Sunday, August 17, 2003

England win.

Where I left off, England were one wicket for zero in their second innings after leading by 83 runs in the first innings. There is not so much to say about the rest of the England innings that followed. Thanks to some good bowling from Pollock and some unpredictable bounce, England slumped to 5/44. At that point the bookmakers had South Africa as favourites, but this was perhaps premature. The lead was only 127, but South Africa still had to bat last on a very difficult pitch. Nasser Hussein was still in, and put on a few more runs before being out for 30. Having scored a splendid but from the point of view of the result meaningless century at Lord's, Flintoff now had a chance to score some runs when they really mattered. And he did, sort of, scoring 30. Giles got 21, bit England kept losing wickets, being all out for 118. Shaun Pollock took a fine 6/39 for South Africa. Not a great batting effort, but 202 to win was never going to be easy for South Africa. One of their top batsmen, probably Smith or Kallis, had to dig in for a good innings. But it didn't happen.

South Africa scored 22, before Kirtley removed Smith and Rudolph to take the score to 2/28. Gibbs scored 28, but was out with the score on 40. Dippenar followed. 4/41, and England were clearly strong favourites to win from there. Extremely difficult batting. Batsmen bowled and lbw because it bounced low. Balls hit in the air and caught due to misjudging the bounce of the ball. Not easy at all. Kallis was bowled by Anderson for 13, taking the score to 5/50.

At that point, McKenzie and Boucher, who had both played well in the first innings, played out for a few overs before play was called off for bad light with South Africa 5/63.

Overnight, the media declared the match to be close, with both sides in with about equal chances of victory. This was not true. Batting on this pitch was never likely to be easy enough for the bottom order to score another 139 runs. And, when play resumed, this showed. McKenzie and Pollock were both out soon after the resumption, both bowled by balls that bounced low and were essentially unplayable. Hall had a wild swing at Kirtley, edged it to slip and was out first ball. The score was 8/81 and it appeared all over bar the shouting.

However, we got a little bit of a partnership. Boucher batted better than anyone else in the second innings for either team, and Adams stayed with him. They took the score to 8/126 and the commentators started speculating as to whether they could got the runs. This was never likely, and Adams musjudged one from Kirtley and was caught and bowled. This was quickly followed by Boucher being caught behind (again off Kirtley, who took 6/34 in the second innings and was named man of the match - a superb debut for him. England won by 70 runs.

The England team's response to this will be to celebrate, and justly so. The series is now even at 1-1 with two games to go. England are back in it, and can win. They will be helped by the fact that Shaun Pollock will be on paternity leave in South Africa and will be absent for the next test. (One wonders whether he would have gone if he was still captain - this could cost his team the series). However, a cynical person would argue that the game was won on the first day when Vaughan won the toss. This is perhaps a little harsh on the English - the toss was followed by excellent batting from Hussein, Butcher, Smith, and Stewart, and then although South Africa kept coming back at England, England kept fighting them off. However, one tends to think that if the toss had gone the other way, the result would have been the opposite. If England outplayed South Africa in this match, it was not by much. So, we have a test of captaincy for Vaughan. He will undoubtedly be utterly delighted with this result, but to win the series England have to raise they game further. So he has to tell his teammates "Well done, but none the less you will need to play better at Headingley. (The positive is that one suspects they will be pretty motivated after today). The best way for Vaughan to do this would be for him to lead by example. Batting first at Headinley and scoring a big hundred himself would be about the best thing he could do.

And it is pleasing that Hussein had such a good game. Some ex-captains don't fit back into the ranks very well. Some do. Hussein's contribution to this victory was enormous, and my compliments to him. On the other side, ex-captain Pollock played very well, but one gets the impression relations between him and Smith are poisonous. Of course, it seems clear now that Hussein did exit the captain voluntarily. This does make a difference.

This was an excellent game of cricket. Good to see. The series resumes in Headingley on Thursday. More from me then.

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