The Boland Bank ground in Paarl has a history of abandoned matches. This time last year the game against New Zealand was stopped because of a dangerous pitch. No danger of that this time, with the track doing an even better impersonation of Rip van Winkle than Devon Malcolm on a day off.
Winding its way to the east, the Du Toit's pass is the only way through the Drakenstein mountains that fringe the ground. Unfortunately, neither of England's spinners, Richard Illingworth and Mike Watkinson, could emulate its twists and turns to find a way through the largely strokeless Boland cricket team.
The announcement of the abandonment, when it finally came over the public address system, was greeted by cheering from the thousand or so spectators dotted around the bank that rings the boundary, one of whom thought the match was the most boring thing he had seen since Geoffrey Boycott was at the crease.
Having spent most of the day with little to divert them from barbecuing their lunch and marinating their sizzling bodies in suncream, the prospect of some hit and giggle on Sunday clearly animated them.
No doubt already fed up by England's rearguard antics in the Second Test a week earlier, they were in no mood for the lightweight imitation performed by Claude Henderson and Bryan Drew: they did not have the stature of Mike Atherton and Jack Russell and this was not the context for such a display. It did, however, provide one of the more captivating interludes of play, the only other highlight being a typically hard-hit 54 from the Derbyshire all-rounder Phil DeFreitas.
It is a moot point whether England would have enforced the follow-on in any case. Everyone was kept guessing right until Henderson pushed Mike Watkinson into the covers for a single to reach the 253 required to make England bat again.
The scoreboard flashed in celebration of the milestone, much to the relief of England's bowlers, especially Mark Ilott and Peter Martin. Ever since the shine went from the new ball, the seamers had been gazing longingly for some time toward the shaded benches outside the dressing-room.
In fact, Ilott returned to mop up the tail, finishing with three for 48, but there was little to convince those watching that he is a certainty for the Third Test at Kingsmead, which starts on Thursday. Few balls swung, apart from the delivery that cannoned into the stumps off Louis-Mark Germishuys's inside edge. He also pushed far too many deliveries down the leg-side.
With Darren Gough sidelined after tweaking the lower hamstring in his right leg, it was the ideal opportunity for both Ilott and Martin to show Ray Illingworth their credentials. Martin did not bowl as well as he had on Friday, and probably lacks a yard of nip to trouble good players on Test pitches. However, his height (6ft 5in) allowed him to get more out of this lazy pitch than any other seamer, and the chairman is known to like his dry sardonic attitude.
He may need it in Durban, for the latest on Gough is that he is unlikely to be considered for selection. According to Illingworth, the Yorkshireman is "very doubtful" and needs a couple of long bowls to be considered anyway. "Although it's not a bad injury, time is against him," the chairman added.
In any case, Gough has bowled erratically, and batted with even less consistency, his confidence a mere glimmer of the roaring bushfire we saw in Australia. With South Africa adding Jacques Kallis, an exciting young batsman to strengthen their original squad of 12, the clues are that Kingsmead may well help the bowlers. The theory is that the sportier the pitch, the more batsmen you play as fewer bowlers are needed to bowl them out.
The logic is one that England might find persuasive, providing that they think the humidity of the festive season will not sap Fraser as much as the altitude appeared to in Johannesburg. If they do not, John Crawley could come in at No 3 in place of the beleaguered Mark Ramprakash, or at No 6 if Robin Smith fancies being promoted up the order for his home- town Test. He did not receive much encouragement here, however, when his brief sortie as an opener in the second innings ended caught at fine leg hooking Scharl Willoughby.
That way, England could field a seam bowling attack comprising Dominic Cork, Devon Malcolm and Angus Fraser, with Richard Illingworth, who bowled steadily for his three wickets in Paarl, available to front the spinning duties.
Although Atherton will be loathe to play five bowlers, his willingness to insert South Africa at the Wanderers means that he is not immune to a gamble early on in the series. If so, a bold punt would be to bat Russell at No 6 and play five bowlers, the extra man coming from among Ilott, Martin or Watkinson, depending on the state of the pitch, which normally favours seam and swing.
England squad for Third Test: Atherton, Stewart, Crawley, Thorpe, Hick, Smith, Russell, Cork, Fraser, Illingworth, Malcolm, Ilott.
Scoreboard from Paarl
(Final day of three; England won toss)
ENGLAND - First Innings 402 for 8 dec (R C Russell 129no, R K Illingworth 57 no, G A Thorpe 56).
BOLAND - First Innings
(Overnight: 129 for 4)
*A P Kuiper c Hick b Illingworth 5
W F Stelling c Smith b Watkinson 20
P A J DeFreitas c Smith b Martin 54
L'M Germishuys b Ilott 7
C W Henderson c Russell b Ilott 31
B J Drew not out 30
C M Willoughby b Ilott 11
Extras (b5, lb2, nb1) 8
Total (135 overs) 288
Fall (cont): 5-141, 6-181, 7-198, 8-216, 9-267.
Bowling: Gough 3.4-1-14-0; Ilott 22-8-48-3; Martin 21.2-6-48-2; Illingworth 50-16-89-3; Watkinson 38-17-82-2.
ENGLAND - Second Innings
J P Crawley not out 18
R A Smith c sub b Willoughby 1
M C Ilott c Lazard b Henderson 8
G A Thorpe not out 3
Extras (w3) 3
Total (for 2, 12.3 overs) 33
Fall: 1-3, 2-27.
Did not bat: *A J Stewart, G A Hick, R C Russell, M Watkinson, D Gough, R K Illingworth, P J Martin.
Bowling: Willoughby 6-2-7-1; Stelling 3.3-0-18-0; Henderson 3-0-8-1.
Umpires: M Bagus and R Brooks.
Today's fixture: One-day match (Paarl): Boland v England.Reuse content