December 26, 1999

Rhodes axed as SA make room for the extra bowler

Durban - After dithering over the issue at the Wanderers and again at St George's Park South Africa's selectors finally made up their collective minds to drop Jonty Rhodes after 17 Tests.

It was, if we hear the words of the convener, Rushdi Magiet, a decision which should been seen as a "positive step". Not that Rhodes, drawing the selectors short straw after scoring 133 runs in the first three Test innings of this series, at 66.50, which placed him second in the South African averages, is likely to see it that way. No doubt he will accept the decision with stoic calm and wonder why, after 17 Tests, he is no longer wanted.

There have been moves to get rid of him since the series begun: much of it based on his performance at limited-overs level and the World Cup performances.

Yet the two half centuries at St George's Park a couple of weeks ago, including the first in 176 minutes, did as much to help South Africa recover from a jittery 46 for five to a far more comfortable 252 for six.

Okay, can the critics now feel happy? Well, the selectors seem to be. The day dawned fine, some cloud about, but after days of rain and showers and heavy water-logged patches in front of the main pavilion, barely 48 hours before the start of the game, any thought play would start on time were doubtful. There was no rain last night: none of the forecast deluge poured in the Kingsmead area and the threatened quagmire did not materialise.

Which was a small mercy after rain we have experienced and forced many to vacate their homes in the lower-lying regions. Magiet arrived to explain the Rhodes decision with Dr Ali Bacher, managing director of the United Cricket Board, as part of the delegation and they quit the media centre declining to answer any sticky 101 questions likely to emerge from the assembled interested. In view of the humidity level outside the term sticky was fair enough.

"It has to be seen as an attacking move," said Magiet. "We are going in with the side we feel will do the job." Fair enough.

At lunch, with England on 44 for one after tedious 30 overs, the selectors may have had a few second thoughts intruding. England, though, were propped up by two unlikely Englishmen: Nasser Hussain, born in Madras, and Mark Butcher, of West Indian origin; not a Yorkshireman in sight with the Manchester-born and Tyke-raised Vaughan, left out with an injury and Darren Maddy, from Leicestershire, allowed to display his talents.