Elements pour cold water on England's plans

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The Independent Online
Cricket

MARTIN JOHNSON

reports from Pretoria

The opening Test match of England's first Test series in South Africa for 30 years has turned out to be more of an appetite wetter than a whetter, and the not-inconsiderable band of English supporters who came here to celebrate the occasion have found themselves soaked, but not in history.

Seven inches of rain has fallen in the past two and a half days (about four of those inches in the first half an hour of Friday afternoon's electrical storm) which amounts to over a quarter of the region's annual quota. There are no official figures, but for a society in which the weekend barbeque is close to a religion you can also add to seven lost sessions of cricket, several thousand tons of unused steak and sausage.

It is not unusual for England to lose two entire days of cricket in a Test match, although this is generally due to their own incompetence rather than the weather. This time, though, they have been seriously inconvenienced by the kind of conditions - cold, damp and nasty - more readily associated with the zonal rounds of the Benson and Hedges Cup than a southern African summer.

Not only have England seen a good position snatched away from them (they must now effectively start the series again at Johannesburg's Wanderers ground next week) but it will probably force them to re-think their plans for the four-day match against Orange Free State starting in Bloemfontein on Thursday.

Ordinarily, at least two of the bowlers would have been rested between Test matches, but as none of them has yet sent down a delivery here, there is not much scope for giving any of them four days off in Bloemfontein.

Graeme Hick will almost certainly be rested to give John Crawley a chance to put further pressure on Mark Ramprakash, but it may be that England will have to rest another batsman (Robin Smith, who has so far played in every match on tour, is the likeliest candidate) in order to give an outing to one of the bowlers not selected here.

Hick has been the major bonus from this Test match, despite the fact that he will never quite aspire to the heights of greatness while he is content merely to wait for a poor delivery. The fact that precisely 100 of his 141 runs came from boundaries means that he faced 253 deliveries for the extra 41.

None the less, Hick has developed something of an appetite for South African bowling, having averaged over 60 against them in the last series in England, to go with his 83 off 90 balls in the World Cup semi-final. Hick has now scored 1,056 Test match runs at 56 per visit since the start of last summer.

For much of his early Test career, Hick's average was stuck in the teens, which is where Ramprakash is currently marooned after 18 Tests. With, presumably, no second innings in this game, Crawley may well displace him with one decent score in Bloemfontein.

In the meantime, the South Africans have come in for some fairly heavy criticism, firstly for putting England in to bat, and secondly for not playing a spinner. There has also been the suggestion that Brett Schultz, who bowled like a far bigger drain than the ones dispersing all the rainwater, came into the match not fully fit.

Schultz suffered a recurrence of a buttock strain during the game, and people are beginning to ask why a team with a small army of of backroom staff (they have a doctor, a physiotherapist, an exercise consultant, a dietician, a foot specialist and a coach) can firstly not correctly read a pitch, and secondly send out an unfit man to bowl on it.

The South Africans began this series with a high degree of confidence - one of the TV trailers involves a flock of vultures ripping the gear from an Englishman's kitbag with the caption "easy meat" - but once they have finished preening themselves over the result from Twickenham, they might start taking England a bit more seriously.

Headley in control, page 29

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