December 27, 1999

England undergo astonishing metamorphosis

England underwent an astonishing metamorphosis on the second day of the third Test against South Africa at Kingsmead, finishing on 366 for nine after their first-day crawl to 135 for two which left most of the sizeable crowd close to stupor in sweltering heat.

Following the stultifying batting of the first day, only 8500 people (as compared to Sunday's 15500) turned up at Kingsmead yesterday, but at least they got their money's worth.

Although England captain Nasser Hussain continued his stubborn occupation of the crease and went to England's third slowest Test century ever, Alec Stewart was willing to chance his arm and his 95 off 149 balls was a highly entertaining innings, charming the crowd with delightful cuts and powerful hooks.

Having looked half-asleep in the field at times - Jonty Rhodes was sorely missed after being controversially omitted from the starting XI - South Africa came to in the final session and were on the brink of dismissing the tourists when Hussain accepted the offer of bad light and took the England innings into a third day with 400 looking out of reach.

England made nonsense of their first-day approach by going after the bowling (much of it admittedly misdirected) from the outset, with some success. In the second over of the day, Darren Maddy (24) looped a catch to short-leg off Allan Donald - restored to the attack after suffering from nausea, but after that, Hussain and Stewart feasted on a diet of short-pitched bowling.

Spinner Paul Adams, and, to a lesser extent, Donald, apart, South Africa's bowling was very poor before lunch and Stewart, the old "Gaffer" of the side, was quick to capitalise. The former captain went to a half-century off 60 balls and England were on 256 for three at lunch, almost doubling their whole first-day score in one extended session. Hussain was more fluent than on the first day when he prodded around for 218 balls for his 51, but Stewart looked set to sweep past him and register a memorable century, having scored 72 by the break.

Hussain got there first, though, edging Pollock just wide of the wicketkeeper for a century that will be remembered for epic concentration in very humid conditions and little else. He celebrated extravagantly, saying after the day's play that he felt "huge joy after not getting there for a while, just getting 50s and 80s".

Hussain unfurled more strokes after reaching the landmark and survived the late tumble of wickets to resume this morning on 146 not out. He and Stewart, who both scored centuries against South Africa in England last year, put on 156 together and, had the pair come together on the first day, the home attack may well have been annihilated. Hussain praised Stewart for batting "beautifully".

"It's one of the best innings I've seen from him and he took a lot of the pressure off me. I thought he was going to pass me easily." But England's captain past and present were parted when Stewart fell on 95, trapped leg-before by paceman Mornantau Hayward as he tried to play around the front pad. Hussain carried on through South Africa's late revival and needs to spend just eight more minutes at the crease today to equal Mike Atherton's record for the longest England innings - his Wanderers epic in 1995/96.

The rest of the England batsmen - apart from opener Mark Butcher - 48 on the first day, contributed little. Chris Adams was just beginning to find his touch, having survived Shaun Pollock's dropped sitter at square-leg, when a Paul Adams full toss evaded his bat and bowled him for 19. Andrew Flintoff (5) and Andy Caddick surrendered in successive balls to medium-pacer Hansie Cronje, who had begun to reverse-swing the ball, before Donald and Pollock joined in with the third new ball to dismiss Darren Gough (9) and Chris Silverwood (0).

England will need to make far quicker progress with the ball than they have with the bat if they are to gain a series-levelling victory. They have failed to take full advantage of winning a very good toss in excellent batting conditions and South Africa are by no means out of the match. But for the 202 minutes Alec Stewart spent at the crease yesterday, the third Test has yet to catch alight and England's negative play has meant forcing a result will be very difficult for either side. Hussain believes patience is the key.

"After winning the toss we were aiming to get over 350 and how we bowl tomorrow will determine the game. The pitch is still very hard and we must learn from them and bowl with patience, and hopefully one of our guys will be able to produce something special." With play being called off early yesterday afternoon due to bad light, there will once again be a 9.30am start on Tuesday, with spectators hoping England's charming talk of patience does not apply to them.