March 4, 2001

Free State has a mountain to climb

MWP

Only two years ago, Free State chased a second innings victory target in excess of 400 to win a first-class match, but that was in the days of Hansie Cronje. The disgraced former South African captain scored a century in that game, but he will of course not be around on Sunday as Free State face the task of scoring another 293 runs with eight wickets in hand if they are to overcome a tenacious Border side. Their chances of digging in for a draw would seem almost as remote.

Despite an unbroken third wicket partnership worth 55 so far between Louis Wilkinson (35) and Jonathan Beukes (46) to provide just a shimmer of hope, this was another day which belonged to the visitors. After two early strikes by Free State as Border resumed on their overnight 80-2, captain Pieter Strydom and Wayne Wiblin set about the repairwork.

Their partnership of 88 for the fifth wicket was the difference between a good lead and a mammoth, match-winning one. Strydom has been in particularly good form in recent weeks, and he moved to fifty before a slip in concentration cost him further progress - the captain scooping Kosie Venter lazily to mid-on.

Wiblin struck 11 fours and a six in his stay and recieved good support lower down the order by first innings top-scorer Ian Mitchell (30).

The Free State run-chase could not have got off to a worse start, as Andrew Gait - scorer of a career best 112 in the first innings - this time could manage precisely nought as Wiblin got in the act again, this time to take the catch off the bowling of Piet Botha.

With Venter following shortly afterwards for 7, both openers were back in the pavilion with just 34 on the board, Free State were in danger throwing it away without a fight. But Wilkinson and Beukes held out to the close - and will have to hold out for a lot longer on Sunday.

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