England let their advantage slip

THIRD TEST: Rhodes and McMillan dig in to rescue South Africa after Martin and Illingworth cut through the top order
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So far, the only headway that has been made in this series has arisen because of the mistakes made by those winning the toss. Yesterday was no exception. By following their decision to bat first with a display of reckless abandon, South Africa finished a day curtailed by bad light and rain on 139 for 5, with England, having ridden their fortune, firmly in control.

On all the evidence so far, there is clearly a vast gulf between the thought processes of these two sides. Yesterday was another case in point after England picked two swing bowlers and included a spinner, while South Africa dropped theirs to strengthen their batting.

After virtually hauling England's carcass single-handedly off the floor at the Wanderers, Atherton is clearly feeling bold. The replacement of two of his tried and trusted old faithfuls with two hip young swingers, will not have come easily. It clearly shows he can be ruthlessly objective when he wants to, though he must have begun to question his motives and wish for the accurate Fraser once South Africa's openers had reached 50, off only 89 balls.

So far this tour, although Mark Ilott and Peter Martin have had their moments with the ball, their dual inclusion here came as a shock even to seasoned selection buffs with a direct line to the Raymond Illingworth control tower. Neither swings the ball regularly, as Dominic Cork did at the Wanderers, so when the Derbyshire bowler failed to curve the new ball, the portents did not appear to bode well for the others.

If Atherton's faith in Kingsmead's "swingy conditions" was in crisis, he masked it well. Although he soon removed Martin, after the Lancashire pace bowler conceded 16 runs in his first seven balls - all struck to the cover fence by Andrew Hudson - he was quick to show faith and return him, this time from the Old Fort End, where the crosswind helped him to shape the ball towards the slips.

The switch proved to be a fortuitous one. Gary Kirsten, edgy after being bogged down in single figures for well over an hour, attempted a forcing shot off the back foot and got an edge, the chance being picked up sharply by Graeme Hick going to his left at second slip.

The loss, no doubt deeply felt by team-mates and those who like their adhesives thickly spread, seemed to spread pangs of doubt throughout the batting order. Hudson, who had until then been punching his drives with great precision, suddenly seemed aware that he needed a big score to calm the selectors' treacherous thoughts.

In the next over he went to pad away an innocuous delivery from Illingworth only to see the ball bounce up and, via pad and glove, find its way into John Crawley's waiting hands at silly point. An unusual though clearcut first decision for the umpire, Dave Orchard, to make in his debut Test.

Such soft dismissals are a bonus at this level, but if England were thrilled by their double strike, their jubilation reached fever pitch when Hansie Cronje holed out 10 minutes before lunch to a crass stroke.

The South African captain is clearly feeling the heat of public concern, after England's great escape in the last Test. As a batsman he needs to be aggressive for he has neither the technique nor the temperament to construct an innings, brick by brick, like that of his opposite number.

Cronje's is a method that relies on good fortune and not good judgement, which is what was clearly lacking when he decided to loft Illingworth's flatter arm ball back over the bowler's head and tamely mishit a catch to Martin at mid-on.

Soon after lunch, the home side were further reduced when Darryl Cullinan, their most naturally gifted batsman, blazed a wide half-volley from Martin straight to Robin Smith at cover. Nine balls later it was 89 for 5 after Martin finally induced Jacques Kallis to play at one that bounced, the faint edge ending the talented 20-year-old's debut knock.

That brought Martin his third wicket of the innings and his most deserving. He is a tall man who gets the kind of bounce that is crucial in Test cricket, if defensive edges are to carry. However, unless he swings the ball regularly, he probably lacks a yard of pace to be able to unsettle batsmen at this level. But such a problem is by no means insurmountable and is one that the Lancashire coach, David Lloyd, should work on next year.

However, just as a rout looked possible, South Africa found in Jonty Rhodes and Brian McMillan a pair of batsmen who realised that the only demons lay within tormented minds and not in the even-paced pitch, which apart from some occasional bounce was in a subdued mood. At the close the pair were still together with another fifty partnership to their credit.

Since their return to Test cricket, five of South Africa's best batting partnerships have been for the sixth or seventh wicket, so girding their loins to dig their side from trouble is clearly something the pair are used to. In the new South Africa, even dirty jobs are never easy to come by.

(First day; South Africa won toss)

SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings

G Kirsten c Hick b Martin 8

(79 min, 62 balls)

A C Hudson c Crawley b Illingworth 45

(86 min, 63 balls, 9 fours)

*W J Cronje c Martin b Illingworth 8

(28 min, 17 balls, 1 four)

D J Cullinan c Smith b Martin 10

(64 min, 60 balls, 2 fours)

J N Rhodes not out 36

(141 min, 102 balls, 4 fours)

J H Kallis c Russell b Martin 1

(12 min, 12 balls)

B M McMillan not out 26

(85 min, 68 balls, 3 fours)

Extras (lb5) 5

Total (for 5 , 250 min, 64 overs) 139

Fall: 1-54 (Kirsten), 2-56 (Hudson), 3-73 (Cronje), 4-85 (Cullinan), 5-89 (Kallis).

To bat: D J Richardson, S M Pollock, C R Matthews, A A Donald.

Bowling: Cork 19-10-41-0 (9-5-18-0 3-2-9-0 7-3-14-0); Ilott 8-1-24-0 (5-1-15-0 3-0-9-0); Martin 13-4-31-3 (2-0-17-0 4-1-6-1 7-3-8-2); Illingworth 22-8-33-2, Hick 2-0-5-0 (one spell each).

Progress: 50: 57 min, 14.5 overs.

Lunch: 76 for 3 (Cullinan 9, Rhodes 2) 31 overs.

100: 198 min, 50.2 overs.

Tea: 136 for 5 (Rhodes 34, McMillan 25) 62 overs.

Bad light stopped play: 2.44pm.

ENGLAND: *M A Atherton, A J Stewart, J P Crawley, G P Thorpe, G A Hick, R A Smith, R C Russell, D G Cork, P J Martin, R K Illingworth, M C Ilott.

Umpires: S A Bucknor and D L Orchard.

TV replay umpire: K E Liebenberg.

Match referee: C H Lloyd.

First Test (Pretoria): Match drawn.

Second Test (Johannesburg): Match drawn.