Cricket: Wessels goes on defensive

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The Independent Online
South Africa . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .296-7 dec and 216-3 dec

Northamptonshire . . . . . . . . . . . . . .250-5 dec and 131-4

Match drawn

THE South Africans' inability to win any of six Tetley Bitter Challenge games before their first Test match in England for 29 years, which starts at Lord's on Thursday, has been heightened by a logistical problem.

Mike Procter, the tour coach, is searching without success for a video of John Crawley, England's newcomer, in batting action. Other anxieties are self-made because the tourists, though well-organised, look routine performers, with the odd exception, notably Allan Donald, who was absent from this match.

Their play was more geared to five days than three and it was to be hoped that Kepler Wessels, the captain, enjoyed his innings of 43 not out in more than two hours, because no one else did.

Admittedly, Wessels harnessed his tempo partly to the need to set Northamptonshire a short chase of 263 from a minimum of 50 overs. Even so, it offered a foretaste of what may become a dour Test series. Who doesn't dare may win, and the tourists might just take that prize.

With no injury problems, they are buoyed by an innings of 102 from 171 balls by Gary Kirsten. He was the automatic man of a poor match, with a pounds 250 award.

Wessels also produced a tactical oddity when Craig Matthews and Brian McMillan took the new ball with a meagre two slips but with a third man and fine leg. It smacked of pure defence and a sad lack of ambition.

Perhaps Wessels also declared out of a sense of duty to create a cosmetic finish because, doubtless, he would have preferred more batting practice. The bottom line was a dull contest, enlivened by Northamptonshire losing three wickets in seven balls immediately before tea, a collapse which kept the game on a respirator if not fully breathing.

South Africa now cannot wait for the main event, accompanied by English hopes that the match is not simply notable in the historical sense.

(Photograph omitted)