Cricket: Kallis sets the tone for summer

Worcestershire v South Africans
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The Independent Online
ON A sun-kissed day in the shadow of the cathedral, the summer's tourists went languidly through their paces in the opening match of their English sojourn.

It was charming stuff. Each side gave the other a chance, they played it hard but not too hard; they were using the match for practice, but they entertained.

Here, almost to perfection, was the picture of the game as it has been painted down the long years to new students. Unfortunately, New Road was half-full, as it were, of empty seats. The FA Cup final was given as the reason. Maybe, maybe not, but here was the third best or perhaps the second best side in the world containing its greatest fast bowler in Allan Donald. It should be a privilege to see them, whatever the delights of Arsenal and Newcastle.

True, neither the team nor the bowler in question quite lifted the quality of their game to its fullest height. That was not the object of the exercise.

South Africa batted on in the morning and left Worcester 279 to win in 62 overs. This is the sort of target that, in one-day cricket with fielding restrictions and Duckworth-Lewis tables both applying, would be greeted with expectation rather than hope. As it was, it was still tantalising. The new sponsors, Vodafone, have put up an pounds 11,000 match prize for counties beating the tourists this season. Even in these days of increasing wages for cricketers it encourages runs chases - and Worcester chased.

To reach this stage there had been a deal of handsome cricket in the morning. Jacques Kallis duly completed his second half- century of the match; it will not be his last of the summer. He learned much at Middlesex last season under the tutelage of Mike Gatting. Having previously played league cricket in the Midlands, a season in the County Championship in the same side as one so experienced probably completed his education on English pitches. Since he was and is an England selector, one hopes that Gatting did not perform this function with too much attention to detail. We will know by August.

Kallis had made 74 from 160 balls before he pushed at Stuart Lampitt and was caught low by Graeme Hick at slip. A regulation edge, a regulation catch for a sound close fielder who had already snaffled Jonty Rhodes by diving to his left to give Phil Newport his third wicket of the innings.

What a splendid spell Newport bowled. Any talk of custom and tradition here would have had to embrace him. He is a top-grade English seamer, perhaps at his best during the early months but always irritatingly accurate and able to make the ball go both ways. Daryll Cullinan discovered the latter point to his cost when he was done by the in- swinger, while Rhodes got the one going the other way.

Newport was a real handful. Perhaps just short of the pace to be truly of the highest class, he is still of the type who prompts the comment, each time he comes on, that all English counties used to have someone like him. It is hackneyed, but true.

Newport finished with 3 for 30 off 16 overs and the South Africans knew they had been in a game. After he departed the attack the tourists finished their innings with a flourish. Lance Klusener came with the reputation of a left-hander who gave the ball a mighty whack and cemented it - but perhaps Mark Boucher's innings was of more long-term significance. Busy rather than elegant, he announced himself with a pull for four in front of square leg. It was an audacious shot, and no doubt the forerunner of many to come over the next decade or so.

Boucher has taken over as wicketkeeper from the long-serving Dave Richardson in the South African side and, considering he is only 21, all manner of records could fall to him.

Come the declaration shortly after lunch, Worcester's opening pair all but dismantled Donald. This thrilled the spectators but should not be taken as an augury. The great bowler, if not quite going through the motions, was in the process of ensuring all his working parts were in order and, if he has not achieved that objective by the one-day internationals this week, he will surely have done so when the Test matches begin. Still, it remains a sterling sight to witness the world's finest being despatched to all parts by young Englishmen.

Phil Weston and Vikram Solanki, a player now probably becoming anxious about fulfilling his potential, played an array of strokes which consistently beat the field. Solanki was lbw, barely getting forward to Hansie Cronje after the new ball had been seen off. That appeared to be the end of the fireworks despite the entry of Hick.

Thus, a draw, albeit a pleasant one, loomed and the sponsors' cash was safe. It had been 38 years since the South Africans had been here amid trees, beneath the cathedral. If it is to be another 38, how many will there be to see it in 2036?