Cricket: Skipper Wessels steadies the ship

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The Independent Online
Gloucestershire . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .278-9 dec

South Africa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .85-3

ONE of South Africa's complaints about their tour so far is that because of a combination of rain and flat pitches they have failed to gain a second dig in any of their first three matches.

Four overs into their first innings against Gloucestershire yesterday that problem looked like being solved. At 10 runs for three wickets the tourists were 119 runs behind the follow-on target and a game ruined by rain was flickering into life.

Had Martyn Ball then held on to a sharp catch offered by Peter Kirsten it would have been up and running but the ball flew from his grasp at second slip and with it Gloucestershire's chances of inflicting an unlikely humiliation.

Kirsten and Kepler Wessels went on restore order with an unbroken 75-run partnership and the team coach Mike Procter, returning to a ground heavy with the memories of his deeds, was able to emerge from the dressing-room without embarrassment.

Gloucestershire's bright start was all the more remarkable for the absence of the resting Courtney Walsh who, incidentally, the county hope to replace during next year's West Indian tour with the New Zealander Dion Nash.

In Walsh's stead, the left- armer Michael Smith dismissed Andrew Hudson, well caught by Ball, and Hansie Cronje in the first four balls then Kevin Cooper had Gerhardus Liebenberg well caught by Jack Russell. Given Smith's birthplace - Dewsbury in Yorkshire - an England call- up must be imminent.

There was, however, a suspicion that Hudson, looking for a big innings after scoring 28 in his previous three, was caught off his toe.

Earlier, Robert Dawson and Mark Alleyne had both batted solidly for seventies as Gloucestershire ground their way to 278 for 9 declared. The tourists were hampered by the fact that the off-spinner Pat Symcox was suffering from a sore elbow, but neither that, nor the stiff back which kept Richard Snell out, are thought to be serious.

South Africa will play Nottinghamshire from 27 to 29 July now that the county is out of the NatWest Trophy.