There is a widespread view of those involved on this tour that it has never really got going. Rain has dogged England to such an extent that the only progress made by the players has been in a game called Balderdash, a word game similar to Call My Bluff, and one that has helped them fill the many extra hours they have spent confined to hotel and dressing-room.
However, if the weather has consistently been the villain of the piece, it could not be blamed for yesterday's late start. England, having decided to commute the 50 miles to the Jan Smuts stadium, had to be rescued when their team bus broke down. The vehicle failed half-way up an incline - clearly a case of a hill too far in the aptly named valley of a thousand hills.
Fortunately, another coach was promptly whistled up and the game began just half an hour later than scheduled, the time lost being made up by adding 10 minutes to each of the three remaining sessions.
Having lost the toss, the England bowlers started so emphatically that it looked as if England might be taking the extra half an hour allowed when a result is likely, after the students slumped to 23 for 5 after only 13 overs.
It was a frenetic start on this pleasant ground ringed by trees, one of which was planted five years ago by Mark Rushmere in commemoration of the 150 he scored against Mike Gatting's rebels. It was during that game that Gatting confronted a large group of protesters, whose passionate outrage so affected Dr Ali Bacher he promptly called off that and all future rebel tours.
Unfortunately for the visitors, the pressure was not maintained. As only England show, the capacity to enthrall can be just as quickly replaced by a sloppiness that appears long endemic in the county game. As they glaringly failed to do in the last Test, England hesitated in sinking their teeth into the exposed jugular, and the students, with only four of their side having had first-class experience, wriggled free.
Two of those, Nic Pothas and Mark Davis, began the restoration of normal service with a stand of 85 before Davis edged Ilott behind to give the left-armer his fifth wicket of the innings. But for these two, and the solidly capable Nicky Boje who ended the day unbeaten on 42, Ilott's four- wicket strike for nine runs in 25 balls would have rent a terminal fissure in the home side's batting.
As it was, Pothas, a 22-year-old student at the Rand Afrikaans University in Johannesburg, completely dominated the England bowling, as both ball and spirit softened in the afternoon gloom, before dropping to an all- time low when Devon Malcolm put down a lofted sweep off Mike Watkinson at deep square leg.
Pothas was particularly severe on the returning Ilott and when bad light ended play early, Pothas was still there on 141, comfortably his highest first-class score, which may yet allow his side the bizarre luxury of declaring sometime today after being dead meat a day earlier.
England's early dominance was entirely due to Ilott. Taking the new ball and with the wind at his back, the left-armer soon had Andrew Wessels caught by Robin Smith at short-leg off the back of his bat. Getting well under Ilott's bouncer, Wessels may feel he was unlucky, but if you leave the bat poking periscope-like as he did, the odd scuppering is bound to happen.
Ilott then bowled Martin van Jaarsveld before Nizaan Adams and Vaughan Wandrag followed each other back to the pavilion in the 13th over. Ray Illingworth is clearly backing Ilott and Peter Martin over Malcolm and Fraser for the next Test, but Martin, who struggled manfully into the breeze - having Gerhardus Liebenberg well caught down the leg side by Jack Russell - had his day curtailed by a sore shoulder.
Ilott apart, England lacked spark and penetration, and neither spinner impressed on a pitch that offered some slow turn. Even Jason Gallian had a bowl before dislocating the small finger of his left hand stopping a drive in the covers. It is unlikely to affect his batting when England eventually get their turn sometime later today.
(First day of three; Combined SA Univs won toss)
COMBINED SA UNIVERSITIES - First Innings
A Wessels c Smith b Ilott 6
*G F J Liebenberg c Russell b Martin 12
M van Jaarsveld b Ilott 2
N Adams c Russell b Ilott 0
N Pothas not out 141
V Wandrag c Smith b Ilott 0
M J G Davis c Russell b Ilott 44
N Boje not out 42
Extras (lb2, w1, nb3) 6
Total (for 6, 83 overs) 253
Fall: 1-6, 2-19, 3-23, 4-23, 5-23, 6-108.
To bat: J D Albanie, B P Horan, J September.
Bowling: Ilott 22-6-77-5; Martin 11-5-33-1; Gallian 5-0-19-0; Watkinson 16-4-50-0; Illingworth 24-3-65-0; Hick 5-0-7-0.
ENGLAND: *M A Atherton, A J Stewart, J E R Gallian, G P Thorpe, G A Hick, R A Smith, R C Russell, M Watkinson, P J Martin, R K Illingworth, M C Ilott.
Umpires: R B Shah and S F MaraisReuse content