Cricket: Hussain looks forward after patient victory

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England 358-9 dec & 211-1 dec Combined XI 194 & 222 England win by 153 runs

ENGLAND CONTINUED their gradual improvement by completing a comprehensive victory over a Combined Free State/Griqualand West XI yesterday as their build-up to the opening Test stepped up a gear.

Their 153-run triumph at Goodyear Park was important for the morale of the party, while the impressive return of Darren Gough and the improved performance of the all-rounder Gavin Hamilton will have reassured the tour management.

Before the England players had even finished their traditional end-of- session football match, however, Nasser Hussain, the captain, had underlined the importance of continuing their progress as the stakes were raised.

They travel back to Johannesburg today knowing they face their stiffest task to date on Thursday against a Combined Northerns/Gauteng XI at Centurion Park made up of Test and South African A players before beginning the Test series on 25 November.

"All you can do at this stage is take on the sides you are playing against and play good cricket," Hussain said. "They've got combined sides this year, which we were warned would be stronger. We've seen the next one we're playing and that's very strong."

Yesterday's performance, dismissing the Combined XI for 222 after they resumed on 15 without loss, was a test of patience with two frustrating partnerships and a weather interruption threatening England's victory hopes.

The Combined XI slumped to 83 for 4 before lunch, Hamilton claiming two of the wickets with an enterprising spell of 6-1-12-2 to improve his prospects of making his Test debut at the Wanderers.

A stubborn 79-run partnership between Loots Bosman and Finley Brooker, interrupted for 45 minutes by lightning and rain, frustrated England for 24 overs and left them with only 33 overs to claim the final six wickets.

The combination of Gough and Phil Tufnell accounted for three of the next five wickets but the final pair - Garth Roe and Chrisjan Vorster - combined to ensure the tourists suffered a nervous final session before Michael Vaughan finally wrapped up the contest with 10.5 overs remaining.

Hussain revealed that England have almost formulated their line-up for the opening Test. "I'd say I know nine or 10 definite names for the Test, although the wicket comes into it a lot," he said.

Final day of four, Combined Free State/ Griqualand West won toss

ENGLAND XI - First Innings 358 for 9 dec (C J Adams 84, A Flintoff 65, G M Hamilton 64).

FREE STATE/GRIQUALAND WEST First Innings 194 (G F J Liebenberg 92; D Gough 4-60).

ENGLAND XI - Second Innings 211 for 1 dec (M A Butcher 87no, M A Atherton 81).

FREE STATE/GRIQUALAND WEST Second Innings

(Overnight: 15 for 0)

G F J Liebenberg c sub b Hamilton 12

*M I Gidley b Gough 11

F C Brooker b Vaughan 56

P H Barnard b Hamilton 16

M N van Wyk c Adams b Tufnell 21

L L Bosman lbw b Mullally 40

J J van der Wath c Hamilton b Tufnell 11

W Bossenger b Gough 9

H C Bakkes c Stewart b Tufnell 2

G A Roe not out 14

C J Vorster b Vaughan 18

Extras (lb7 nb5) 12

Total (77.1 overs) 222

Fall: 1-20 2-33 3-53 4-83 5-162 6-166 7-186 8-188 9-189.

Bowling: Gough 19-5-52-2; Hamilton 14-2-39-2; Tufnell 17-6-27-3; Vaughan 7.1-0-37-2; Mullally 20-7-60-1.

Umpires: D F Becker and R E Koertzen.

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