February 19, 2002

Australia have better of draw against SA 'A'

With very little at stake and no prospect whatsoever of a result, Australia and the South African `A' team played out a draw in desultory fashion in Potchefstroom on Tuesday.

The Australians had the satisfaction of bowling the home side out for 190, with Glenn McGrath adding a five-wicket haul to the centuries from Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh, but the exercise was ultimately rendered academic by the loss of so much time to the weather over the first two days.

Australia were 95 for three in their second innings when the match was finally called off after the `A' team captain Dale Benkenstein had used his spinners in the late afternoon sunshine to play out time.

For Australia, though, their stay in Potchefstroom can have done little to harm their prospects ahead of Friday's first Test at the Wanderers. Most of their batsmen had some time at the crease and if it would be an exaggeration to say that their attack fired on all cylinders, certainly, there was little McGrath could have done to improve on figures of five for 17.

Steve Waugh, who took time off during the afternoon to rest a stiff back, used McGrath relatively sparingly, but when he did bowl he dropped immediately onto a perfect length for South African conditions, nipping out Graeme Smith, Jacques Rudolph and Daryll Cullinan in quick succession.

Between them, the three leading contenders for a batting place in the South African Test team made just 18.

It would be fair to say that the three remaining members of the attack fell some way behind the standard set by McGrath, but the all had their moments, not least Brett Lee when he set Thami Tsolekile up with a bouncer that crashed into the batsman's helmet and then yorked him next ball.

"A game like this was perfect for us," McGrath said afterwards. "You know, for the batsmen to get a decent hit and the bowlers not to overbowl. I think everyone's in pretty good form. There were stages today when we all bowled pretty well so it's looking good for the bowling lineup and the batsmen scored runs as well."

There was precious little resistance from the South Africans and what there was came mostly from Ashwell Prince and, to a lesser extent, Gulam Bodi. Prince had a shoulder operation during the winter and this was his first first-class innings of the season. He made the most of it.

He has a reputation for making attractive 30s and 40s, but on this occasion he dug himself in and played most handsomely until he reached, first, 86 and then 92. Once Australia decided that the best way to deal with him was to contain him, Prince struggled and after hanging around for more than four overs after tea stuck on 92, he poked McGrath gently to Mark Waugh in the covers.

It was, nevertheless, an impressive innings and suggested that the more often Prince harnesses his mind to his talent, the better player he will become.

There was also some entertaining hitting from Bodi who launched himself at Shane Warne to good effect, twice hitting the legspinner out of the ground as he made 33 off 26 balls. He was rather less at home against the quick men, however, eventually mistiming a pull against Lee to get himself out.

Australia had started the day with Steve Waugh reaching his century before declaring and ended it having lost Matthew Hayden for 39, Justin Langer for 45 and Brett Lee for a duck, Claude Henderson having picked up all three.

All things considered, though, Australia look to have eased themselves comfortably into their tour and with the Test series just three days off, the tourists look in rather better shape than the home team.

And just as a postscript, for all that has been written about the rivalry between Warne and Cullinan, the two had a long conversation after the match. It looked suspiciously as though both players were trying to invite each other out for a drink.