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Cricket: Symcox calm before storm

BY LUNCH at the Wanderers ground yesterday, the first Test between South Africa and the West Indies on South African territory had evolved into a straightforward second innings contest. Then, within 20 minutes, a thunderstorm of tropical intensity arrived and quickly transformed the outfield into a swamp, ending play for the day and leaving only two days to achieve a result in a match that has confirmed the evenness of the two teams.

There is provision for a compensatory additional half-hour to be tacked on at the start and at the end of the third day today so there is time enough for a definite outcome to a match mostly dominated by the bowlers on a slow pitch of unreliable bounce. But the weather forecasts are not encouraging of a decisive result.

In the first session yesterday, uninterrupted in sunny, if humid weather South Africa, 216 for 6 at the start replying to 261, eeked out a first- innings lead of seven through a last-wicket partnership of 25. It was engineered by Pat Symcox, Test cricket's oldest player at 38, together with the debutant David Terbrugge, his passive but co-operative associate.

It was a minor psychological point that was erased in quick time by the West Indies openers, and the home team could find itself under pressure on the final day as the myriad cracks on the surface are widening by the hour.

In any case, the exchanges have done more for West Indian morale at the start of a long season of five Tests and seven one-day internationals that both sides accept will determine which stands second to Australia in the present pecking-order.

A few weeks ago, West Indies were arguing in a London hotel. But they now seem to have put these headaches behind them. They have even had the gumption to put Ramnarine's replacement, Rawl Lewis, into the Test team only a couple of hours after his arrival from the "A" team tour of India, a gamble that might yet have its rewards.

Their batsmen showed commendable resolve to recover to 261 after the loss inside the first 40 minutes of three wickets, including their captain Brian Lara for 41. Their continuing fightback was initiated on the second day by the perennial Courtney Walsh's high-class bowling and commitment.

As well as keeping South Africa in check, Walsh's four wickets placed him top of the class of West Indian bowlers in Tests. He equalled Malcolm Marshall's previous best of 375 in his first 20 overs on Friday but then, armed with the second new ball, administered the decisive blow to set a new record of 377.

On resumption yesterday, it was time for Walsh's long-time accomplice Curtly Ambrose to have a say in things. He induced an inside edge from Hansie Cronje that diverted the ball onto his stumps, removing a dangerous opponent.

When Ambrose removed Allan Donald to the wicketkeeper Ridley Jacobs's breathtaking, grass-high catch, South Africa trailed by 25. Symcox, cleverly sheltering Terbrugge, secured the lead to the delight of a disappointingly modest turnout of around 10,000 but, when Walsh made his final strike of the innings with a direct underarm hit of the stumps to run him out, the margin was negligible and the openers, Clayton Lambert and Philo Wallace, had safely knocked it off by the time the heavens opened. The weather may yet win this match.

West Indies - First Innings 261

South Africa - First Innings

(overnight 217-6)

G Kirsten b McLean 62

A Bacher c Jacobs b Walsh 1

J Kallis c Williams b Walsh 53

D Cullinan c Jacobs b Walsh 8

H Cronje b Ambrose 41

J Rhodes lbw b McLean 17

S Pollock b Walsh 11

M Boucher c Lara b Lewis 12

P Symcox run out (Walsh) 25

A Donald c Jacobs b Ambrose 7

D Terbrugge not out 3

Extras (1b 5lb 18nb) 28

Total (93.5 overs) 268

Fall: 1-10 2-102 3-111 4-154 5-185 6-209 7-229 8-230 9-243

Bowling: Ambrose 28-5-63-2 (13nb); Walsh 25-5-66-4 (5nb 1w); McLean 17- 1-66-2; Lewis 28.5-4-67-1 (3nb).

West Indies - Second Innings

C Lambert not out 7

P Wallace not out 12

Extra (1nb) 1

Total (for no wickets, 6.2 overs) 20

Bowling: Donald 3.2-1-11-0; Pollock 3-0-9-0.

To Bat: B Lara, S Chanderpaul, C Hooper, S Williams, R Jacobs, N McLean, R Lewis, C Ambrose, C Walsh.

Umpires: David Shepherd (England), Cyril Mitchley. Third umpire: Rudi Koertzen.

Match Referee: R Madugalle (Sri Lanka).