Cronje cursed by inflexibility

Peter Robinson examines the Proteas inability to break down the tourists
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The Independent Online
ALL SUMMER, the South African captain Hansie Cronje has appeared in a series of television trailers, staring earnestly at the camera and exhorting viewers to tune into the cricket and "watch the feathers fly".

A few might have been ruffled along the way, but South Africa and England head off to Cape Town today for the final Test with the home side still to discover a way to break England down.

Before the series the South Africans boasted of an attack spearheaded by Allan Donald, who was the equivalent, they imagined, of anything the West Indians could put into the field. England, it was claimed, would be unable to withstand a barrage of pace thrown at them on a series of hard, bouncy wickets.

Unfortunately for South Africa, it has not worked out this way at all. Fanie de Villiers and Brett Schultz have played an insignificant role in the series, and even though Shaun Pollock has come through, Donald has again showN that at Test level he is not best happy when he has to lead the attack.

Not that he has bowled badly. Indeed, at the Wanderers and again here at St George's Park, he has bowled quite beautifully on occasions, coming in off a shorter run yet still generating fearsome pace. What he has lacked, though, has been luck, and even before this match began South Africa had turned towards the 18-year-old Paul Adams for something different, something magical.

It was an enormous burden to place on the shoulders of one so young but Adams coped remarkably well with the pressure. His three first-innings wickets and the scalp of Jason Gallian yesterday showed that he can bowl at this level, but even he was finally unable to unlock the door which England, somewhat surprisingly, slammed shut after the first hour yesterday. A target of 328 was always going to be difficult, improbable perhaps though certainly not impossible, but for South Africa the key statistic was the 99 overs they had in which to bowl out England.

They would have liked more time, but a combination of poor shot selection and splendid bowling by the English on the fourth day kept the hosts in check. Throughout the afternoon South Africa frittered away time they could ill afford, given the evidence of the Second Test at the Wanderers, and they had cause to regret their inept effort by yesterday evening.

The home team's batting remains a cause for deep concern. It is brittle at the top, uneven in the middle and too much in this series has been provided by too few. In particular, there is a problem with the No 3 position, from which Cronje has stubbornly refused to budge and move down to No 5, a position to which he is surely better suited. He wants to prove to England, as well as to himself and his team-mates, that he is a better player than he appeared to be in England last year, and that to change now would be to admit weakness. There was, however, a hint last night that he and his team could rethink this inflexibility.

In the meantime, South Africa's best No 3, John Commins of Western Province, cannot get a look in. There is probably an even better No 3 than Cronje already in the team, but Brian McMillan is unlikely to be moved from No 6. The most consistent and technically adept player in the side, McMillan's reward for scoring a century at the Wanderers was to be shifted down a place to No 7.

South Africa corrected this mistake here in Port Elizabeth but the overall frailty of the batting remains. While this is so, England will always believe they have a chance of winning the series.

Peter Robinson writes for The Star, Johannesburg