Familiar script as England fall apart

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Cricket

MARTIN JOHNSON

reports from Kimberley

South Africa A 470-9 dec and 148 England 308 and 309 South Africa A win by six wickets

It is now a firmly established winter tour tradition for England to con the opposition into thinking that they are bound to be made of sterner stuff when the serious business begins. It is only when the opposition wins the first Test by a landslide that they realise they've been had.

Say what you like about England, but overestimate them at your peril. Last winter, they threatened to be totally useless in Australia, and duly were. Ditto the West Indies in 1993, ditto India in 1992. The script rarely varies, even if the personnel does, and listening to Raymond Illingworth yesterday ("nowhere near good enough... more dedication and concentration required...'') brought back not so distant echoes of brassed-off generals of yesteryear.

"Bwooming 'eck," Keith Fletcher was prone to sigh. "You can talk to them till you're blue in the face, but you can't go out there and do it for them. They know what's weqwired, and I'm sure we'll be alwight on the night." Fletcher rarely looked as though he was sure of any such thing, and deep down, neither is Illingworth.

The chairman's lobster-like countenance after his team's six-wicket defeat by South Africa A was not entirely down to the weather. Not far from here is an iron-ore town by the name of Hotazel, and the temperature gauge at Kimberley has invariably been well into three figures.

This could not be said of any of England's top six batsmen, which, on a bowlers' graveyard of a pitch, was not a statistic designed to cool the chairman down. Q: "What did you think of the batting?'' A: "Not a lot". Q: "Why?" A: "They all kept getting out." Q: "And the bowling." A:"I'm not over carried away with that either.''

Another constant about England is that the chairman rarely gets over- cerebral in his post-mortems, although he himself is looking for a bit more between his players' ears by the time the Test series gets under way on Thursday. "It's more of a mental thing than anything else" he said. "It's been bloody hot here, and maybe the sun has gone to their heads. But, on that pitch, someone should have made a major score.''

Illingworth was not asked about the fielding, which would doubtless have prompted the same temperate language and kindly forbearance he has shown to the hotel refurbishment team for waking him up at 6am every morning. England put down five catches in the first innings, and had Graham Thorpe and Mark Ramprakash not spilled two more yesterday, South Africa A might have struggled to make the 148 they needed to win from 43 overs.

This would have been considerably less had it not been for the valiant batting contributions of Jack Russell (93 not out and 40 in a combined total of five hours at the crease) and, somewhat more improbably, Devon Malcolm. "He's a great pro is Jack," Illingworth said afterwards, a phrase he has not been in danger of using in close proximity to Malcolm's name thus far on tour.

It is, understandably, Malcolm's bowling which concerns Illingworth, and Malcolm's batting which is now beginning to concern connoisseurs of the truly hopeless No 11's all around the world.

Yesterday, as Malcolm joined Angus Fraser, England were only 89 runs ahead, and the not unreasonable assumption was that South Africa A's victory target would not be substantially greater than 90. However, those spectators quietly griddling sausages on their braiis suddenly began diving for cover as Malcolm's aerial bombardment produced six sixes and two fours in a mind-boggling 48 not out.

Not so long ago, the middle of Malcolm's bat was rarely blemished by anything resembling a red smudge, and it is hard to know why he now middles as much as he misses. The switch from glasses to contact lenses would be a more convincing theory if there was any evidence that Malcolm kept his eyes open in mid-swing.

England would have been embarrassed enough here at being asked to follow on, although it at least made certain that Robin Smith had two innings in which to find his form before the Test match. Smith did not, like most of England's other batsman, play the left-arm wrist spinner Paul Adams (9 for 181) with any great conviction, but scores of 48 and 28 will probably be just enough to keep him in the side ahead of John Crawley.

England, however, also did just enough to suggest that if this series equated to a 9 to 5 office job, the alarm clock once again appears to be set for lunchtime.

(Final day of four;South Africa won toss)

SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings 470 for 9 dec (A M Bacher 116, J H Kallis 93, L Klusener 61).

ENGLAND - First Innings 308 (R C Russell 93no, M A Atherton 53, P Adams 4-65).

ENGLAND - Second Innings

(Overnight: 136 for 4)

G A Hick c Wilkinson b Kallis 43

R A Smith c Palframan b Telemachus 28

R C Russell c Bacher b Boje 40

M Watkinson lbw b Adams 2

D Gough c Palframan b Jack 4

A R C Fraser c Wilkinson b Adams 15

D E Malcolm not out 48

Extras (b10, lb7, w9, nb2) 28

Total (113.4 overs) 309

Fall: 5-183, 6-210, 7-217, 8-233, 9-250.

Bowling: Jack 8-0-38-2; Telemachus 7-2-20-1; Klusener 15-2-55-0; Adams 38.4-7-116-5; Kallis 17-6-25-1; Boje 28-12-38-1.

SOUTH AFRICA A - Second Innings

P J R Steyn c Hick b Fraser 16

A M Bacher c Russell b Fraser 39

J H Kallis c Russell b Gough 1

*J B Commins c & b Fraser 54

L J Wilkinson not out 18

L Klusener not out 16

Extras (w1, nb3) 4

Total (for 4, 38.5 overs) 148

Fall: 1-39, 2-40, 3-106, 4-115.

Did not bat: S J Palframan, N Boje, S D Jack, R Telemachus, P Adams.

Bowling: Fraser 15-4-49-3; Malcolm 7-0-27-0; Gough 8-0-33-1; Watkinson 7.5-0-32-0; Hick 1-0-7-0.

Umpires: D L Orchard and R E Koertzen.

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