December 27, 1999

Nasser's change of face and change of pace

Durban - Nasser Hussain, better known these days by his new sobriquet of Mr Plod, is more used to standing ovations when he leaves the field than the reception he earned at Kingsmead on day one of third Test.

Instead the England captain caught a fat raspberry from an irate Boxing Day mob fed up to the back teeth with his display of pat-ball. Even a Paul Adams full toss was pushed back in the general direction of the bowler before "bad light" called a halt five overs early.

And this from the man who proudly proclaimed the other day "we aim to be a competitive side". Which is a bit like telling the public that scoring runs is okay as long as they are prepared to wait until tea on the third day.

It was all a pointless exercise just as it was for those Poms, and Barmy Army fraternity, when reaching for their Vodaphones and trying to phone home to tell them all how jolly it is in Durbs-by-Ocean on a boiling December day, they were caught in the backlog.

This had nothing to do with those leaving the ground from around tea time wondering whether a couple of hours to cool off at South Beach was not worth a better bet than watching Mr Plod enjoying his go slow.

Not since Geoff Boycott retired has England been held up in such a purposeless exercise, the crowd deserved their money back for the patience they displayed. Then again, Boycs was a lot more sensible than the Madras-born England captain, Mr Competitive, himself ripping the scoring rate along at 1.5 runs an over; he presented a different cardboard cut out to the batsman who blazed off a quick half century at St George's Park and agreed it was the sort of innings he likes to play.

On a slowish pitch, where a fair target of 270 to 280 should have been knocked off without too many problems Mr Plod and his go-slow partner, Darren Maddy shuffled England to a total of 135 for two off 85 overs when bad light forced an early closure. Little wonder the crowd let rip with their cat calls as he walked off, waving his bat at the England dressing room.

What they made of it though is hard to imagine, although England coach, Duncan Fletcher, did what he could to defend the exercise. There were also muffled calls of "negative bowling tactics" from some quarters. But hitting a full toss back to the bowler is hardly enlivening stuff tactics.

There was one ball from Mornantau Hayward, though, which followed Mr Plod, who did what he could to get out of the way of the delivery. For those who remember South Africa 's ace fighter pilot Sailor Malan's World War II Battle of Britain famous words of wisdom, "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" this was dramatic stuff. One of rare highlights of Day 1.

Another was the sliding, diving catch at backward point Lance Klusener collected off Paul Adam's bowling to get rid of a very reluctant Mark Butcher. How he battled to justify his inclusion in the side. Stoic and solid; he was not going to surrender his wicket so cheaply this time. No wild drives outside the off.

Last time England were involved in such a go slow in South Africa was back in 1956/57 when Peter May's side spent six hours battling their way to 138 for five. That was in Port Elizabeth. If you are looking for the king of the slow-scoring Test venues, though, try Karachi.

Lowest (or slowest) was 95 between Australian and Pakistan on December 11, 1956: Australia's contribution was 80 all out. There was a matter of 104, scored three years later, also by Australia, at the same venue. In Brisbane, a year earlier, 1958, England crawled from 92 for two overnight to 198 on the forth day against Australia at the Gabba. Then it is back to Karachi again. Australia and Pakistan contrived to score 112 on October 15, 1956; Oz going from 138 for six to 187 and Pakistan satisfied to crawl along to 63 for one. And it was all achieved in five-and-a-half hours. Karachi is also fifth on the all-time hit list of the slowest six days play in a Test.

In 1988 Australia went from 116 fo9r seven to 165 and in their follow on innings were 66 for five on day four of that particular Test. It should be remembered the early Karachi games were played on matting surfaces which were not conducive to fast scoring. Not in the same category though is the summoning of Dale Benkenstein, the Natal captain, to fulfil 12th man duties at Kingsmead. On Friday he was relaxing at Plettenberg Bay down the Eastern Cape coast minding his own business; 24 hours later he is on a flight back to Durban as the selectors have decided, but that stage it seems, the Jonty Rhodes Test show has ended for now after 17 matches.

If you get the drift of this bit of malarkey Rhodes knew on Christmas Day, or earlier, he was not in the side. The selectors had made the change, it seems, without consulting the skipper, Hansie Cronje, and coach Graham Ford. Okay, so Dave Orchard perhaps got it wrong with an appeal for a catch behind off Mr Plod (there was a deflection) but errors do happen. One of them was Hussain's 59 balls without scoring a run before and after lunch. He then went one better later in the day to earn the "Raspberry of the Year" award.