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Johannesburg: For weeks it had been billed as the Donald and Atherton show, but the way Allan Donald, alias White Lightning, struck at the Wanderers yesterday, England were also no doubt wondering if there had been a grain of truth in the fitness theory as well.
For a man of whom many wondered might not be sitting out this opening Test of the five-match series, his response was a blistering attack and scorched earthy policy and a six wickethaul to edged him closer to the 300 wickets mark he hopes to achieve this season.
With Shaun Pollock acting as the pace attack?s senior lieutenant, the South African duo produced the fast bowling fire power which not only routed England for a first innings score of 122 in a matter of 41.4 overs. It left the tourists pondering their own philosophy as South Africa, at 64 for one at the close were 58 runs adrift after day one.
Donald and Pollock had done the job their captain, Hansie Cronje, had expected after winning the toss: taking the 10 wickets available between them with the first hour?s play dripping with more drama than a Shakespeare play.
The theatre stage, better known as the bullring was humming as was the noisy crowd said at a mid-afternoon head count to reach almost 12000. After all, England, in a matter of 17 deliveries had been reduced to two for four and the series had barely started with Atherton?s off-stump ripped out of the ground by a delivery which jagged back to beat the so-called broadest bat in England.
Not since the morning of the Test against India in November 1992 had an innings lay in such ruins: South Africa?s top-order laid waste at 12 for three and later 48 for five before the revival. This was different though. Seven years ago it had been Manoj Prabhakar and Kapil Dev who sowed the early seeds of destruction. Yesterday it was Donald and Pollock.
South Africa were also in trouble against Bobby Simpson?s side at 58 for five in the first Test of that series on day one way back in 1966-67 but bounced back to win that one.
Yesterday, though, not even the noisy Barmy Army chorus could raise the English spirit There have been worse starts in a Test: India against England in 1952 was one with Fred Trueman making his debut. New Zealand against South Africa at Ellis Park in 1953-54 was another with Neil Adcock firing them in.
Yesterday we had Donald, motoring in and delivering balls anything between 135 and 138 kmp/h, on a surface made for fast bowling and with four wickets down and only two runs on the board England?s batting efforts resting on the shoulders of debutants Chris Adams and Michael Vaughan.
Not at all a comfortable feeling for any tourist, but Donald was all fire, all zip and all go, the ball skating around and seaming about at an alarmingly fast pace for the first hour.
Had he been caught driving his car at such speeds Donald would have been fined; in the cauldron that is a Test match, the only protection the batsman has is a bat, his helmet and abdomen protector.
At one stage the scoreboard displayed the story: a single to Mark Butcher followed by five naughts propped up by a solitary leg bye. Not the sight anyone in the England camp would have enjoyed and Nasser Hussain?s pre-match prophecy starting to dig unpleasantly in at the midriff; the sort of uncomfortable elbow jolt to bring home the facts of the harsh realities of what a Test is all about.
Donald letting loose a barrage of bazooka shells supported by Pollock?s rocket propelled missiles tearing apart the defences.
There was that dramatic delivery to Atherton: the ball skating around off the pitch and scything through the air: luring the batsman forward, Donald, the war paint white stripe across his nose, throwing arms aloft to the glowering heaven and turning to his captain, Cronje, signalling his moment of triumph.
Round one of the Donald-Atherton duel to the fast bowler: it did not even get down to a one on one struggle, just a tester, then the armour-piercing rocket which left the batsman in no man?s land as he pushed forward; and it was only the sixth ball of the day, the first dramatic over of the series.
Six balls later it was Pollock?s turn: a lifter kicking up at Hussain and the England captain standing a moment before the Indian umpire, Srinivas Venkataraghavan, signalling the long walk to the pavilion as the small, vocal crowd joined in.
Butcher, the left-hander, edging a catch to give Mark Boucher the first of his bag of five and Alec Stewart trapped in front the next ball; high drama and long before high noon. The now ball skating around on a surface designed to aid cut and seam as well as pace and found England?s top-order unable to cope with the aggressive South African approach.
Adams started the rallying call and Vaughan followed his example in a brash, gutsy display with Andrew Flintoff deciding that attack was better than perishing meekly. The result was a 52 runs partnership. Alan Mullally had his moment of glory when he hoisted Donald for six, pulling the ball into the arc and watching in sail over the boundary.
It was Donald though who won the battle: his career best of six for 53 against England with Pollock?s impressive four for 16 in 14.4 overs taking him past the 150 Test wicket mark. The boyhood heroes had won the day for South Africa.
Herschelle Gibbs and Gary Kirsten then rubbed it in as they took hold of the England bowling attack and adopting a positive attitude saw the score to 64 for one with Gibbs, who had looked so much in control in the nets ending on 28 not out and Jacques Kallis undefeated with six. There were times Gibbs drove with purpose, timing and confidence and made the England attack look ordinary.
When bad light stopped play with 16 overs remaining South Africa had taken control of the match which has four days remaining and Cronje no doubt confident of further success.
Donald's pace too hot for England
Johannesburg: For weeks it had been billed as the Donald and Atherton show, but the way Allan Donald, alias White Lightning, struck at the Wanderers yesterday, England were also no doubt wondering if there had been a grain of truth in the fitness