Sat, Jul 26, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Drizzle puts the brakes on South Africa's flying start

AP AND REUTERS , BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND

Persistent rain yesterday thwarted South Africa's hopes of consolidating a huge first-day total in the first cricket test against England at Edgbaston.

South Africa was set to restart on an imposing 398 for one with skipper Graeme Smith on 178 not out, but the inclement weather washed out the morning session.

Gary Kirsten, who came in at the fall of opener Herschelle Gibbs' wicket, was unbeaten on 26 after batting for nearly an hour on Thursday.

With the threat of more rain later yesterday, Edgbaston could face only its fifth washed out day in 39 tests and 102 years. The last time a full day's play was washed out was against South Africa in 1998, when the last day was abandoned as the first test settled into a draw.

On Thursday, Gibbs and Smith became the first opening pair in test history to put on 300 runs twice as they destroyed England's attack on the first day of the series.

The two, who made 368 against Pakistan six months ago, never looked under any sustained pressure as they both recorded big centuries in a stand of 338.

The mis-match ended when Gibbs, on 179 and having batting a fraction over five hours, swept at Michael Vaughan's occasional off-spin and holed out to Mark Butcher at deep midwicket.

Captain Smith had made 178 not out -- the third time he has passed 150 in 15 innings -- as South Africa closed on 398 for one. Gary Kirsten was 26 not out.

As Gibbs departed, along with his 29 fours and one six after a fearsome assault on the bowling, Edgbaston's harried statisticians were frantically listing the broken records left in his wake.

The opening partnership was the highest ever against England in 807 tests, beating the 329 by Geoff Marsh and Mark Taylor of Australia at Trent Bridge in 1989.

It was also South Africa's biggest stand for any wicket against England, beating a 56-year record.

Smith and Gibbs, Western Province team mates, have only opened together in 10 test innings.

"Herschelle played a fantastic knock," Smith said. "It feels great. We pride ourselves on big partnerships as a team. Hopefully, we can do it a few more times."

But it was a miserable day for England.

"We have a young attack and they have to make sure they learn quickly," said England coach Duncan Fletcher. "They're pretty attacking. Probably they should have gone into a more defensive mode.

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