshire recruit for 1995 season.

BRIAN McMILLAN Western Province, 30, right-hand bat, right-arm fast-medium bowler, 10 Tests.

A bear of a man and a genuine all-rounder. Sharp, aggressive bowler, surprisingly stodgy but very solid batsman and a quite brilliant second slip. A key player.

JONTY RHODES Natal, 24, right-hand bat, 13 Tests.

In a non-World Cup summer and a five-Test tour his fielding would make as big an impact as Shane Warne's leg-spin did last year. Still destined to be the team's dominant personality by dint of an exuberant brilliance that has made every South African schoolboy a budding cover point. Unorthodox technique disguises highly competent batting record, averaging 40 in Tests.

DAVE RICHARDSON Eastern Province, 34, right-hand bat, wicket-keeper, 14 Tests.

Unspectacular wicketkeeper and handy late-order bat. Only player to have appeared in all 14 Tests and 50 internationals since isolation ended.

TIM SHAW Eastern Province, 34, slow left-arm bowler, 0 Tests.

Played first match back after isolation in Calcutta, but then disappeared. Returned for two one-dayers against Australia. Has much to prove.

PAT SYMCOX Natal, 34, off-break bowler, 5 Tests.

Fiercely determined competitor with an attacking attitude who was a surprise hit with the Sydney Hill. Useful late-order bat but, like Shaw, here because of a lack of alternatives.

Manager: Fritz Bing. Coach: Mike Procter.

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