Thorpe thrives on damp ground

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reports from Paarl

England 263-8 v Boland

The supreme effort needed by the voortrekkers to breach the lofty Drakenstein mountains that flank this pleasant ground made them a determined and hardy bunch, not given to failure. Although these are qualities Michael Atherton has been preaching and practising since assuming the England captaincy, his team do not seem able to follow their leader.

Atherton was not playing yesterday as England, after the thrilling stodge of last Monday, seemed unable to maintain interest on a pitch whose surface behaved like drying putty. Only Graham Thorpe and Jack Russell seemed intent on making the undemanding Boland bowlers work for their wickets, with Thorpe scoring 56 and Russell batting close to three hours for his 45.

This ground is only in its second first-class season. Last year the equivalent match here against New Zealand had to be abandoned, the umpires ruling the pitch too dangerous after several batsmen were struck in the throat. To prevent this happening, the groundsman has taken to watering the pitch just before the start, and already this season two matches have been delayed because of his lavish use of the hosepipe.

If the surface was damp and sporty, it did not show, for the opening hostilities from Phil DeFreitas were muted, the Derbyshire man quickly opting for line and length after seeing Robin Smith bludgeon his opening partner, the lanky Scharl Willoughby, for three quick boundaries.

Willoughby fed Smith's off-side repertoire as if it were a slot machine with a saucy smile and England raced to fifty in only 54 balls. But just as Smith promised his most fluent knock of the tour he was was bowled for 39, by a beauty from Billy Stelling that seamed away off the pitch to hit off-stump.

The dismissal meant an early opportunity for John Crawley to show his many supporters here, many of whom are sporting closely cropped heads, that he has the kind of credentials, if not the most politically correct haircut, to make the England No 3 spot his own. All looked well, but after cracking a cover drive for four to get off the mark, he was clumsily stumped by Louis-Mark Germishuys after lurching down the pitch to the off-spinner Brian Drew. After Mark Ramprakash's two-ball journey to the precipice of no return at the Wanderers, Crawley is set to play in the next Test, but not necessarily at No 3 where Smith may yet make a return.

Of all the possibles, Alec Stewart would probably be best suited to the role. His last Test fifty as an opening batsman for England was at Lord's against New Zealand, 16 months ago. His dismissal here, bowled driving loosely at Stelling, was almost identical to the one in England's second innings in Johannesburg, where Brian McMillan forced a similar stutter in his footwork, a flaw that, until corrected, is likely to be ruthlessly exploited by South Africa's new-ball bowlers.

In fact, only a breezy half-century from his Surrey team-mate, Thorpe, and a hard-hit cameo from Graeme Hick, that included a cleanly struck straight six off Drew, prevented England from losing out completely to the scenery. However, when both were out in quick succession, Russell took over with his now renowned crab-with-a-spade role, and the mountain view won out.

DeFreitas, who had one or two points to prove in this match, looked uninterested until the second new ball. With Mike Watkinson already gone for 24, brilliantly caught one-handed by a diving Stelling at short mid-off, he tormented England's tail with eight successive maidens. His only reward came after a disputable dismissal for caught behind as his old Lancashire team-mate, Peter Martin, fended at a bouncer. This allowed Richard Illingworth to apply a dollop of his own brand of Russell-like adhesive before the close as England ended the day 263-8. With the home side's spinners, Drew and Claude Henderson, sending down 63 of the 109 overs bowled, Illingworth will be in for an even stickier time today.

Paarl scoreboard

(First day of four; England won toss)

ENGLAND - First Innings

R A Smith b Stelling 39

*A J Stewart b Stelling 39

J P Crawley st L'M Germishuys b Drew 6

G A Thorpe c L'M Germishuys b Drew 56

G A Hick b Henderson 32

R C Russell not out 45

M Watkinson c Stelling b Henderson 24

D Gough b Willoughby 3

P J Martin c L'M Germishuys

b DeFreitas 3

R K Illingworth not out 7

Extras (lb5, w1, nb3) 9

Total (for 8, 107 overs) 263

Fall: 1-54 2-74 3-113 4-160 5-180 6-217 7-224 8-233.

To bat: M C Ilott.

Bowling (to date): DeFreitas 14-9-17-1; Willoughby 17-1-63-1; Stelling 13-4-36-2; Henderson 35-13-65-2; Drew 28-4-77-2.

BOLAND: L D Ferreira, B C Baguley, K C Jackson, T Lazard, * P Kuiper, W F Stelling, L'M Germishuys, P A J DeFreitas C W Henderson, C M Willoughby, B J Drew.

Umpires: M Bagus and R Brooks.