Kallis stands ground to frustrate England

<preform>South Africa 247-4<BR> v England</preform>
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The Independent Online

The New Year Test match in Cape Town is intended to be one of South Africa's blue riband sporting events. The occasion is advertised accordingly and spectators are told to turn up, socialise with friends and be entertained by the game's greatest players.

The New Year Test match in Cape Town is intended to be one of South Africa's blue riband sporting events. The occasion is advertised accordingly and spectators are told to turn up, socialise with friends and be entertained by the game's greatest players.

There was no shortage of talent on show on the first day of the third Test between South Africa and England, and to judge by the number of empty beer glasses left lying in the stands there was plenty of socialising. But the main reason for attending, the cricket, was a major disappointment.

It is possible that everybody, including the thousands of England supporters who have migrated to southern Africa for this match, was expecting too much from the players after only two days of rest.

The Boxing Day Test in Durban was a bruising and exhausting encounter and both teams looked here as though they were quite content with a gentle day at the office.

The cricket is rarely absorbing on days when neither team is prepared to take risks, as was the case yesterday. South Africa, after winning a third consecutive toss, meandered along at under three runs an over and by the close had reached 247 for 4. But negative bowling and field-setting from England made it difficult, and potentially dangerous for the home side to go out and grab hold of the game.

Jacques Kallis was once again the Proteas' outstanding player and he finished the day unbeaten on 81. The right-hander, who scored a masterful 162 in Durban last week, will be looking to exceed this on his home ground.

Kallis, who yesterday batted for more than four hours, faced 188 balls and hit eight fours, once again showed immense concentration and patience. If he goes on to post a big score, South Africa should reach a total in excess of 450, placing them in a strong position.

Yet if England were to dismiss South Africa's leading player during the morning session, Michael Vaughan would be hoping to knock 100 runs off that score and put South Africa under pressure.

But Kallis enjoys batting at this delightful venue. In nine Test matches here the 29-year-old has scored three centuries and more than 800 runs. Kallis has four batsmen that are capable of occupying the crease for long periods, starting with Hashim Amla, who played several pleasant strokes on his way to 21.

Amla had a shocker in Durban, where he scored one and nought, and was fortunate to keep his place in the side, but he looked a handy player yesterday evening.

The South Africans did make two changes to the side which drew in Durban. Boeta Dippenaar, the middle-order batsman, replaced Martin van Jaarsveld and Charl Langeveldt's swing bowling was preferred to Dale Steyn's pace.

England were also forced to make an alteration when Mark Butcher withdrew with an injury to his left wrist. England's No 3 batted with the complaint in Durban but the pain became too much after a net session on New Year's Day. Butcher was sent for a scan and then had a cortisone injection in the joint, but it made little difference.

Butcher's form had been a cause for concern in the build-up to this Test and should Robert Key make the most of this unexpected opportunity the Surrey captain's future as an England cricketer could be in doubt.

Kallis was not the only run-scorer for South Africa. Graeme Smith gave his side a solid start, occupying the crease for the first half of the day. The South African captain played his most fluent innings of the series, but 70s rarely win Test matches. Smith's innings contained several trademark clips through the leg side and he looked set for a big score when Ashley Giles picked up his wicket.

England's left-arm spinner should have had his man 10 balls earlier when Smith was fortunate to survive a bat-and-pad catch which was taken by Geraint Jones on 70. As the England players rushed to congratulate Giles, Smith was given not out by the umpire Daryl Harper. Television replays showed the left-hander clearly hitting the ball.

Harper mistakenly gave the batsman the benefit of the doubt, but this has been a series when most close decisions have so far gone England's way.

The left-hander failed to capitalise on his stroke of luck, though, and Giles gained his revenge when Smith edged a drive on to Geraint Jones's thigh, and a simple catch lobbed up to Marcus Trescothick at slip.

South Africa got off to a dreadful start when Herschelle Gibbs gave England their first wicket of the day in the third over when he misjudged the line of a delivery from Matthew Hoggard and lost his off-stump. This is the second occasion in three innings that the attacking right-hander has fallen in such a manner. In Durban, Gibbs could consider himself slightly unlucky, in that the delivery from Hoggard shaped back into him and shaved the top of his off-stump. But on this occasion he had no excuse.

Jacques Rudolph played a couple of classy shots in his 26 until Simon Jones was adjudged to have found his inside edge.

This was just the start England's bowlers needed after Vaughan had lost another important toss. Calling correctly is currently the weakest part of England's cricket, and Vaughan has now won the toss on only six of the 22 occasions he has captained England.

This record resulted in Vaughan being told by his fast bowlers that he should head off to the other end of the ground, and not to the dressing-room, should he lose another toss. Bowlers love watching their side bat first, particularly when they have been working as hard. But despite weary bodies, and the possibility of two tough days in the field, England's finest allowed Vaughan to return and performed admirably.

Cricketers know the financial reasons for playing back-to-back Test matches at this time of the year, but it is hard for players to perform to their full potential when they are given so little time to recover. And this is why it would be harsh to be too critical of England's tactics, even if they did bring the game to a standstill in the afternoon.

Nasser Hussain, Vaughan's predecessor, was the first England captain to set 7-2 off-side fields to the seamers and ask Giles to bowl a foot outside leg stump to the right-handers. When a captain makes such a move it is with the hope that the opposition batsmen will become frustrated and do something foolish.

If the batting side are as stubborn as the bowlers, the cricket can become tedious and that is what happened yesterday. England will feel that their methods were justified when Dippenaar came down the wicket to Giles and was bowled. But should the next two days be as uneventful as this the Barmy Army may consider trekking up Table Mountain to be a more enjoyable pastime.