Cricket: Hussain's punchless Boxing Day

THIRD TEST England captain's cautious approach allied to South Africa's safety-first bowling sets up a dirge in Durban; at Kingsmead, Durban England 135-2 v South Africa
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The Independent Online
IT TAKES two to tango, three for a menage, but only a single captain to spoil Boxing Day. Unfortunately, there was one on each side, a complement that turned potential excitement into dreary stalemate, after England ended the opening day on 135 for 2.

Given Hansie Cronje's propensity for setting defensive fields and encouraging his bowlers to direct the ball wide of off-stump, it was never easy to tell who was the more culpable. On balance, and considering it is England who are 1-0 down in the series, it was probably Nasser Hussain, whose unbeaten innings of 51 has so far taken the best part of five hours.

At one point after tea, he sought fluid and hand treatment from the physiotherapist Dean Conway, though whether this was for cramp or Repetitive Strain Injury, from the excessive amount of forward defensive shots he had played, no- one was sure. What is certain is that he did not test the laws of inertia entirely on his own, and only Mark Butcher, who made 48 from 160 balls, could be said to have occasionally risen above the pedestrian.

On a day where attrition seemed to be on the menu right from the start, England lost just Butcher and Michael Atherton, though with the Surrey left-hander dropped on nought off his second ball, and three other catches spilled, it could have been much worse.

Such means may eventually justify the ends, but if you are only two wickets down after 85.1 overs, and Allan Donald has only bowled seven of them on account of a dicky tummy, you expect to be in control of the match. As it is, a clatter of wickets this morning and England could yet find themselves in real trouble.

There were reasons for the crawl, such as a turgid pitch and the highly disciplined and defensive nature of the South African bowling, but England can only be satisfied, and ultimately justified, by their lack of progress, if they have reached 400 by close of play today. At their present rate, that particular milestone looks as if it will take them at least a day longer.

After all the rain and doubt surrounding this match at Kingsmead, a day in the sun was an unexpected bonus - or at least it was until England opted to bat first. Surprisingly, for those used to rapid progress of recent England Test matches, this was not even in the top five slowest days, a record headed by Australia and Pakistan in 1956.

That match, played in Karachi, probably took place on matting and accounts not only for the slowest day, 95 runs for 12 wickets in five and a half hours play, but another two of the top five.

With Durban sweltering in the sun (90 degrees with about the same percentage humidity), it looked a good toss to win for England. Unfortunately their obsession for occupation quickly turned to sedation for the 15,500 spectators - the best opening day crowd here since their readmission to the international stage in 1991 - looking to overcome the excesses and lassitude brought on by Christmas day.

If what England had could be bottled, there would be no need for Mogadon and, by the time bad light intervened at 4.30pm, those that had not felt compelled to boo had probably nodded off.

Even students of the game, as opposed to those merely along for a laugh, would have balked at the slowness of it all. If there was a consolation, it was that Atherton was out early on and Michael Vaughan, having failed to recover from his bruised finger, did not play. If a strokemaker like Hussain cannot get the rate above 1.6 runs per over, what hope for the real blockers?

Atherton was out in the ninth over of the day, to the fifth ball of Nantie Hayward's first over. A strong bowler, Hayward possesses a skiddy pace and the ball often gets to the batsmen before everything is where it should be. On this occasion Atherton had not managed to close the gap between body and bat and the inside edge from a short ball cannoned off his thigh on to the stumps.

It was a carbon copy of his dismissal in the previous Test in Port Elizabeth to the same bowler. On that occasion he had 107 more runs to his name and fatigue had perhaps set in.

With Atherton gone, Hussain decided to play the anchor and the dashing sword, with which he counter-attacked so brilliantly in the first innings at Port Elizabeth, was sheathed here.

Against Paul Adams he offered little except the odd sweep, a caution his coach Duncan Fletcher put down to Adams' exceptional bowling and Hussain's relative lack of experience at facing such an unusual action.

His captain's strokelessness made Butcher, himself circumspect after being dropped by Adams off Allan Donald's second ball of the match, look hyperactive by comparison.

With scores of 1, 32, 4 and 1, in the series so far, Butcher needed a score and, riding his luck - he also sliced a cut shot off Lance Klusener between second and third slip - he almost got one. Like Hussain, he allowed himself to get bogged down against Adams and it was batsman error rather than bowler nous that saw him cut a long-hop to Klusener at backward point, two runs short of his half-century.

That brought in Maddy, who owed his place to the injured Vaughan. A nervous starter, Maddy should have been out three times before he reached seven. The two best chances came off Adams, who finished with 1 for 26 from 22 overs.

If Daryll Cullinan at slip and Mark Boucher, the keeper, could catch, Adams' selection, in place of the local hero Jonty Rhodes, might have been justified. So far, he and the selectors may have to wait awhile longer for the local ire, inflamed by England's go-slow, to subside.

More cricket, page 11

SCOREBOARD

First day; England won toss

ENGLAND - First innings

M A Butcher c Klusener b Adams 48

195 min, 160 balls, 4 fours

M A Atherton b Hayward 1

35 min, 20 balls

*N Hussain not out 51

297 min, 218 balls, 5 fours

D L Maddy not out 24

137 min, 113 balls, 3 fours

Extras (lb9,w2) 11

Total (for 2, 333min, 85.1 overs) 135

Fall: 1-7 (Atherton), 2-82 (Butcher).

To bat: A J Stewart, C J Adams, A Flintoff, A R Caddick, D Gough, C E W Silverwood, P C R Tufnell.

Bowling: Donald 7-3-7-0 (4-1-4-0, 3-2-3-0); Pollock 18.1-8-24-0 (6-3- 8-0, 6-1-14-0, 4-3-1-0, 2.1-1-1-0); Hayward 13-3-34-1 (w2) (5-1-14-1, 5-2-11-0, 3-0-9-0); Kallis 11-6-12-0 (3-2-4-0, 3-2-1-0, 5-2-7-0); Klusener 14-4-23-0 (4-2-5-0, 5-1-6-0, 5-1-12-0); Adams 22-10-26-1 (2-1-1-0, 20- 9-25-1).

Progress: Lunch: 44 for 1 (Butcher 24, Hussain 15) 30 overs. 50: 125 min, 30.4 overs. Tea: 98 for 2 (Hussain 36, Maddy 7) 63 overs. 100: 256 min, 67 overs. Bad light stopped play at 4.31pm.

Hussain: 50: 282 min, 213 balls, 5 fours.

SOUTH AFRICA: G Kirsten, H H Gibbs, J H Kallis, D J Cullinan, *W J Cronje, L Klusener, S M Pollock, M V Boucher, A A Donald, M Hayward, P R Adams.

Umpires: D B Cowie (NZ) and D L Orchard (SA).

TV replay umpire: W A Diedricks.

Match referee: B N Jarman.

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