England dig themselves into a hole

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reports from Kimberley

South Africa A 325-5 v England

If England travelled to this old prospecting town hoping to unearth a few pre-Test diamonds, all they mined from yesterday's performance was the kind of tacky bauble that will shortly be dropping out of a 30p Christmas cracker.

Facing their first meaningful opposition of the tour, England could have done without losing the toss in the kind of temperatures that would not have persuaded a lizard to venture outdoors without the Factor 15, and although England could also point to a flat pitch, it was not nearly as flat as they were.

Raymond Illingworth was an early visitor to the press box for a behind- the-arm view of Devon Malcolm purveying the new ball, which would have had the chairman purring with satisfaction had it not been for the absence of two fairly important ingredients - velocity and accuracy.

Idly flicking open the lid of someone's word processor, Illy was asked whether he was intending to send a message home. "Not a bad idea," he muttered, watching Darren Gough bowl, if anything, even more erratically than Malcolm. "How do you spell `help'?" It was a toss-up as to which was the more rewarding. Observing Illingworth's expression when Malcolm was bowling or when he was presented with a plate of stone cold pickled fish in curry sauce for his lunch.

Malcolm did eventually pick up his second wicket of the tour with the second new ball, courtesy of a wide half-volley snicked to second slip when South Africa A were profligately tossing away wickets at the fag end of the day. The close of play total of 325 for 5 was not a fair reflection of the home team's overall dominance.

This sort of thing was not easily forecast after England's encouraging victory in their previous game, but then again not many forecasts in Kimberley have turned out too well over the past couple of days. Having been assured by the locals that the next rainfall was due around March, and that England's arrival had sent Kimberley into something close to unbearable excitement, it was midly amusing to see the players - who very nearly outnumbered the spectators - dashing off for an early pickled fish luncheon under assault from a fierce electrical storm.

The home side's total was underpinned by an untroubled second-wicket partnership of 181 between Adam Bacher and Jacques Kallis, at just about a run a minute, with Bacher, nephew of the SA Board's managing director Ali, going on to make 116, and Kallis falling just short of his own century after his attempted sweep against Graeme Hick trickled back on to his stumps via glove and pad.

The closest Malcolm came to living up to Nelson Mandela's description of the "destroyer" came when Bacher hooked him for six into a food stall during a five-over spell of 0 for 36, while Kallis, just turned 20, confirmed his reputation as South Africa's brightest young batsman with an innings of high class timing and technique.

He should have been out for 78 when he advanced down the pitch to Mike Watkinson's off spin and missed, but as the ball also eluded Jack Russell, it went for four byes instead. England's fielding was pretty ordinary, although Graham Thorpe deserved some credit for the first of his two catches, pouched at a time when England's bowling did not exactly encourage the slip fielders to remain on full alert.

This catch was also the result of a negligent stroke to a wide half-volley, although Gough bowled slightly better as the day wore on, and Angus Fraser deserved his late wicket for his customary perseverance. Malcolm, though, remains a problem.

Whatever the pros and cons of the management going public with their criticisms, and there are probably more cons than pros, Malcolm's reluctance to accept advice does not go down too well on the back of a Test career of occasional demolition surrounded by long spells of profligacy. As the few people who have caught sight of the chairman's wallet can testify, Raymond takes rather a dim view of spendthrifts.

Mike Watkinson bowled poorly, albeit finding enough turn to suggest that South Africa's 18-year-old wrist spinner, Paul Adams, might make life uncomfortable for England's batsmen, and an uninspiring day was rounded off by an over-rate so pitiful that it resulted in a thoroughly deserved 40 minutes overtime in 90 degree heat.

(First day of four; South Africa A won toss)

SOUTH AFRICA A - First Innings

P J R Steyn c Thorpe b Gough 17

A M Bacher c Watkinson b Gough 116

J H Kallis b Hick 93

*J B Commins c Russell b Fraser 27

L J Wilkinson c Thorpe b Malcolm 16

L Klusener not out 19

S J Palframan not out 12

Extras (b12, w2, nb11) 25

Total (for 5, 99 overs) 325

Fall: 1-33, 2-214, 3-261, 4-290, 5-294.

To bat: N Boje, S D Jack, R Telemachus, P Adams.

Bowling: Malcolm 16-1-70-1; Gough 21-3-59-2; Fraser 19-3-55-1; Watkinson 25-5-89-0; Thorpe 4-1-15-0; Hick 8-2-14-1; Ramprakash 6-1-11-0.

ENGLAND: *M A Atherton, A J Stewart, M R Ramprakash, G P Thorpe, G A Hick, R A Smith, R C Russell, M Watkinson, D Gough, A R C Fraser, D E Malcolm.

Umpires: D L Orchard and R E Koertzen.