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Toss: South Africa. Test debut: J. H. Kallis.
A promising match was ruined by a sustained cold front which brought first relief and then flooding to an area threatened by drought, but financial disappointment to the Natal Cricket Union, whose expected profit was reduced by R225,000. The pity was greater for the loss of momentum in the series following the rousing match at Johannesburg. When rain intervened for the final time after two brief sessions on the third day, England, 73 behind South Africa's 225 with five wickets in hand, held a small advantage, if only because Hick was batting with an authority no one else had managed on a true surface.
The pitch, prepared by Phil Russell, had plenty of grass, but it was dry and brown, so Cronje clearly took the right course in batting first against a completely reshaped England attack. With rare decisiveness, Ray Illingworth and Atherton decided that the ball must swing in the strong sea-breezes and humid atmosphere. Malcolm and Fraser were left out, despite having taken nine of South Africa's 19 wickets at the Wanderers between them, and so was the injured Gough. They were replaced by Ilott and Martin, and slow left-armer Richard Illingworth. Crawley was lined up at No. 3 instead of Ramprakash, but pulled a hamstring in the field, an injury serious enough to prevent him batting and to persuade the management to send for Jason Gallian. South Africa played an extra batsman, the 20-year-old Kallis, instead of the spinner Eksteen, and swapped one seamer, Matthews, for another, Pringle.
Martin's tendency to overpitch his away-swingers, a lesser evil than bowling long hops, enabled Hudson to get a flying start with flowing off-drives and cover-drives. Illingworth immediately dampened the fire when Atherton brought him on in the 16th over: he first gained, then retained the initiative through his accuracy and nice variations of flight. Switched to the Old Fort End, Martin had Kirsten caught high to the left of second slip, the first indication that the ball would bounce quite steeply off a good length. The subsequent low scoring was due chiefly to batsmen ignoring this danger and choosing the wrong balls to hit. Hudson, caught next over off a glove at silly point, was an exception, but Cronje drove to mid-on, Cullinan hit a wide out-swinger to cover, and Martin produced an especially good ball to find Kallis's outside edge. South Africa had lost half their wickets in the space of 35 runs; McMillan and Rhodes stopped the rot but, when bad light ended the first day after 64 overs, they were only 139 for five.
They were 153 for nine in the 12th over next morning, Ilott, in turn, finding some late swing to take three in six balls. But Pollock and Donald batted with the freedom of men from whom little is expected, in a forthright and attractive last-wicket stand of 72 lasting 103 minutes. Donald followed up with an admirable spell of out-and-out fast bowling to a full length, having Atherton caught low in the gully off his sixth ball and Thorpe at first slip four overs later. Stewart and Smith had to battle to get England out of the mire but two more sharp close catches off the accurate and hostile Matthews, and a typical diving effort at cover by Rhodes, reduced them to 123 for five by the close. As rain drenched the match and all who sailed in her, the referee, Clive Lloyd, was obliged to study television film of Matthews and Pollock after a newspaper report suggested they had tampered with the ball. They were rapidly exonerated.
Close of play: First day, South Africa 139-5 (J. N. Rhodes 36*, B. M. McMillan 26*); Second day, England 123-5 (G. A. Hick 16*, D. G. Cork 10*); Third day, England 152-5 (G. A. Hick 31*, D. G. Cork 23*); Fourth day, No play.