First Test Match

SOUTH AFRICA v ENGLAND

Matthew Engel

At Centurion, November 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. Drawn. Toss: South Africa. Test debut: S. M. Pollock.

At 3.30 on the second afternoon a huge thunderstorm flooded the ground at Centurion Park, a routine occurrence in a Highveld summer, normally followed by a return to sunshine and cricket with a rapidity that astonishes those accustomed to English weather. On this occasion there was no return. It carried on drizzling, raining and sometimes pouring for the next three days. Thus England's first Test in South Africa for more than 30 years and Centurion Park's debut as Test cricket's 76th ground will be remembered unkindly. The rain delighted locals, whose primary concern was the harvest rather than the cricket, but it cost the Northern Transvaal Cricket Union an expected R500,000 profit.

The ten hours' cricket that was played did change initial perceptions of the series as England, who went into the Test as underdogs, had the better of the limited exchanges. South Africa packed their side with pace bowlers, leaving the spinner Eksteen out of their twelve, and put England in. England would have batted anyway; they thought the pitch might break up. South Africa bowled so poorly that they did not prove their strategy conclusively wrong. One of their strike bowlers, Schultz, went into the match with a buttock injury and was in pain in his first over. After the match, officials criticised everyone involved in letting him play: the player, the management team and the physiotherapist, Craig Smith, who was instructed by Ali Bacher, managing director of the United Cricket Board and a doctor himself, to concentrate on treating injuries in future and rely on specialists for diagnoses. Donald also struggled for rhythm, and the bowler of the match was the debutant Shaun Pollock, whose father Peter was convenor of selectors, and the man who had been bowling when England's previous Test in South Africa had been rained off more than 30 years earlier. The latest sprig of South Africa's most famous cricketing family belied his innocent looks and manner with the sharpness of his bowling, mostly fast in-swing, including some very well-aimed bouncers.

South Africa did have some early successes, which included Richardson's 100th Test dismissal. At 64 for three, England were in a familiar position of struggle. But Atherton played one of his most typical innings: taking all the blows, physical and otherwise, waiting for the bad ball and hitting it hard - then, having averted the crisis, getting out short of his century. Unusually, his companion in this exercise was Hick. Most of South Africa's attempts at bowling short were far less effective than Pollock's bouncer, and Hick treated them all with contempt. He hit 20 fours, several of them hooked, before reaching his fourth Test century in brilliant style.

On the second day, however, South Africa bowled more effectively and Hick was more introspective at a time when England needed him to turn control into complete command. There were only five further fours and 157 of his 392 minutes at the crease were spent adding 36 to his overnight 105. Smith, previously out of touch, batted confidently and well, and England were saved from further collapse by Russell, who played a highly effective innings. He was so determined that, even as the storm gathered and gloom descended, he was anxious to bat on, until umpire Mitchley insisted that the lightning made conditions unsafe. No one had an inkling that the game would never resume. But there was no hope at all until 2 p.m. on the last day when, after a couple of bright hours, play was about to restart. England knew they could not win, but hoped they could embarrass the home batsmen on a sweaty pitch. Just before the umpires were due to appear, it rained again and the match was abandoned.

Attendance: 12,800.

Close of play: First day, England 221-4 (G. A. Hick 105*, R. A. Smith 1*); Second day, England 381-9 (R. C. Russell 50*, A. R. C. Fraser 4*); Third day, No play; Fourth day, No play.

© John Wisden & Co