Indefatigable Cork leads the fightback

SECOND TEST: South Africa 278-7 v England; England ignore local advice and pay early price for choosing to bowl but late run of success rescues decision
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MARTIN JOHNSON

reports from Johannesburg

South Africa 278-7 v England

The consultant groundsman here is the former Derbyshire player Ashley Harvey-Walker, and, as someone who once handed his false teeth to the square-leg umpire on a particularly nasty piece of turf at Buxton, he knows a thing or two about dodgy pitches.

Yesterday, cocking a not very clever deaf 'un to Harvey-Walker's bat- first advice, England themselves came armed to the false teeth with four seam bowlers, and can count themselves extremely fortunate that they are not already out of this Test match.

With just over half a session to go, South Africa were 211 for 2 on a pretty near perfect batting pitch, but five more wickets as the shadows lengthened across the Wanderers spared England what was threatening to be a highly embarrassing first-day post-mortem. As it is, the home team's 278 for 7 leaves the match just about evenly balanced.

Apart from ignoring the groundstaff, neither did England appear to be aware of an old cricketing proverb in these parts; if you win the toss, don't look at the pitch, look at the sky. After the kind of weather which made you wonder why Johannesburg was not twinned with Venice, yesterday dawned a good deal brighter than of late - and a good deal brighter than Michael Atherton's decision to insert the opposition for only the second time in his 26 Tests as captain.

Much more hearteningly, England's fightback came from combination of a cricket team which has learned how to guts it out in a crisis, and a bowler in Dominic Cork who has an increasing ability to pull rabbits from hats. Cork has a picture of Ian Botham on his mantlepiece at home, but it is almost getting to the stage when it ought to be the other way around.

There was rarely a time when Cork did not have the ball in his hand yesterday, although having viewed the efforts of his other bowlers, Atherton did not need much persuading when Cork was busy pooh-poohing the idea of taking a breather.

Having taken the first two wickets before lunch, Cork picked up two more with the second new ball, and with England having gambled on Devon Malcolm in preference to Richard Illingworth, Malcolm finally repaid their faith with two late wickets of his own.

It was a curious start to the day, in that Malcolm began with three maiden overs. "Malcolm is coming on from the golf course end," boomed the announcer, which appeared to be a recipe for a series of hooks and slices and frantic cries of "fore", but it was Darren Gough who was all over the place in the early stages, spanked for 21 off his first three overs.

Before then, however, Cork had dismissed Andrew Hudson for a seven over duck in a way which once again emphasised his propensity for the unusual. As Cork and the entire slip cordon screamed for an lbw decision, the ball floated to Alec Stewart in the gully, and Hudson was given out caught off bat and pad.

It was Cork again who removed the dangerous looking Hansie Cronje just before lunch, caught behind off a good away swinger, but in the afternoon session, Gary Kirsten and Daryll Cullinan clocked up 110 more runs without being parted.

The fact that they should have been parted reduced Gough to something close to apoplexy during a spell in which he four times found the outside edge of Cullinan's bat, and all he had to show for it were three fours and a dropped catch from Jack Russell. The wicketkeeper got both hands to the ball - as did Gough to his head as he sank to his knees in frustration.

Russell made belated amends when Cullinan's thin edge off Graeme Hick ended a partnership of 137 in 42 overs, but the left-handed Kirsten went on to complete his maiden Test century in his 29th innings.

The fact that most of his runs either came from leg-side glides or fierce off-drives was a fair indication of England's inability to bowl on one side of the wicket. Another pointer to the sort of day England were having was the number of times the ball came towards their least athletic fielder, and Angus Fraser hauling himself back to his feet to rub dirt off his flannels proved to be one of the day's more common sights.

However, all this changed after tea, beginning with a hopeless stroke by Jonty Rhodes at an innocuous ball from Cork. Rhodes' presence in this team represents one of South Africa's keener sporting debates, and the odds on him still being in the side by the end of this series are pretty long.

When England took the second new ball, they would probably have settled for getting Kirsten, caught behind to a tired prod at Malcolm, who by this time had reverted from his unfamiliar economy model to the more recognisable mixture of occasionally stunning pace, and even more stunning inaccuracy.

David Richardson provided Malcolm with his second wicket in four balls with an eyes-closed flinch that resulted in a ballooned catch to Russell off the bat handle, and Brian McMillan's enterprising innings ended in the final over of the day when Cork had him palpably lbw.

Yesterday was an almost complete reversal of the opening day of the first Test. This time, South Africa picked the game's only spinner, and were as glad to be inserted here as England were in Pretoria. England cocked it up with both team and toss yesterday, but if the weather holds, it will fascinating to see if they get away with it.

TEST SCOREBOARD

(First day of five; England won toss)

SOUTH AFRICA - First innings

A C Hudson c Stewart b Cork 0

(28 min, 27 balls)

G Kirsten c Russell b Malcolm 110

(353 min, 241 balls, 16 fours)

*W J Cronje c Russell b Cork 35

(76 min, 51 balls, 6 fours)

D J Cullinan c Russell b Hick 69

(163 min, 128 balls, 10 fours)

J N Rhodes c Russell b Cork 5

(23 min, 14 balls)

B N McMillan lbw b Cork 35

(84 min, 70 balls, 7 fours)

D J Richardson c Russell b Malcolm 0

(3 min, 3 balls)

S M Pollock not out 3

(20 min, 11 balls)

Extras (b1, lb13, w2, nb5) 21

Total (for 7, 378 min, 89.5 overs) 278

Fall: 1-3 (Hudson), 2-74 (Cronje), 3-211 (Cullinan), 4-221 (Rhodes), 5-260 (Kirsten), 6-260 (Richardson), 7-278 (Mcmillan).

To bat: C E Eksteen, M W Pringle, A A Donald.

Bowling: Cork 27.5-6-74-4 (nb3) (9-3-14-1, 7-1-25-1, 3-1-9-0, 4-1-9-1, 4.5-0-17-1); Malcolm 16-5-42-2 (6-3-16-0, 5-0-22-0, 5-2-4-2); Fraser 16- 5-46-0 (nb2) (5-2-16-0, 5-2-9-0, 6-1-21-0); Gough 15-2-64-0 (nb1, w2) (3-0-21-0, 7-2-26-0, 5-0-17-0); Hick 15-1-38-1 (5-0-14-0, 3-0-6-0, 5-0- 14-1, 2-1-4-0).

Progress: 50: 90 min, 19.1 overs. Lunch: 75-2 (Kirsten 34, Cullinan 0) 27 overs. 100: 147 min, 33.5 overs. 150: 205 min, 48 overs. Tea: 185- 2 (Kirsten 76, Cullinan 63) 58 overs. 200: 258 min, 62.4 overs. 250: 329 min, 78.3 overs. New ball: 80 overs at 251-4.

Kirsten's 50: 143 min, 97 balls, 10 fours. 100: 278 min, 196 balls, 16 fours.

Cullinan's 50: 109 min, 87 balls, 7 fours.

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

Umpires: D B Hair and K E Liebenberg.

TV Replay Umpire: R E Koertzen.

Match Referee: C H Lloyd.

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