The party has increasingly seen the media as the villains of the piece as this first Test has gone down the drain. To prevent access to the players by the media, the management is busy forming wagons of their own in the tightest of circles. Selected victims are offered for Press conferences, but there are strictly no questions on the outside.
It got to the point that, after England's abominable bowling in South Africa's first innings, Bob Cottam, the normally approachable bowling coach whose views should most certainly have been heard, refused to talk to the BBC, or at least that was how it was put. The media relations officer who imparted this news had earlier been seen with his head almost touching that of David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, so eager was he to monitor every syllable he uttered "on air" to Jonathan Agnew. What a confession if he feels he cannot trust the chairman of selectors.
Certainly, England were unlucky to lose the toss on an unforgivably damp pitch. That is a ready-made excuse, although one can think of players of the past who would have gritted their teeth and fought it out more fiercely. Most of them would have had the advantage of being reared on uncovered pitches and would have had the necessary technique.
There is nothing that can excuse the seam bowling in South Africa's innings. Their batsmen were able to leave alone getting on for half the balls they faced. This, from seasoned and experienced bowlers who apparently like to think they are beyond criticism.
The protective attitude of those in charge only serves to strengthen this process of self-justification. If the authorities are serious in wanting better relations between the players and the outside world they must make these players more available and then maybe everyone will understand each other better.
How can a team which is in this mental muddle off the field hope to succeed on it? They came into the first Test match buoyant after two good victories. The spin of a single coin has shown how skin-deep all this was. England desperately need cricketers of character, not engineers of excuses, nor a management set up designed to protect them from the truth.
Now, what of Nasser Hussain, the captain, in all of this? To a large extent a captain is only as good as the sum total of his side. For all that, I felt he acquiesced all too easily. He watched all those deliveries being left alone as if it was part of one of nature's most inscrutable laws over which he had no control. I felt he could have tried to exert a much more positive influence in trying to talk to and advise, not to say instruct, his bowlers. He also should have made an effort to have been more imaginative with his field placings and to try and raise queries in the batsman's mind by doing so.
In spite of this unsettling background, those two experienced old pros, the brothers-in-law, Alec Stewart and Mark Butcher, toughed it out on the third afternoon with their fourth-wicket stand of 104. Their first objective was to steer the game into a fourth day, the second to achieve the 281 necessary to avoid an innings defeat.
Batting was never easy. The bounce was uneven and the pitch also allowed the seamers plenty of movement. At the start Shaun Pollock, with his first ball of the innings, completed the South African payback to Mike Atherton for perceived misdeeds, such as his 185 not out here at the Wanderers four years ago, and 98 at Trent Bridge last year. It was a brute of a ball which left him off the seam and completed his "pair".
Hussain's footwork was a nightmare, and he was bowled by Pollock through a French cricket stroke by one which kept low. When Donald beat Michael Vaughan for pace it looked as if it might be over by tea.
But the brothers-in-law were splendid and showed what guts and determination can do even if their techniques would not get away with it every day of the week. Butcher had a charmed life outside the off stump and Stewart's lack of footwork mixed furiously with some glorious, flowing strokes when everything was suddenly in the right position.
It was magnificent and heroic while it lasted, but as soon as Butcher played round Donald and was lbw - maybe unluckily - it was seen to be nothing more than a mirage.
Donald, fired up by Stewart's cheeky stroke play, was now unstoppable as England's batsmen were dispatched with simplicity. It was epic fast bowling from a master and only the details remain to be filled in.
South Africa won toss
England - First Innings
M A Butcher c Boucher b Donald 1
(Edged ball slanting across him; 13 min, 11 balls)
M A Atherton b Donald 0
(Beaten and bowled by beautiful in-swinger; 4 min, 2 balls)
*N Hussain c Klusener b Pollock 0
(Gloved sharply rising ball to gully; 4 min, 3 balls)
M P Vaughan c Boucher b Pollock 33
(Inside edge to seaming delivery; 119 min, 84 balls, 5 four)
A J Stewart lbw b Donald 0
(Hit on back foot by in-swinging yorker; 2 min, 1 ball)
C J Adams c Boucher b Donald 16
(Gloved rising leg-side delivery to keeper; 50 min, 31 balls, 3 fours)
A Flintoff c Boucher b Pollock 38
(Fenced at wide, lifting delivery; 71 min, 48 balls, 7 fours)
G M Hamilton c Pollock b Donald 0
(Leading edge trying to work ball through midwicket; 6 min, 6 balls)
A R Caddick c Boucher b Donald 4
(Inside edge off attempted drive; 19 min, 10 balls, 1 four)
D Gough not out 15
(45 min, 39 balls, 2 fours)
A D Mullally lbw b Pollock 10
(Shuffled across crease; 28 min, 15 balls, 1 six)
Extras (lb3,w2) 5
Total (185 min, 41.4 overs) 122
Fall: 1-1 (Atherton), 2-2 (Hussain), 3-2 (Butcher), 4-2 (Stewart), 5- 34 (Adams), 6-90 (Vaughan), 7-91 (Hamilton), 8-91 (Flintoff), 9-103 (Caddick), 10-122 (Mullally).
Bowling: Donald 15-3-53-6 (w2), Pollock 14.4-6-16-4, Cronje 5-2-15- 0, Klusener 6-1-30-0, Adams 1-0-5-0.
South Africa - First innings
G Kirsten lbw b Mullally 13
(Beaten by seaming ball; 66 min, 47 balls, 2 fours)
H H Gibbs b Mullally 85
(Bowled through gate by straight ball; 295 min, 222 balls, 11 fours)
J H Kallis c Stewart b Gough 12
(Gloved rising leg-side ball to keeper; 107 min, 83 balls, 1 four)
D J Cullinan b Caddick 108
(Played round full-length delivery; 257 min, 170 balls, 17 fours)
*W J Cronje b Gough 44
(Chopped attempted cut on to stumps; 160 min, 121 balls, 8 fours
J N Rhodes lbw b Mullally 26
(Played across full-length swinging delivery; 115 min, 81 balls, 1 fours)
L Klusener b Gough 72
(Missed attempted extravagant drive; 111 min, 85 balls, 11 fours)
S M Pollock c Butcher b Gough 2
(Squared up and edged seaming delivery; 38 min, 21 balls)
M V Boucher not out 4
(20 min, 9 balls)
A A Donald b Gough 0
(Beaten by full-length swinging delivery; 1 min, 1 ball)
Extras (b7, lb18, w2, nb10) 37
Total (for 9 dec; 138 overs) 403
Fall: 1-37 (Kirsten), 2-79 (Kallis), 3-175 (Gibbs), 4-284 (Cullinan), 5-299 (Cronje), 6-378 (Rhodes), 7-398 (Klusener), 8-403 (Pollock), 9-403 (Donald)
Did not bat: P R Adams
Bowling: Gough 30-8-70-5 (nb7) (5-1-14-0 5-1-9-0 7-4-8-1 4-0-12-0 5-1- 18-1 4-1-9-3), Caddick 34-12-81-1 (nb2) (9-4-19-0 6-3-5-0 4-2-15-0 7-2- 13-0 5-1-22-1 3-0-7-0), Mullally 34-7-80-3 (nb1, w1) (8-2-10-1 8-2-15- 0 5-2-8-1 2-0-11-0 4-0-17-0 7-1-19-1), Flintoff 14-5-45-0 (1-1-0-0 7-3- 17-0 1-0-2-0 5-1-26-0), Hamilton 15-1-63-0 (w1) (5-0-26-0 4-1-18-0 6-0- 19-0), Vaughan 11-1-39-0 (5-1-17-0 6-0-22-0).
Progress: Third day: 400 in 574 mins, 134.2 overs. Bad light and rain stopped play 11.01-12.09 at 403-9 (Boucher 4, Donald 0) 138 overs. Declaration came during the stoppage.
England - Second Innings
M A Butcher lbw b Donald 32
(Trapped on crease playing across straight ball;220 min, 138 balls, 4 fours )
M A Atherton c Boucher b Pollock 0
(Edged perfect lifting outswinger; 4 min, 1 ball)
N Hussain b Pollock 16
(Beaten on back foot by ball keeping low; 33 min, 27 balls, 2 fours, 1 six)
M P Vaughan lbw b Donald 5
(Played across straight ball which kept low; 44 min, 38 balls, 1 four)
A J Stewart c Rhodes b Donald 86
(Slashed wide ball straight to point; 160 min, 130 balls, 14 fours, 1 six)
C J Adams c Boucher b Donald 1
(Edged attempted drive to keeper; 6 min, 4 balls)
A Flintoff not out 26
(56 min, 43 balls, 5 fours)
G M Hamilton c Pollock b Donald 0
(Fended short-pitched bouncer to second slip; 6 min, 3 balls)
A R Caddick not out 4
(32 min, 19 balls, 1 four)
Extras (b4, lb9, w5)
Total (for 7, 67 overs) 188
Fall: 1-0 (Atherton), 2-31 (Hussain), 3-41 (Vaughan), 4-145 (Butcher), 5-147 (Adams), 6-166 (Stewart), 7-177 (Hamilton)
Bowling: Donald 19-7-52-5 (7-5-11-0 5-1-17-1 7-1-24-4), Pollock 20-9- 52-2 (w1) (9-5-22-2 5-3-9-0 6-1-21-0), Klusener 15-3-35-0 (7-0-19-0 7- 3-12-0 1-0-4-0), Adams 7-1-14-0 (6-0-14-0 1-1-0-0), Cronje 6-3-22-0 (one spell).
Progress: Third day: lunch 4-1 (Butcher 0, Hussain 0) 5 overs. 50 in 95 min, 21.5 overs. 100 in 160 min, 39 overs. Late tea: 107-3 (Butcher 27, Stewart 46) 42 overs. 150 in 235 mins, 56.3 overs. Bad light stopped play at 5.52pm.
Stewart 50: 93 min, 83 balls, 7 fours, 1 six.
Umpires: D L Orchard and S Venkataraghavan TV Replay Umpire: R E Koertzen