January 20, 2000

England show a touch of form

Potchefstroom - They are known as the North West Dragons, and for most of the season their fire has spluttered rather than roared in defiance. On Thursday night they trailed a smoke haze across their new stadium when it was officially opened and cracked the 200 mark for the second time this season before losing by 41 runs against an England XI.

While the tourists used the outing to utilise their options for their opening match of the triangular series in Bloemfontein on Sunday, and put a solid, if unconvincing 264 for nine on the board, North West did what they could to give the local public a little to remember scoring 223 for eight.

A pity the chaotic melee provided by an unruly crowd at the end let down their side who did what they could, having previously failed three times this season to reach 100.

Yet it was not a batting performance to remember: there were odd patches as well as a first wicket partnership of 71 between Gary Outram and Hendrick de Vos. After that the locals were not going to be in the hunt - there was solid batting down the order with 30s littering the scorecard rather than an impressive half-century.

If England had been hoping for a big response from Hick and Adams after Nasser Hussain had won the toss, the partnership of 102 against average bowling did not quite fill the expectations.

As it is there were rumblings over allegations of a row between Alec Stewart and the skipper over Stewart's so-called "sacking" by being sent home early. Although David Clark, the England Cricket Board media liaison officer on tour for the slogs, said the team refuted the claims, it is known Hussain and Duncan Fletcher were "quietly livid at such false claims" on the eve of the triangular series. Plans for Stewart to go back to England had been approved some time ago when the Test tour and limited-overs squads were announced.

Instead of Chris Read keeping wicket here though we had the specialist utility all-rounder Mark Alleyne, the Gloucestershire captain who kept wicket for England A on their more recent tour of Bangladesh and New Zealand.

The rumpus, which blew up yesterday may have deflected Hussain's thoughts from his own game plan with an edge into the stumps curtailing his performance while Nick Knight was less impressive.

Yet it was the windmill style action of exhibitionist David Pryke, who collected five wickets in the innings, which undid Chris Adams. The Sussex captain has battled this tour to make an impression and yesterday found the unusual style of Pryke a problem.

Pryke also gives the impression he delivers from almost 18 metres instead of the regulation 20.12 metres and Adams found the foot shuffle, more accentuated than that of Mike Procter, was unable to get his own footwork going. His best is four for 38, but as this is a friendly the five for 32 does not really count: four of the five in his last four over spell.

If anything the partnership showed that in normal circumstances Hick and Adams could be a dangerous pair. Hick's own batting carried all the hallmarks of his flat-track bully mood: tough, hard and aggressive. The bowler knows he has been up against it when facing Hick in this mood.

There was some swashbuckling slog from Vikram Solanki as well during the partnership with Craig White as they rattled along a 50 partnership off 33 balls. Not bad at all for a first game in the South African veld.