Young local hero seizes his moment

Robert Winder watches the hot and bothered tourists lose their way as the hosts enjoy an unlikely last-wicket stand
Click to follow
The Independent Online
If it is true that it only takes a moment to turn a Test match, then at Newlands yesterday afternoon that moment came immediately after the fall of South Africa's penultimate wicket.

At that point, they were 171 for 9 and had made an awful hash of a perfect chance to put the match out of England's reach. The new local hero, Paul Adams, came to the wicket to join Dave Richardson, and Mike Atherton promptly brought back Devon Malcolm to polish off the tail.

It was an entirely reasonable move. The 18-year-old Adams could never, in his ultra-short career, have faced a bowler as rapid as Malcolm, and Richardson is known to prefer less bouncy opposition. Surely, now, it would all be over in a few minutes and England could return to the dressing room in triumph having restricted South Africa to a meagre lead of 20 or 30.

It did not happen quite like that (here comes the key moment). Adams squirted the ball wide of gully and set off for his first run in Test cricket with the warm applause of his home crowd echoing pleasantly in his ears. The applause turned into a sustained, jubilant roar when Dominic Cork, who until then had been (as usual) England's man of the moment, picked up the ball and chucked it for four overthrows.

By the time it clattered into the metallic advertising hoardings, the roar had turned into something like an ovation. Adams had begun his Test match batting career with a five, and in an instant the atmosphere changed. It was like someone unspringing a trap. The next four overs went for 26 runs, with the crowd oleing every one of them. Three quarters of an hour later, with the score having advanced merrily to 240, we saw Peter Martin, an away swing bowler, aiming a new ball at a side nine wickets down, at last find the outside edge of Richardson's bat. Phew!

The ball flew at a lovely height to second slip, and... and there was nobody there. The crowd hugged themselves with pleasure. It was a sign of how thoroughly the momentum of the game had swung. Yet earlier, Cork, Martin and Fraser had subdued the crowd with straight, nippy, patient bowling. There were only two bursts of Newlands noise worth shouting about. The first was the usual incomprehensible hysteria that accompanies Jonty Rhodes to the wicket (it must simply be because he is called Jonty - if he was Frank Rhodes it would never catch on). The second was the shout of relief that came when Brian McMillan (another local boy, Cape Town is home of the big Mac) hoicked Fraser for four shortly before tea. He nearly took short-leg's head off which made it extra special.

This followed a period of English supremacy that had reduced the crowd to a bored slow handclap. Even the Mexican wave petered out into a Mexican ripple. Between lunch and tea South Africa scored 38 for the loss of three wickets, a tribute to England's impressive accuracy and their own reluctance to play an aggressive shot.

All of this dissolved in a flash, as Adams went on to cement his place in folklore. When Fraser came back to staunch the flow, Adams drove him like a No 3. Jack Russell set a new wicket-keeping record for England with his 27th dismissal of the series, but no one really noticed. Not for the first time (and probably not for the last), it was Adams who stole the limelight, the thunder - indeed, everything that was going.