Cricket: Hussain masks superiority of South Africans

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ENGLAND GOT away with it, but only just. This means that, in theory at any rate, the side will go to Durban for the Christmas Test match only one down and the series still open. In reality though, this second Test only confirms South Africa's overall superiority.

Although England made them fight harder than they had done in Johannesburg, South Africa were still the better side in all departments. Lance Klusener and Nantie Hayward were the two outstanding players, and how lucky South Africa are to have young cricketers of this calibre.

The hero on the last day was England's captain, Nasser Hussain, who made 152 runs in the match and was out only once. In the first innings after an early wicket, he set about the South African bowling, leaving Mike Atherton to dig in at the other end.

It was an excellent tactic and prevented Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock from taking the sort of grip on proceedings they had done in Johannesburg. In the second innings, after two wickets had gone down for only five, Hussain realised that although survival was his main objective, it was important not to let the bowlers have it all their own way.

Early on, he played a magnificent hook off Hayward which went over square leg for six and whenever the ball was pitched up he drove handsomely. His defence was also impeccable as he coped easily with the bounce the fast bowlers were able to find. And also with the variable heights at which the ball was increasingly coming through.

It has been interesting and impressive to see how Hussain has quietly taken charge on his first tour as captain. He did not have a good start with the bat and after making 0 and 16 in the first Test, he was badly in need of runs. No one was more aware of this than Hussain himself and his response was to score a hundred in the next first-class match, in Durban. Now, at St George's Park, he batted about as well as he has done for England.

His determination to play a spinner in Phil Tufnell paid off splendidly while, on this last day, Hansie Cronje must have bitterly regretted the decision to leave out Paul Adams, his only spinner. Hussain said after the match how important it always was to have a spinning option, which suggested he may not have been too happy going into the first Test without Tufnell.

He has become more decisive and perceptive in the field which indicates that he has done his preparations thoroughly and that he is gaining the confidence to allow himself to show greater imagination. When one comes into the ground it does not take long to see who is running the England side in the field.

Of course, it is early days and Duncan Fletcher, the new manager-coach, is still feeling his way. The signs are that his common-sense approach to the job is beginning to have more of an effect than the much more frenetic style of David Lloyd, his immediate predecessor. One only wishes that all those on the periphery of the England dressing room understood what was required of them as well as Fletcher and Hussain do.