Stylish Atherton gives no quarter

CRICKET: England captain and vice-captain in commanding form but Smith still desperately struggling to find his best form: Orange Free State 201-8 England 202-3 England win by seven wickets
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The Independent Online
MARTIN JOHNSON

reports from Bloemfontein

Orange Free State 201-8 England 202-3 England win by seven wickets

If you were to drop a book of things to do in Bloemfontein on to your foot it would not result in much of a bruise, so for England's cricketers to have left the locals feeling that another 30 years without a visit would not quite be long enough was no mean achievement.

On Saturday, England flirted with another Afrikaner uprising as the crowd vented its spleen at being, so to speak, Boered to death, and when very nearly the entire town turned up anticipating greater things for yesterday's one-day game, they went away wishing they had done something a bit more exciting with their Sunday, such as washing the car or mowing the lawn.

England were widely blamed for the three-day match evaporating into a turgid draw, and it is fair to say that Michael Atherton's declaration - leaving the Free State to make 311 in 55 overs - did not exactly err on the side of generosity.

Yesterday, the England captain was even more unchivalrous, making 60 runs off 73 balls with such panache that the essential ingredient for all one-day cricket, a close finish, had disappeared before most of the spectators had put a match to their barbecues.

England's embarrassingly easy seven-wicket victory, with 54 balls to spare, will have put them in good heart for Thursday's second Test match at the Wanderers ground in Johannesburg, although what other relevance it will have had to that particular game is a moot point.

In fact, the most pertinent factor from the weekend is whether England's Test match selection will be affected by a back injury to Richard Illingworth. England are hoping that three days of rest will clear it up, but if not (given that the other R Illingworth would currently offer a better spin option than Mike Watkinson) they will have little choice but to go into the match with a four-pronged pace attack.

This would ordinarily be enough to bring Devon Malcolm back into the Test match equation, but even though Malcolm has been operating here on a pitch almost totally devoid of pace and bounce, the customary debate on Malcolm has switched from whether he is capable of hitting a barn door, to whether he is capable of making a dent in one.

Yesterday's game was at least colourful in one respect, in that anyone watching it at home would have immediately sent for the TV repair man. England were kitted out in blue, Free State in a particularly garish shade of orange, Jack Russell was colour uncoordinated in white pads, and the stumps were painted red.

Not, perhaps, quite as deep a shade of crimson as Allan Donald's face after Donald had sent down three overs for 25 runs yesterday, including five fours. He also failed to return for a second spell after Atherton and Alec Stewart had initially thrashed him out of the attack. There was just a suspicion that Donald might have been feeling another twinge from his recent groin strain, although Donald said after the game that he was expecting both to play in the Test match and to take wickets. "There will be more pace in the pitch than there was for the first Test," he said, "and the atmosphere at the Wanderers always gets my adrenalin pumping."

Yesterday's adrenalin, either from Donald or the crowd, would barely have filled a teaspoon, and although Atherton and Stewart both played strokes of the highest class, just about the only time the spectators broke silence was to guffaw at a horrendous dropped catch at mid-off when Atherton had made 33.

Saturday's spectators were a little kinder, and stoically resisted a similar outbreak of mirth while watching Robin Smith batting. The captain and vice-captain might be in good form, but Smith's elongated 30-ball zero on Saturday was painful to watch. Munton in the mood, page 23

(Orange Free State won toss)

ORANGE FREE STATE

D Jordaan c and b Watkinson 54

G F J Liebenberg run out 4

*W J Cronje c Russell b Gough 22

L J Wilkinson st Russell b Hick 24

J F Venter b Watkinson 6

H H Dippenaar c Hick b Watkinson 9

C F Craven c Thorpe b Hick 13

N Boje not out 31

H C Bakkes c Atherton b Ramprakash 1

A A Donald not out 17

Extras (b4, lb8, w7, nb1) 20

Total (for 8, 50 overs) 201

Fall: 1-16, 2-60, 3-106, 4-119, 5-125, 6-135, 7-161, 8-166.

Did not bat: N W Pretorius.

Bowling: Cork 9-3-26-0; Fraser 6-1-26-0; Gough 9-0-38-1; Martin 2-0-14- 0; Watkinson 10-0-40-3; Hick 10-0-27-2; Ramprakash 4-0-18-1.

ENGLAND

*M A Atherton c Cronje b Venter 60

A J Stewart c Liebenberg b Craven 81

G A Hick b Craven 31

G P Thorpe not out 12

M R Ramprakash not out 2

Extras (b4, lb6, w5, nb1) 16

Total (for 3, 41 overs) 202

Fall: 1-116, 2-184, 3-193.

Did not bat: R C Russell, D G Cork, M Watkinson, D Gough, P J Martin, A R C Fraser.

Bowling: Pretorius 2-0-14-0; Bakkes 6-1-32-0; Donald 3-0-25-0; Boje 10- 1-30-0; Craven 7-1-36-2; Venter 10-0-47-1; Cronje 3-0-8-0.

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