Reeve has himself a ball with a triumphant homecoming

TRUST Dermot Reeve to hog the limelight as defending Sixes champions England swept into the Cup competition yesterday at the Kowloon Cricket Club.

England, a team of discarded Test players - none of the present squad being in next month's Ashes tour Down Under, are none-the-less a collection of illustrious names, having represented their country on many occasions at the highest level.

Reeve, however, upstaged the rest of his teammates as he led from the front to steer England to a 39-run win over New Zealand in the first match in their group.

Possessing the uncanny knack of rising to the occasion, Reeve, thrilled his 'home-crowd' once again. Having won the Man-of-the-Match award in last year's Cup final win over Sri Lanka, Reeve yesterday took three wickets in four balls to leave New Zealand's innings in tatters at the end of the first over.

The Kiwis, chasing a target of 75, never recovered from two for three, and were ultimately bowled out for 35.

Later in the afternoon Hong Kong's part-timers offered few problems to the professionals from England, losing by three wickets.

However, Reeve was reminded of the fickleness of fame when he was out first ball, caught by Rahul Sharma off the bowling of a delighted Stewart Brew.

'It is a nice way to get going . . . taking three wickets in four balls,' Reeve said after the New Zealand game.

'That was the key game in our group. But getting out first ball against Hong Kong showed that the script had been written already.' Captaining England at the Sixes for the first time, Reeve was confident that his side would go all the way.

'Of course tomorrow is another day, but I'm happy with our performance so far. The only problem for me is whom to leave out,' said Reeve.

With a team consisting of names like Robin Smith, Chris Lewis, John Emburey, Neil Fairbrother, Matthew Maynard and Gladstone Small, he certainly has a problem.

Reeve and England will have to overcome the challenge of New Zealand and South Africa today in the round robin Cup competition.

The South Africans are likely to pose the biggest threat as they looked very sharp and competitive in scoring wins over Pakistan and Australia.

The South Africans, who are represented by a team sanctioned by their country's cricket board (the other sanctioned teams are Australia, New Zealand and Holland), squeezed past Australia by four runs and then scampered past Pakistan by five wickets.

Jonty Rhodes, expected to star on the field with his fielding, spent the first game against Pakistan as wicketkeeper.

But he still showed his fielding skills when he took a great diving catch way down the leg side off medium-pacer Bradley Player to dismiss Mansoor Khan - or so he thought until he saw the square-leg umpire rule the ball dead as it had passed above the batsman's shoulder.

Pakistan, who lost their first wicket before a run was scored, recovered well to finish on 70.

South African captain Hansie Cronje and Rhodes began the run chase. They scored 44 in three overs. By the end of the fourth over, they were 58, with Cronje having had to retire.

Incoming batsman Dean Laing proved equal to the task as he struck two sixes and a four to lift the Proteas to victory with two balls to spare.

Rhodes did field against the Australians - after he had scored 30 in his side's 87 for one total.

The Australians, who like their opponent's had already qualified for the Cup competition, were mainly playing for pride against a side as competitive.

The tall and powerfully built Matthew Hayden led the run chase.

Hayden, who has been kept out of the Test side playing in Karachi by openers Mark Taylor and Michael Slater, hammered a rapid 31 before retiring.

Stuart Law and Merv Hughes continued the good work. Hughes, who failed to shine with the ball, showed he has made tremendous strides as a batsman.

One of his blistering shots almost decapitated umpire Geoff Lever, who had to dive for cover as a fiercely hit straight drive sped to the boundary.

Bradley Player, the unfortunate bowler, got more stick when the next ball was lifted for six as Australia sped to 72 for one at the end of the fourth over.

Needing 16 runs off six balls, the Australians managed to squeeze out 10 runs. Hughes facing the last ball had the pressure right on him.

The six he sought failed to materialise as Eric Simons bowled a well-pitched delivery which Hughes could only hit along the ground to the safe hands of Rhodes, fielding at deep mid-wicket.

A total of 67 sixes were hit yesterday. The Australians would have wished it had been 68. Losing does not come easy to them - even if it is only the Sixes.