Cricket: Simple case of fine-tuning for tourists

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The Independent Online
South Africa 416-8 dec Gloucestershire 265-6

THERE were places to be played for in the tourists' match at Bristol yesterday in a side short of high-quality batsman who are struggling to find their best form and endeavouring to ensure their season has some future. So much for Gloucestershire. The South Africans meanwhile continued their preparations for the First Test, which starts on Thursday, with the calm assurance of players who are stable and secure in their duties.

They have had a blazing start to their summer in England, exuding a breathtaking confidence, an impressive will to win and a mutual trust in the importance of teamwork. Their selectors are not quite certain of their 11 for Edgbaston but this is more connected with the nature of thepitch than any debate over the quality of personnel.

They must decide whether to play a spinner, probably Paul Adams, or to rely on an attack consisting solely of seam and swing. As much of the latter would be of seriously top class, it might not be so much a gamble as a shrewd investment. Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, who are not playing against Gloucestershire, will open the bowling and their support will come from Jacques Kallis, Lance Klusener and either Adams or Brian McMillan. Sounds reasonable, does it not? If England will not lose sleep over the presence of Klusener the bowler, Donald and Pollock will be enough to give them the wake-up call.

This is the South Africans' final match before the series and while they did rather more than simply go through the motions they were in a lower, less intense key than will be witnessed later this week. They were charmingly cavalier for just over an hour in the morning when Klusener and Nantie Hayward took their eighth- wicket partnership to 112 from 129 balls and then allowed all their bowlers to run in for a few overs.

It was a diverting rather than compulsive day thereafter, though that status was briefly defied by Gregor Macmillan. He made a half-century in 46 balls during which he charged the fast bowlers and stood upright in his crease and carved them through point. Macmillan is what might be described in philosophy (a subject in which he has a degree) as a character.

He was released by Leicestershire at the end of last season and recruited by Gloucestershire, desperately in need of batsmen, a fortnight ago. In his early days he shared a house in Orange Free State with South Africa's captain, Hansie Cronje who declares him to be charmingly eccentric. On occasion the pair were batting together for Leicestershire. Macmillan, with a contract at stake, had reached 96 and Cronje urged him to ensure not only that he made a hundred but went on. The response was a charging reverse sweep against fast bowling which flew off an edge for four.

While Macmillan was batting yesterday the thought continually occurred that the game needs more like him. It was entertaining, refreshing and always watchable. When he was out in the second over after lunch, failing to control his push at Hayward who took a good, stumbling return catch, Gloucestershire consolidated.

Dominic Hewson, one of those trying to break into the side, was run out by a typically smart piece of fielding by the tourists, Hayward throwing unerringly from the boundary. But Alleyne and Mark Windows went on solidly. They revealed some jolly strokeplay in the late afternoon, trying to approach South Africa's total of 416. McMillan broke the stand, a record for Gloucestershire's fourth wicket against the South Africans, when he had Windows caught behind. When he similarly had Rob Cunliffe pouched and then broke through Martyn Ball's defences, the veteran all-rounder may just have done enough to reclaim his place in the Test 11.

Bob Woolmer, the squad's coach, would not be drawn on the odds of 15- 8 on being offered on his side to win the series and after his solitary experience with gambling some years ago, when his horse went lame in a field of three, he will not be having a bet either. But he conceded that South Africa had bedded in well. "We haven't put big scores together consistently in Tests but we are getting there now. We've been used to playing an awful lot of one-day games but we've also played 11 Test matches in the last six months so the ratio has closed a lot." The inference of this was that England could well feel the backlash.

The South Africans lead by 151 runs. Gloucestershire, fifth in the Championship, did enough to suggest that, like the tourists, they may soon know their best side.

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