Cricket: Hussain breaks the hundred famine

KwaZulu-Natal 310 England 401-8 England captain scores his team's first individual century since Alec Stewart's effort almost a year ago
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IT REQUIRED the patience of Job, and at times the determination of Alf Tupper, for Nasser Hussain to finally crack the three-figure bogey that has afflicted England batsmen in 1999. His 103 against a weakened and inexperienced KwaZulu-Natal side took five-and-a-half hours and did not make for pretty viewing. But on a day that was only belatedly illuminated by some hefty blows from Andy Flintoff and Alex Tudor it was the feature that stood out.

The milestone provided Hussain with his 41st first-class century and, after recent suggestions in the South African press that the Queen Mother (presently 99 not out) would get to a hundred before an England batsmen did, he looked determined to get there even if it took a week. Of course it could have done in 1939, when the so-called timeless Test here was called off as a draw following 12 days of stalemate on a perfect pitch.

"It's poor that no one has scored a century since Alec Stewart's ton in the Boxing Day Test at Melbourne last winter," said Hussain afterwards. "It was something I was thinking about today. We are all good enough players and there has been a lot of first-class cricket in that time. We have to score more hundreds both individually and as a team. That is how you build big scores, not from making 30s and 40s."

There is a case, in these practice matches, for batsmen to occupy the crease, but England took that to extremes. With Ross Veenstra, Gary Gilder and the 19-year old off-spinner Kevin Pietersen the only bowlers worthy of non-declaration status, there was little excuse for the go-slow that England employed until the last session.

After Saturday's debacle, where the home side put on 69 for the last wicket, England, who scored just 11 runs in the first hour's play, should have been looking to play with style and dash, not pad and splice.

This drab approach, increasingly common after England's shambolic summer, is doubtless the reason behind feverish speculation that Ian Botham was to be made a fourth selector.

According to Lord MacLaurin, who downplayed the claims made in a Sunday tabloid as "pure speculation", Botham's was but one of the names to be discussed by the England Management Board (EMAC) when it meets on Wednesday. If his name is put forward the position would not be ratified until a meeting of the First-Class Forum on 16 February.

Botham's potential appointment, while highly seductive to a public starved of success, is simply not feasible. His job as a commentator for BSkyB is simply not commensurate with selecting the national side.

Botham, who is already an observer for the selectors, will point out that Allan Border combines both, an argument that, while pertinent, ignores the wider fact that Border is less compromised with Australia's standing as the best side in the world.

Just imagine the players when they hear the man who picked them putting the boot in on telly; or, if the opposite tack was taken, his director at Sky, after failing to apply the critical brush over the kind of limp performance still in evidence yesterday among certain members of England's top six.

With just four days to go before the second Test in Port Elizabeth, Chris Adams again failed to convince that he is a Test-class player. Coming to the crease after Michael Vaughan, the maker of a glacially slow 46, had edged his cut off the 19-year old Pietersen, Adams was bowled through the gate second ball.

To be beaten groping forward to an off-spinner in such a manner is a black mark against both technique and temperament. It was a sucker's dismissal and, while there appears to be ample testosterone to Adams' game, as evidenced by his rustic counter-attack in the first Test, there is little sign of much nous.

He will probably play in the next Test, but that did not stop Darren Maddy from pressing his own case. Batting in the middle-order, the Leicestershire opener began brightly by punching his second scoring shot, off Pietersen, over long-on for six.

While Hussain was there Maddy flourished but once his captain had gone, bowled after aiming to cover drive off Pietersen, he kick-started a litany of crass dismissals when he dabbed a long-hop from Veenstra straight to gully.

Not long after that Chris Read scooped a full toss off Ahmed Amla to mid-wicket. This was by far the most common ball from the two Indian spinners Amla and Gulam Bodi, and one Andy Caddick could not master when Amla produced another an over later. Players rarely practice playing full tosses but when delivered by second-class post, as these surely were, they should be treated with disdain, not as hand grenades.

When the dross persisted this is exactly what Flintoff and Tudor did, adding 85 runs in 82 minutes, before bad light ended play early with England still batting and in need of something special if they are to produce victory in this game later today.

Third day of four; KwaZulu-Natal won toss

KWAZULU-NATAL - First Innings 310 (J C Kent 103, K P Pieterson 61no; A R Caddick 4-64).

ENGLAND - First Innings

(Overnight: 163 for 2)

*N Hussain b Pieterson 103

M P Vaughan c Brown b Pieterson 46

C J Adams b Pieterson 0

D L Maddy c A M Amla b Veenstra 38

A Flintoff not out 74

C M W Read c Watson b A Amla 14

A R Caddick c and b A Amla 0

A J Tudor not out 40

Extras (b2 lb3 nb2) 7

Total (for 8, 159.1 overs) 401

Fall (cont): 3-201 4-201 5-262 6-282 7-313 8-316.

To bat: P C R Tufnell.

Bowling (to date): Veenstra 27-9-38-1; Gilder 20-4-48-1; Pieterson 55.5- 14-141-4; Kent 19-5-51-0; Bodi 17.1-4-46-0; A M Amla 16.1-1-50-2; Benkenstein 4-0-22-0.

Umpires: D L Orchard and W Diedricks.