March 16, 2001

Creed and Botha leave Free State with difficult task ahead

Marcus Prior - MWP

A viper of a pitch and some ordinary batting have conspired to turn this into one of the lower scoring Supersport Series games of the season, but an unbroken sixth wicket partnership of 55 between Murray Creed and South African schools captain Johan Botha has turned the game decisively in favour of the visitors. Eastern Province closed on 129/5, a lead of 199 over Free State.

Dave Callaghan has a well deserved reputation for the destructive nature of his middle-order batting, but at Goodyear Park on Friday it was his gentle medium paced seamers which were doing a demolition job all of their own. The 36-year-old Callaghan finished with figures of 5/31 as Free State crashed to 110 all out, only the second time he has taken five in his career - the first was earlier this season. A previously under-utilised talent? Maybe.

In fact, it was the seasoned cricketing mind of Callaghan that did most of the damage, as he put the ball in the right place and waited for the batsmen to self-destruct - which they seemed to do almost on cue.

The one Free State player approaching Callaghan's experience was the only batsman to put up any kind of resistance. Venter was at the crease over five hours as he battled his way to 28, all the while wickets tumbling at the other end.

A direct hit from Mark Benfield - of all things - caught Venter out of his ground to conclude Free State's sorry display. Venter had only been opening the batting in the absence of the injured Gerhardus Liebenberg, but there could hardly have been a better choice as he battled his attacking instincts and dug in for his side.

When Herman Bakkes struck twice at the start of the EP second innings to have them 18/2, there was just the faintest glimmer of a Free State comeback. But Carl Bradfield (38 - the highest score of the match) and Callaghan (18) settled things briefly before three further wickets had the visitors in trouble again.

Cue Creed and Botha to begin their partnership - and in all probability take this game away from Free State. It will be a major surprise if this game goes into a fourth day.