When news of England's selection reached the press box, I thought someone was having us on. Illingworth's policy on seam bowlers was already well known: if in doubt, drop Fraser or Malcolm. But this is the first time he has dropped them both. Atherton had led England on to the field only twice before without either man - against Australia at Edgbaston 1993 (his first Test as captain) and Brisbane 1994. One of these was a heavy defeat; the other was worse than that and still Illingworth and Atherton decided that their strongest attack for this crucial encounter was Cork, Ilott, Martin and the other Illingworth.
It was common knowledge that South Africa were going to strengthen their batting, and turn Brian McMillan into the world's best No 7. So England elected to weaken their bowling. To Cork, the unquestioned leader of the pack, they gave a supporting cast with a combined total of 13 Tests, 23 wickets and no evidence of incisiveness.
Ilott was brought on tour to add variety, but here he is subtracting it - with Cork and Martin in the side, a third medium-paced swing bowler is a luxury, whichever hand he holds the ball in.
By unjustly discarding the only black man in the party, England did the United Cricket Board's township programme no favours. By making four changes - one short of the maximum possible - they squandered a rare opportunity to show that they have that prerequisite of success, a settled side. Five of the batsmen are firmly established - or would be, if Illingworth were not so blithely capable of disregarding proven ability.
At morning drinks, Illy's folly was plain to see: 52 for 0, no swing to speak of, Martin nursing figures of 2-0-17-0, and Andrew Hudson, one of the world's less electric batsman, heading for a hundred before lunch. Then Gary Kirsten allowed his frustration to boil over, Graeme Hick took a fine catch, and a mass suicide began.
The only wicket for which the bowler was even half responsible was that of Jacques Kallis, nibbling at Martin's out-swinger. Richard Illingworth was tidy - he knows no other way - but only one bowler looked Test class: the one who bowled 19 overs and didn't take a wicket. The South Africans had conjured a collapse out of nowhere. Isn't that supposed to be England's job?Reuse content