Cricket: Atherton's Advantage Squandered
Brenkley, Stephen, The Independent (London, England)
IT WAS all progressing so swimmingly. This is an unfamiliar state of affairs where England are concerned which alone made it more pleasant. Still, those who took the advice to enjoy it while it lasted made the right decision. The third day of the final warm-up match before the serious business of Thursday had begun on a sad note but it had been cosy thereafter.
England had carved out a significant first-innings lead of 102 during which two of the all-rounders on which the balance of the side and the fate of the Test series could depend each took three wickets. Gavin Hamilton had found some smart away-swingers in his armoury and Andrew Flintoff, enjoying his first bowl of the tour, had responded with that panache which should empty a few bars before filling them again later over the next few years. The side had then built on these efforts to extend their advantage over the Combined Gauteng/Northerns provincial team to 190 with all their second- innings wickets still in hand.
Mark Butcher, who perhaps needed to convince himself of his readiness, looked as composed as he has done all tour. Michael Atherton was in his pomp once more, pulling and square driving adeptly. It was almost enough to compensate for the bad news about the fast bowler Dean Headley. A scan on his injured back had revealed a hot spot and possible stress fracture which will need a period of rest of eight to 12 weeks. Although a second opinion is being taken in the next two days, the likelihood is that he will fly home this week, his place on the tour to be taken by Chris Silverwood, who has already arrived here in a temporary back-up capacity.
This is unwelcome news for a whole-hearted player, not least because until the problem arose after he had bowled 10 balls in the tour's opening match Headley had never had a sore back in his bowling career. It only confirms that sooner or later the stresses exerted by the discipline catch up with its exponents.
Despite that bad news, a lead of nearly 200 was all England could have hoped for in this match. This was, after all, the Sixth Test according to the South African media, so they wanted to give England a severe examination. It then all went horribly wrong for the tourists. …