August 21, 2003

Flintoff's foot costs England dear

England v South Africa, 4th Test, Headingley, Day 1

Gary Kirsten: 18th Test century
© Getty Images

It seemed like a minor inconvenience at the time. Andy Flintoff dug one in to Gary Kirsten just before lunch, but overstepped by a millimetre or two. Kirsten popped up a catch to backward point, but the no-ball call meant that it wasn't out. Kirsten didn't change his shot, although he might just have gone through with it more than if the umpire had kept mum. Instead of being 70 for 5, South Africa went in to lunch only four down.

And Kirsten kept going. He is a barnacle of Trevor Bailey proportions at the crease - he added only 15 between lunch and tea, not that the South Africans were complaining. On South Africa's last tour he made arguably the least-memorable double-century in Test history, at Old Trafford - but he sticks around. To good effect, too: he is the only man, other than Steve Waugh, to have made a Test century against the other nine possible opponents.

Kirsten's batting philosophy is simple: keep out the straight ones, and ignore the others unless there's a chance of square-cutting or driving them for four, or nurdling to fine leg. He's a latter-day John Edrich, with that priceless ability to forget the last ball (or no-ball) and devote his attention to the next one. This Headingley century came nine years after his half-brother Peter, usually a far freer strokemaker, grafted to the one and only Test century of his life there, when he was 39.

With Kirsten at one end South Africa managed to stretch way past the total that looked likely when they were languishing in the first hour. Then, Graeme Smith's decision to bat first looked ludicrous: now it doesn't seem quite so bad.

England paid for a lack of variety in the attack - five fast-medium bowlers of roughly equal pace and size means the batsmen can set themselves comfortably. And the niggling hamstring that restricted Martin Bicknell's bowling was worrying and frustrating in equal measure, as he had dropped immediately into the Glenn McGrath-type trundle that he might have been doing for England throughout the last ten years, instead of for the first time in a decade. England have played 114 Tests since Bicknell's previous one - a record, breaking the previous mark of 104 by Younis Ahmed of Pakistan between 1969-70 and 1986-87. Bicknell's first spell (9-6-12-2) had everyone wondering where he'd been. England missed the boat with Bicknell - and they missed the boat today, too.

Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden CricInfo.

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