Pretorius noses ahead in battle for Test places

India A 319 v South Africans
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The Independent Online

It's a matter of waiting. Not for Godot but Kallis. The South African all-rounder flew back to Cape Town last weekend to sit with his dying father. His team-mates do not know whether he will be back on Monday or Monday week, which makes it hard to pick a team for the first Test. If Kallis is present he will bowl and they can play an extra batsman. If Kallis is absent they are likely to play an extra bowler. The chase for that place is what interested the South Africans yesterday.

Arundel is a lovely place in the heat, when picnickers lay out a spread on the grass and turn palely pink. A day out for the spectators; a hard day's work for some of the South African players, because Arundel is not so lovely if you are an ambitious young man trying to force your way into the Test team on a pitch that is flat, unwelcoming and unforgiving.

Pity then a 21-year-old fast bowler from East London called Monde Zondeki, one of the parties in a bowl-out with Dewald Pretorius. Zondeki had bowled well in the previous game at Taunton. He is a raw bowler, unpredictable but capable of touching 94mph. His action is violent but not inelegant, and at the end of it he looks like Titian's Bacchus in the National Gallery (apologies to Pseud's Corner).

The third candidate for possibly two places is a left-armer called Chad Willoughby, but there was no place for him in a bowler-heavy XI against India A's strongest team. Since the counties continue to insult tourists with second-rate teams, this is the best opposition the Indians will face this summer. Shaun Pollock ­ just back from a lightning return to Durban ­ and Makhaya Ntini were the opening bowlers against two very competent opening batsmen, Shiv Sunder Das, who played against England a couple of winters ago, and a forceful left-hander named Gautam Gambhir.

Of the candidates for a fast-bowling place, Pretorius got on first. He is 25 and has already played a couple of Tests. The action is neat, and he bowled seven economical overs for 22 runs, though he rarely looked threatening. Zondeki's entry was more dramatic, with a four and two no-balls in his first over. He looked nonplussed. Ntini shouted encouragement in Xhosa, but Zondeki was taken off after four overs, having conceded 23 runs, including three no-balls.

A second spell brought a wicket, but it was Pretorius's second spell that caught the eye. He brought India's cruise that had brought up 250 with the loss of only three wickets to an abrupt halt with three wickets for nine in 18 balls. Having won round one at Taunton, Zondeki had lost the second to Pretorius.

By the time the South Africans introduced spin, Gambhir was making hay (while the sun shone), and he took an immediate liking to Robin Peterson's left- arm spinners. Three fours came off his first eight balls, but then he stroked the ball towards point, where Gary Kirsten took a neat catch. South Africa's other spinner is Paul Adams, and although he has a fine record against England, Peterson is considered the favourite for the Test team, not because he is the better bowler, but because he is unquestionably the better batsman. If Kallis is absent, he will be needed to bolster the batting.

Shaun Pollock cleaned up the tail, taking three wickets for one run and 4 for 46, but this is a young, unformed South African squad on a steep learning curve. The management describes them as a team gradually coming together. They may well be better at the end of the Test series than the beginning.