Cricket: McCague strikes to show his mettle: Fast bowler's late change of gear helps England A to keep pace on tour's toughest assignment to date

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Orange Free State 344-9 v England A

IT MIGHT seem crazy if you are reading this huddled around a fire with ice on the windows, but if it were not for the cricket Martin McCague would prefer to be in chilly England than sunny South Africa.

Although he spent his adolescence in the furnace of north-west Australia, McCague is as keen on hot weather as a snowman and he is as likely to be seen sunbathing on days off as attending the ballet.

But running around in sweltering heat is part of the job for an international fast bowler and yesterday McCague slapped on the sun-cream, reached for the Gatorade and ran in as if was a May day in Canterbury.

Bowling in short, increasingly sharp spells, and despite painful blisters, he took 4 for 72 as England A's perseverance was rewarded on the opening day of their four-day match with Orange Free State.

With the wicket flat, the sky cloudless and temperatures in the 90s it was no surprise that Hugh Morris's fifth wrong call in six matches prompted his opposing captain, Franklyn Stephenson, to raise his arms with delight.

When the Castle Cup holders reached 249 for 3 in late afternoon, moreover, England were facing a repeat of their only defeat, in Natal, when they twice collapsed after conceding 458.

McCague, whose line and pace improved throughout the day, then returned to take two wickets in an over to precipitate a collapse of five wickets for 60 runs.

Stephenson, batting at nine and opening his innings with a first-ball six off Peter Such, looked like spoiling McCague's efforts with a staunch counter-attack as England, after more than seven hours in the field, tired. But again McCague struck back, having the Barbadian caught behind off a rising delivery in the last over of the day to give the tourists a slight edge.

McCague's first wicket had been more fortunate, though he deserved it for the agility of his return catch when Mickey Arther mis-hit his pull at a wayward delivery.

His middle two were excellent, both Louis Wilkinson and left- handed Kosie Venter being beaten by balls he brought back into them. With the senior party heading for the Caribbean there was also some timely hostility with Wilkinson and Gerhardus Liebenberg being hit by bouncers.

Liebenberg, who might have been caught at third slip early on if England had set more attacking fields, looked a player of high class. The 21-year-old looked sure to become the first centurion against England when he was leg-before to Paul Taulor's slower ball.

He had added 130 in 36 overs with Rudolf Steyn who also fell short of the hundred when he was smartly stumped by Steve Rhodes down the leg side off Adrian Dale.

(First day of four: Orange Free State won toss)

ORANGE FREE STATE - First Innings

J M Arthur c and b McCague. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

G F J Liebenberg lbw b Taylor. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82

P J R Steyn st Rhodes b Dale. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .80

L J Wilkinson b McCague. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

J F Venter lbw b McCague. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .27

C F Craven b Gough. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .28

P J L Radley b Gough. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

N Boje c McCague b Such. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

* F D Stephenson c Rhodes b McCague. . . . . . . . . . . . 46

B T Player not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10

H Bakkes not out. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Extras (lb5 w2 nb6). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

Total (for 9). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .344

Fall: 1-13 2-143 3-190 4-249 5-252 6-269 7-279 8-309 9-343.

Bowling: McCague 21-3-72-4; Gough 24-5-64-2; Taylor 23-2-81-1; Such 23-4-73-1; Dale 13-2-49-1.

ENGLAND A: M N Lathwell, * H Morris, J P Crawley, A P Wells, M B Loye, A Dale, S J Rhodes, D Gough, M J McCague, P M Such, J P Taylor.

Umpires: W Wilson and C Mitchley.

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