Cricket: Tourists' passion sorely tested

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The Independent Online
South Africa 406-5 dec Essex 102-3

THE rain caught up with the South Africans here yesterday, sending the players off the field 10 minutes before lunch. The thunder and lightning that accompanied the rain probably came straight from their Trent Bridge dressing room after the Test match defeat by England earlier in the week.

Certainly the tourists were unhappy at the way the Test turned against them after they had controlled so many phases. Not that anything as obvious as anger or aggression was on display here yesterday when Essex replied to South Africa's 406 for 5 declared on Friday. This South African side are nothing if not disciplined in the way they go about their business. But if the rumblings are to be believed, there will also be passion in their cricket at Headingley this week. That may be a good thing (though not necessarily for England). Sometimes you can take control to extremes.

It's a bit like belief. No one could doubt the belief these tourists have in themselves. It's there in the way they rebuild an innings after early losses. But whether it's a belief that they cannot be beaten, or a belief that they can win, is more debatable.

The belief will be more in winning should Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini find themselves in conjunction with Dame Fortune at Headingley. She hasn't smiled on them much this tour. Though Steve Elworthy let no one down at Trent Bridge, Ntini looks certain to regain the place that a heel injury forced him to relinquish. He bowled fast and straight here yesterday, and when he made the ball lift from just short of a length he unsettled the batsmen.

Had any of several edges stayed airborne as far as slips, instead of falling short, Ntini would have had more to show for his morning's efforts than the wicket that sent back Darren Robinson. The Essex opener had safely seen off 14 overs from Pollock and Elworthy when, with the last ball of his first over, Ntini went past his drive and knocked out his off stump.

Ian Flanagan, an England Under-19 batsman in South Africa last winter, went in the fifth over of the day, caught at second slip off Pollock. But another young Essex left-hander, Tim Hodgson, announced himself by assuredly ducking his first ball from Pollock and striking the next to the cover boundary. A similar stroke off Pollock promised some entertainment, but in the event that came from a sparkling 33 off 39 balls by Ronnie Irani. This included 13 off a Brian McMillan over, denting what hopes the big fella might have had of making the Headingley side should South Africa play a seamer ahead of the spinner Paul Adams.

Irani's six off a slow bouncer bypassed fine leg en route to a nearby garden; a four pulled behind square forced Hansie Cronje to reinforce his on field; and the back foot force through the covers for three put paid to McMillan's morning. Cronje brought on Pat Symcox and in his second over the off-spinner ended Irani's enterprise with a smart caught and bowled, getting down low with remarkable agility for a big man.