Once more the Proteas had made all the running only to be denied by the mulish late kick that England appear to have acquired under Atherton. For South Africa, the key to unlocking the day was taking early wickets. Unfortunately for the home side, they proved rarer than hen's teeth. Hard though the bowlers strived, they were never equal to the stoical resistance of Stewart and his partners.
It was an important innings for the Surrey captain in every sense, and he curbed most of his extravagances to play it. The glimmer of new steel was apparent in his concentration, and at one stage, during the latter part of the morning session, he went 37 balls without scoring.
This was clear evidence, if any were needed, that England were never trying to reach the 328 they required for victory. They do not have a strong record of chasing totals of over 200 abroad - the last time they managed it was against India at Delhi in 1972-73.
The day's work did not embrace the glory of victory, but the cause of a draw was glorious enough to appeal to the yeoman in Stewart. It was not long before he was driving and cutting with all the fluency of old, and inexperienced eyes may have thought that England, by rattling up 43 in the first hour, were setting about the 308 needed to win when play started.
Together he and Atherton put on 84, their highest stand of the series, before being parted early in the afternoon session. Atherton, so long England's lone pillar when lengthy resistance was required, was again staunch - if brief by his own concept of time at the crease.
The England captain is clearly addicted to situations in which his presence causes the opposition great distress, and more important he has the technique to make the habit a safe one. With bent knees and velvet hands always ahead of the batting blade to soften the impact of the ball, he once again looked as though he was in for the duration. Alas for England he hardly lasted beyond lunch, after which Craig Matthews managed to swing one back in at him, catching the England captain on the crease.
There is a misconception that just because Atherton appears to relish pressure he does not feel it. This is not true, as his chair-smashing antics after he was given out in the first innings here proved. Although repetitions of such behaviour should not be condoned, Atherton had a point when he complained of media intrusion. "What happens in the dressing- room is the business of the players," he said.
This has been a joyful Test match, matching even Caribbean standards with blue skies and an energetic house band raising the tempo when the cricket could not. Almost 60,000 people have attended, a high proportion of them black, something not evident at the previous Test venues.
The crowd will have come to realise how Test matches can occasionally unfold with almost tectonic slowness. In all, 15 sessions of play came and went, yet the pitch refused to yield. Like its predecessor at the Wanderers, the track at St George's Park hadbeen made to last and last.
It was the kind of surface on which the bowling side needs things to run their way and for the few balls that do misbehave to strike gold. Instead, successive broad bats left South Africa's bowlers with little more for their efforts than dusty hands.
Once again their captain, Hansie Cronje, lacked the little inspirational touches that are needed to winkle out obstinate opponents. Few understood why he opened with Craig Matthews, when Shaun Pollock appeared sound of lung and limb. Cronje did keep his side going, but his style is a virtual carbon copy of that of his predecessor Kepler Wessels. He preferred to put the slow squeeze on opponents rather than risk gaining an advantage by gamble or bluff.
His handling of Paul Adams, which for the most part has been sympathetic and sensible, needed to be firmer. In particular, he needed to direct the little spinner's attentions towards a tighter leg-stump line. It was simply a lack of experience all round, and Adams, who is willing and receptive, will have begun to learn. His remarkable debut is worth far more than the four wickets he took.
It was Adams who managed to prise Jason Gallian from his moorings, when he had him lbw offering no stroke to his rolled chinaman. No mean feat, considering Gallian holds the record for scoring the slowest ever County Championship century, made in 453 minutes against Derbyshire at Blackpool in 1994.
The dismissal immediately prompted Cronje to take the new ball. Donald, summoning still more pace from hidden reserves, removed Stewart, Andrew Hudson holding a good catch in the gully. But if a rally threatened, it was soon quashed.
After the match, the South Africa players went over to applaud the band and the supporters in the main stand. They have been denied twice now by England. But the tourists will need to turn the tables in Cape Town if they are to get anything more than a mention in despatches from this series.
Stephen Brenkley, page 26
Fourth Test scoreboard
(Fifth day; South Africa won toss)
SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings 428 (D J Cullinan 91, D J Richardson 84; D G Cork 4-113).
ENGLAND - First Innings 263 (M A Atherton 72, G A Hick 62).
SOUTH AFRICA - Second Innings 263 (G Kirsten 69).
ENGLAND - Second Innings
(Overnight: 20 for 0)
*M A Atherton lbw b Matthews 34
(172 min, 137 balls, 3 fours; caught on crease to a ball that came into him)
A J Stewart c Hudson b Donald 81
(339 min, 261 balls, 13 fours; caught in the gully forcing ball off back foot)
J E R Gallian lbw b Adams 28
(145 min, 104 balls, 4 fours; padded up to chinaman)
G P Thorpe not out 12
(49 min, 34 balls, 2 fours)
G A Hick not out 11
(29 min, 23 balls, 2 fours)
Extras (b9 lb8 w1 nb5) 23
Total (for 3, 369 min, 92 overs) 189
Fall: 1-84 (Atherton) 2-157 (Gallian) 3-167 (Stewart).
Bowling: Pollock 10-4-15-0 (nb1) (2-0-4-0, 4-3-1-0, 3-1-6-0, 1-0-4-0); Donald 19-4-60-1 (nb2 w1) (2-0-9-0, 7-1-30-0, 6-2-11-0, 4-1-10-1); Adams 28-13-51-1 (3-2-4-0, 9-2-25-0, 14-8-18-1, 2-1-4-0); McMillan 14-6-16-0 (nb3) (2-1-3-0, 7-3-4-0, 3-2-1-0, 2-0-8-0); Matthews 19-10-29-1 (7-3-12- 0, 7-6-4-1, 5-1-13-0); Kirsten 2-1-1-0 (one spell).
Progress: Fourth day: Close: 20-0 (Atherton 9, Stewart 8) 9 overs. 50: 79 mins, 18.3 overs. Lunch: 80-0 (Atherton 30, Stewart 41) 37 overs. 100: 197 min, 48.2 overs. Tea: 134-1 (Stewart 67, Gallian 14) 68 overs. 150: 302 min, 74.2 overs. New ball taken at 166-2 after 84 overs. Match abandoned at 5.02pm, with eight overs remaining in the final hour.
Stewart's 50: 185 min, 130 balls, 8 fours.
Man of the Match: G Kirsten.
Umpires: S A Bucknor (West Indies) and C J Mitchley (SA).
First Test (Pretoria): Match drawn. Second Test (Johannesburg): Match drawn. Third Test (Durban): Match drawn. Fifth Test (Cape Town): 2-6 January.Reuse content