THE EFFICIENT South African machine rolled over a weakened Kent yesterday, and looked in ominous shape for the imminent one-day internationals.
Kent greeted them with something of a second XI. England squaddies Matthew Fleming and Mark Ealham were absent, of course, while the skipper Steve Marsh and the quick bowler Ben Phillips nursed a brace of groin strains. The coach, John Wright, chose to deplete his stock further by giving a day off to Carl Hooper, Dean Headley and Alan Wells.
Put into bat by the acting captain, Trevor Ward, the visitors took advantage of a friendly wicket and a hot, still day. After Gary Kirsten's early dismissal Gerhardus Liebenberg and Jacques Kallis set about establishing a stand of substance, mixing scampers with a succession of battering boundaries.
They added 115 and fell almost together, handing the baton to Daryll Cullinan and Hansie Cronje. While Cullinan collected the singles, his skipper danced around, wielding the big blade. It is unusual for a big one-day score not to be pinned on one epic innings. In this case there were four enterprising contributions.
Had it not been for the accuracy and pace of Alan Igglesden, South Africa could have batted themselves out of sight. The Kent bowler's three Tests are distant memories, and he is no stranger to the physiotherapist - a self-mocking caricature on the front of his testimonial brochure has him running in to bowl swathed in bandages. But when he is fit and firing, the virtues of line, length, height and speed make him a valuable asset. His four wickets cost just 40 runs, while his seam partner, Julian Thompson, and ex-England spinner Min Patel were butchered.
The Kent reply began in undaunted fashion, thanks to the 19-year-old Robert Key. This tall right-hander has had a disappointing Under-19 tour to South Africa, but only recently made his Championship debut, and this was his first one-day match for Kent of any significance.
He showed little respect to the South African pace trio of Shaun Pollock, Lance Klusener and Allan Donald, and danced down the pitch to the first ball from the veteran spinner Pat Symcox. Alas, a dreadful yahoo of a shot was his undoing after a 50 that included nine boundaries, but Key is a man with a future, and the only Kent batsman to interrupt South Africa's victory stroll.
The South African fast bowler Roger Telemachus, who dislocated his right shoulder in a freak accident in practice last week, is to return home for an operation. He will be replaced on tour by Steve Elworthy.