Mandela at heart of historic day

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reports from Soweto

England 285-7 v South African Invitation XI

Nelson Mandela dropped in by helicopter to the inaugural first-class cricket match to be played in a black township. The South African President's arrival brought song and applause from the crowd, he shook the hand of every player and conducted a lap of the ground. It was a wholly dignified and regal performance, but then this man is king among his people. Somehow the fact that England scored 285 for 7 and an Invitation XI bowler even took a hat-trick seemed largely irrelevant. This was an occasion.

Mandela was scheduled to come to the cricket on Sunday, but he has a pre-local election rally that day. He gave just five minutes' notice of his change of plan. "I did not want to let cricket down," he told organisers. "I had to be here." Mandela's joy at South Africa's triumph in the Rugby World Cup earlier this year was memorable, yet this was special for him. Mandela spent many years living in the Orlando East area of Soweto and for an international sporting team to play here in the black township is another step towards acceptance and integration.

"Sport has a role to play in the uniting of many countries of the world because it speaks a language far beyond the reach of politicians," Mandela said. "To have cricket coming to Soweto adds a new dimension. Cricket was one of the first sports to be brought to the masses in this country and now we are seeing the fruits of those efforts. You can see from the people here how important it is."

Mandela, who walked across the outfield during a drinks break to greet the players, had a special word for Devon Malcolm: "Ah, I know you. You are the destroyer." He then thanked the fast bowler for encouraging black children and acting as a role model for them. Malcolm said it was the greatest day of his cricketing life, better even than his 9 for 57 against South Africa last year.

Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart were not disturbed by the 20-minute stoppage and went on to compile a first-wicket stand of 163 in 50 overs. Atherton is discovering his touch in his normal serene manner and Stewart's suspect right index finger is holding up although, on this slow and low pitch, his hands would have to reach his shins for him to be in danger of being struck on them.

Atherton clipped a catch to mid-on and then Stewart attempted to reach his century in the grand manner. He miscued and Hansie Cronje, the South African captain, held the catch at long-off. Stewart's last 44 runs came from 39 balls. Robin Smith scratched around for more than half an hour for four and was then stumped down the legside as he attempted to shake off his shackles. Graeme Hick pulled a long hop to mid-wicket.

John Crawley, given an unexpected game because Mark Ramprakash pulled out with altitude exhaustion following his efforts on Wednesday, was in no mood to surrender a chance of putting his case for the No 3 position that is already slipping away from him. Crawley took three hours over his half-century and then watched as Meyrick Pringle, a former Test bowler, dismissed Jack Russell, Mike Watkinson and Mark Ilott with successive balls. Not the most distinguished hat-trick, perhaps, but not a bad way to end a truly historic day.

(First day of four; England won toss)

ENGLAND - First Innings

*M A Atherton c Rhodes b Strydom 59

A J Stewart c Cronje b Strydom 94

J P Crawley not out 56

R A Smith st Masikizana b Davis 4

G A Hick c Williams b Strydom 15

R C Russell lbw b Pringle 11

M Watkinson lbw b Pringle 0

M C Ilott b Pringle 0

R K Illingworth not out 11

Extras (b9, lb12, nb14) 35

Total (for 7, 106 overs) 285

Fall: 1-163, 2-170, 3-179, 4-210, 5-250, 6-250, 7-250.

To bat: A R C Fraser, D E Malcolm.

Bowling: Pringle 19-3-59-3; Snell 13-6-30-0; Williams 23-6-65-0; Cronje 8-3-17-0; Davis 18-7-55-1; Strydom 25-9-38-3.

SA INVITATION XI: J M Arthur, P Amm, *W J Cronje, J N Rhodes, P C Strydom, G Toyana, L Masikana, M J G Davis, H S Williams, R P Snell, M W Pringle.

Umpires: M Bagus and W Diedricks.