reports from Johannesburg
South Africa 332 & 5-0 England 200
Jettisoned as the team's spiritual advisor during the Illingworth revolution (confirmation to some that God is not only a Yorkshireman, but actually living in Farsley), the Rev Andrew Winfield-Digby paid a visit to the Wanderers yesterday, and doubtless wondered whether he might be in with a chance of getting his old job back.
England are not quite without a prayer in this Test match, but all the signs are there that some kind of divine intervention - such as one of those Johannesburg thunderstorms that have inconveniently disappeared - is now required.
The decision to bowl first with an all-seam attack now looks even pottier than it did on Thursday morning, since when England have managed to make a left-arm spinner with a Test record of 5 for 359 in five games look like Shane Warne, and will now have to bat last on a wearing pitch with an unholy deficit.
England's bowling yesterday did little to alleviate the suspicion that an injury to Dominic Cork would leave them hopelessly short of ammunition, and they followed this up by batting like an XI plucked at random from one of the beer tents.
Michael Atherton's dismissal set the tone for England's desperate reply of 200 to South Africa's 332, the captain shouldering arms to a ball from Allan Donald that clipped his off stump, and Donald's fierce examination of Mark Ramprakash was as one-sided a contest as will be witnessed - bar Devon Malcolm batting left-handed against him - for the rest of this series.
Ramprakash played some wonderful shots during his 51-minute innings, nearly all of them, sadly, during rehearsals at the non-striker's end. When it came to the business end of the bowling, Ramprakash was literally unable to lay bat on ball, and most of the 35 deliveries he faced were fresh-air shots.
Having driven Donald to the cover boundary to get off the mark after 32 scoreless deliveries, Ramprakash got carried away by this orgy of run- making, and was still in mid-drive when Donald arrowed a full-length ball into his middle stump.
Ramprakash, dropped after making a pair in last summer's Lord's Test, went on to make 1,638 runs in his last 16 innings for Middlesex, including six centuries and three double centuries, but after making 9 and 4 in his two Test innings on this tour (and making them pretty horribly at that) the gangplank looms once again.
England would have been in more trouble at 51 for 3 had Alec Stewart, having played and missed so often he kept staring at his bat as though someone had shaved a couple of inches off it, not been the beneficiary of a rare stroke of luck. Stewart's spliced pull off Donald lobbed gently to midwicket, and it was such an easy catch that Stewart was pulling off his gloves en route for the pavilion when Shaun Pollock let it squirm from his grasp.
Ironically, Stewart and Graham Thorpe then appeared to have battled their way into some kind of form when South Africa called up Clive Eksteen's left-arm spin, and he promptly ended a third-wicket partnership of 64 with his first delivery.
However, if Thorpe's expression registered even more astonishment than Mike Gatting's after Shane Warne's first ball in the 1993 Ashes series, it had less to do with the delivery than the decision. Television replays are never satisfactory when it comes to bat-pad catches, but in this case Thorpe's bat was barely in camera shot when the ball lobbed to short leg off his front pad.
Stewart was also the victim of a bad decision (his own) when he whipped Meyrick Pringle straight to the man at short midwicket, placed there specifically for one of his trade-mark shots. This was a nasty wicket to lose just before tea, as was Graeme Hick's just after it. There was nothing wrong with Hick's plan to demonstrate that most of Eksteen's gentle floaters belonged in the High Street, but in attempting to hit him out of the ground, Hick merely drove back a return catch. Not long afterwards, Jack Russell failed to clear midwicket, and Eksteen had figures of 3 for 9 from seven overs.
There then followed a riveting contest between Donald and Robin Smith, and although Smith got the seat of his flannels grubby once or twice, he also replied with some rasping shots. The best of all was a square cut for six over third man off Brian McMillan, and without Smith's gutsy half-century, England would have been blown away for a disgraceful total rather than a merely inadequate one.
Shaun Pollock, who is being fought over by both Warwickshire and Hampshire, and who had earlier demonstrated his all-rounder credentials with the bat, proved too spiteful for England's lower order, although he needed a brilliant slip catch from Darryl Cullinan to account for Cork, and a dubious lbw decision to remove Angus Fraser. Smith was last out with a leading edge back to McMillan, leaving Malcolm with the only score he is as familiar with as nought: nought not out.
Earlier, Malcolm had justified his selection by finishing with four wickets, but in all honesty, his figures flattered him. South Africa's last three wickets added 54 more runs in 70 minutes, which is some indication of England's accuracy.
However, at least Malcolm took wickets. Fraser and Darren Gough - who is doubtful for bowling duty today after suffered a badly bruised arm courtesy of being struck on it yesterday by the South African bowling - finished with a joint aggregate of 0 for 153 in 35 overs, and it is a bit of a worry to see bowlers more used to being clapped off looking clapped out.
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