Jack Russell managed to equal Bob Taylor's world record of 10 catches in a Test match, and he may go on to better it today, but that will be of little comfort to a team battling for survival.
To bowl first on a pitch so hard that the groove for the wire leading to the microphone in the stump had to be cut by a whirring metallic saw was an error on a par with South Africa's misreading of the placid pitch at Centurion Park a fortnight ago. The Wanderers' track may be unusually well-grassed but, as every local cricketer has stressed, its sorcery comes as it ages, not in its infancy.
By all accounts, the decision to bat first was marginal. If so, the temptation should have been rejected the moment it was aired. Atherton probably fielded first because he did not want to give the home side's pacemen first use of the pitch, rather than because he believed his own bowlers could achieve a match-winning advantage by doing so.
Atherton claims to be a great believer in following his gut feelings. But those feelings were probably formed during his years of captaining Cambridge, when all-out defence was a daily reality. England desperately needed wickets, but after an early double strike, their captain quickly set negative fields when the situation demanded his bowlers seek out and punish false strokes.
Gary Kirsten, whose knock on Thursday contributed much substance to South Africa's eventual first innings lead of 132, came out to find Devon Malcolm close to top speed. After hustling one that cut away past a limp outside edge, Malcolm got one to bounce giving Russell the first of the wicketkeeper's four second innings dismissals so far.
One of Russell's first-innings victims caused the South Africa coach, Bob Woolmer, to be strongly reprimanded by Clive Lloyd, the match referee. It was announced during the afternoon that the former Warwickshire coach had "brought the game into disrepute" by questioning the umpire's decision when Dave Richardson was given caught behind. He had also said on Friday that Graham Thorpe was unlucky to walk.
England missed an opportunity to exploit Hansie Cronje's early uncertainty against pace. Like Hick and the Australian Tom Moody, Cronje is conscious that his height (6ft 3in) makes him a big target for the short ball, and his footwork lacks purpose. Malcolm tested him once, causing apparent discomfort, but failed to follow it up, his bloodlust dulled by his captain's request to contain.
Andrew Hudson, one of two South African batsmen (the other is Darryl Cullinan), who does not appear to be disconcerted by Malcolm's pace, then began to drive crisp and straight. Enter Angus Fraser, whose first ball drew Hudson into reaching and promptly edging once more to Russell. At 6,000ft above sea level, Fraser has appeared to labour even more than usual.
At noon, Darren Gough, his bruised bowling arm strapped after being struck by McMillan's bouncer, joined the fray. Because of the lush outfield and well-grassed pitch, the ball has not received the kind of wear that allows it to reverse swing. Gough relies on this for his most dangerous ball, the inswinging yorker. Without it, intended yorkers become half-volleys and Gough, his confidence dented if not his pluck, continued where he left off in the first innings. His bowling yielded four runs an over, and Cullinan was particularly savage.
It was here that England lost all pretensions to control. With Cronje anchoring Cullinan's crisp strokeplay, South Africa were soon 200 ahead. The 1957 Australians are the only Test team to have won at the Wanderers batting second and England had every right to feel depressed.
When an announcement just before lunch informed a Mr Devereux that: "Your wife is labour. You know where you should be," half the England side would have wished they could have gone with him.
Dominic Cork, who battled through long spells with the pain of blistered feet, stuck willingly to his task and he was rewarded with the wicket of Cullinan, his Derbyshire team-mate. Judging from Cork's volatile reaction towards the departing batsman, there appears to be little love lost between the pair, and umpire Darryl Hair stepped in.
Cork then dismissed Cronje, whose ill-judged shot gave Russell another caught behind, but by then the South Africa captain had seen his side to an impregnable lead. Then, just to rub salt into already raw wounds, Jonty Rhodes and Brian McMillan embarked on a run-a-ball partnership that fell one run short of the 100 mark when Rhodes, trying to steer Fraser down to third man, gave Russell the catch that equalled Taylor's record.
Russell will not go overboard on the celebrations yet, perhaps indulging himself with one or two cups of tea more than his usual post-match quota. "It's nice to be a part of history," England's keeper said afterwards. "But the situation of the game has put a dampener on it." With Russell in mind, Atherton took the new ball. But his bowlers were out on their feet and McMillan took to them with relish, taking 16 off three Malcolm deliveries, two of them towering hooks for six.
It was a bad day in a match England will come to regret. Earlier in the day a sky-written message of "Good Luck" appeared among the white fluffy clouds above the ground. It would have been better for England had he gone on to seed the clouds with silver iodide to make it rain. As it is, they will need all the luck they can get.
Pringle on Lara, page 30
Jack Russell's perfect ten
G Kirsten Caught off edged cut b Malcolm 110
W J Cronje Caught off away swinger b Cork 35
D J Cullinan Caught off a thin edge b Cork 69
J N Rhodes Caught off outswinger b Cork 5
D J Richardson Caught off bat handle b Malcolm 0
C Eksteen Diving catch in front of first slip b Cork 13
Kirsten Caught off thin-edged cut shot b Malcolm 1
A C Hudson Defensive edge off bouncer caught in front of first slip b Fraser 17
Cronje Loose push caught outside off-stump b Cork 48
Rhodes Acrobatic diving right-hand catch off edged shot b Fraser 57
Second Test scoreboard
(Third day; England won toss)
SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings 332 (G Kirsten 110, D J Cullinan 69; D G Cork 5-84, D E Malcolm 4-64).
ENGLAND - First Innings 200 (R A Smith 52).
SOUTH AFRICA - Second Innings
(Overnight: 5 for 0)
A C Hudson c Russell b Fraser 17
(54 min, 35 balls, 3 fours; snicked wideish ball that bounced)
G Kirsten c Russell b Malcolm 1
(25 min, 19 balls; thin-edged flashing cut shot to wicketkeeper)
*W J Cronje c Russell b Cork 48
(167 min, 93 balls, 5 fours; ran ball off face of angled bat to wicketkeeper)
D J Cullinan c Gough b Cork 61
(101 min, 88 balls, 11 fours; skied pull shot to mid-on)
J N Rhodes c Russell b Fraser 57
(172 min, 134 balls, 7 fours; edged attempted guide to third man)
B M McMillan not out 76
(185 min, 128 balls, 8 fours)
D J Richardson c Ramprakash b Malcolm 23
(45 min, 28 balls, 3 fours; caught on the hook)
S M Pollock not out 0
(3 min, 0 balls)
Extras (b1 lb9 nb3) 13
Total (for 6, 379 min, 86.3 overs) 296
Fall: 1-7 (Kirsten) 2-29 (Hudson) 3-116 (Cullinan) 4-145 (Cronje) 5-244 (Rhodes) 6-296 (Richardson).
To bat: C Eksteen, M W Pringle, A A Donald.
Bowling: Cork 22.3-4-59-2 (nb1) (6-0-16-0, 4-0-8-0, 10-3-32-2, 2.3-1- 3-0); Malcolm 13-2-65-2 (7-2-18-1, 4-0-24-0, 2-0-23-1); Fraser 20-4-60- 2 (nb3) (8-2-24-1, 7-2-14-0, 5-0-22-1); Gough 12-2-48-0 (nb2) (4-0-20- 0, 8-2-28-0); Hick 15-3-35-0 (1-0-4-0, 10-3-19-0, 4-0-12-0); Ramprakash 4-0-19-0.
Umpires: D B Hair and K E Liebenberg.Reuse content