Cricket: South Africa make strong impression: Donald and De Villiers in the wickets but Wessels' men stalled by Cowdrey's century

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Kent . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .292

South Africa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0-0

IN AN unusually revealing first day of serious cricket South Africa's team, like their country's politics and geography, was shown to be one of extremes. High-quality fast bowling was tempered by mediocre spin; lithe and athletic fielding marred by futher evidence of their older players' frailty.

The contrasts were exemplified by Fanie de Villiers. Four years ago, in the season of runs, he was one of Kent's most anonymous overseas players, taking 25 wickets at nearly 40. Now he is a Test player of growing repute and yesterday he took three early wickets in a sustained spell of testing seam and swing bowling.

Then De Villiers, who has suffered several injuries, felt a twinge in a troublesome right knee which has already precipitated one trip to the specialist this tour (and a clean verdict). With Aubrey Martyn already out of the tour with injury the tourists were taking no chances and De Villiers was ordered to spend the rest of the day off the field. He joined Peter Kirsten, a calf strain causing his late withdrawal. In De Villiers' absence Kent, having optimistically chosen to bat on a wicket freshened by the rain that washed out the first day's play, were able to recover from 62 for 5 to reach 292.

They were inspired by Graham Cowdrey, the only current playing member of the dynasty, who made an excellent, doughty century, only his second in two summers. Cowdrey, 30 today, would have been barely a year old when his father, Colin, made the last English Test century against South Africa.

Yesterday's hundred, the first by a Kent player against South Africa since Les Ames in 1929, took more than four hours and was painfully earned. Having lifted the ineffectual spinner Tim Shaw over the players' pavilion on 91, he was immediately struck both on helmet and box. Allan Donald did the former, the rather gentler Hansie Cronje the latter - had the bowlers been reversed Cowdrey would still be picking the bits out.

Cowdrey, burdened by the traditions of his family and the impact - both mental and physical - of a broken jaw suffered against Michael Holding several years ago, has never fulfilled the promise of his youth. He remains a popular figure, though, and when his hundred arrived, the ground, including stands dedicated to his father and Ames, rose to him.

By adding 93 with the belligerent Steve Marsh and 110 with Dean Headley - who showed unaccustomed concentration for his unbeaten 46 - he forced South Africa to abandon hopes of inflicting an ignominious two-day defeat on Kent without declarations.

Some negotiation will be required to gain a result today with South Africa - missing just Kirsten and Brian McMillan of their expected Test team - looking for a winning start.

It would be the first of many, for there is already an impressive sense of purpose about the side. Donald, their spearhead, looks fast and fresh and has strong support both from his fellow seamers and the fielding, which was highlighted by Jonty Rhodes' stunning, leaping catch to dismiss Neil Taylor.

Warwickshire went top of the Sunday League yesterday after their sixth win out of six. They beat Northamptonshire by 114 runs. Dominic Ostler top scored with 78 in Warwickshire's 218 for 6.