November 25, 1999

Donald humbles England to win first round

Johannesburg - It was not the best weather for a batting picnic: there was even a hint of high drama about the toss which Hansie Cronje won.

Above were thick woolly grey clouds, the sullen face of the weather, typically non-South African and non-summer, more in keeping with England and temperatures plunging in the England dressing room too at the sight of the massive electronic scoreboard as the it highlighted the chronic state of the game in a bucolic yellow.

England reduced in 17 dramatic deliveries to two runs for four wickets, or if you prefer the Australian way, four for two: a single to Mark Butcher followed by five naughts propped up by a solitary leg bye. Not the sight anyone in the England camp would have enjoyed and Nasser Hussain's pre-match prophecy starting to dig unpleasantly in at the midriff; the sort of uncomfortable elbow jolt to bring home the facts of the harsh realities of what a Test match is all about.

We had Allan Donald firing off a barrage of bazooka shells supported by his senior lieutenant, Shaun Pollock, and his rocket propelled missiles tearing apart the defences.

There was that dramatic delivery to Mike Atherton: the ball skating around off the pitch and scything through the air: the second luring the batsman forward, jagging through the gap at 136 kmp/h and ripping the off-stump out of the ground. Donald, the war paint white stripe across his nose, throwing arms aloft to the glowering heaven and turning to his captain, Cronje, signalling his moment of triumph.

Round one of the Donald-Atherton duel to the fast bowler: it did not even get down to a one on one struggle, just a tester then the armour-piercing rocket which left the batsman in no man's land as he pushed forward; and it was only the sixth ball of the day, the first dramatic over of the series.

Six balls later it was Pollock's turn: a lifter kicking up at Hussain and the England captain standing a moment before the Indian umpire, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, signalling the long walk to the pavilion as the small, vocal crowd joined in. An hors d'oeuvre as Donald served up his second over and the drama of what followed: a chef carving up the underbelly of England's batting. Butcher, the left-hander, edging a catch to give Mark Boucher the first of his bag of five. Alec Stewart trapped in front the next ball.

Not since South Africa had faced India seven years ago when Manoj Prabhakar, Kapil Dev and Javagal Srinath reduced their hosts to a stumbling 38 for five had their been such a morning on an opening day of a Test. The ball skating around on a surface designed to aid cut and seam as well as pace and found England's top-order unable to cope with the aggressive South African approach.

Not the sort platform for batsmen such as Michael Vaughan and Chris Adams to launch their Tests careers. It need a touch of courage, a phrase from Shakespeare's Henry V St Crispin Day address to the assembled knights with their St George cross cloth over their chain mail top, might he been appropriate.

"Rise, oh happy band of brothers . . ."

Adams rallied: he may be the Sussex captain but his roots are firmly entrenched in Derbyshire and showed for 49 minutes the gritty determination before he too perished, followed by Vaughan's bid to lift the St George Standard with Andrew Flintoff. One making his debut the other with a career of two Tests: not much to go on there, Flintoff' s only score 17 against South Africa.

They showed the sort of character you would expect of those from the north; some handsome strokes too, good hard graft and strokes with it: a bit of flair to bring a weak smile to Hussain's eyes and their coach, Duncan Fletcher's as well.

It was Donald though who won the battle: his career best of six for 53 against England with Pollock's impressive four for 16 in 14.4 overs taking him past the 150 Test wicket mark. The boyhood heroes had won the day for South Africa and England left to ponder the irony of losing the toss and with it the surrendering the initiative.