Report by Neil Robinson 04/08/03
South Africaís young captain Graeme Smith, continued his phenomenal run of form with an innings of 259 to set up a crushing victory for his side by an innings and 92 runs in the Second Test Match at Lordís.
Smithís innings was the highest ever by an overseas player in a Test at Lordís, beating Don Bradmanís famous 254 for Australia in 1930 and he now joins The Don, Walter Hammond and Vinod Kambli as one of only four batsmen to have completed double centuries in consecutive Tests. With fast bowler Makhaya Ntini also bagging an impressive haul of ten wickets in the match (the first such feat by a South African at Lordís) it was a totally dominant all round performance from the tourists, who now have a crucial one game lead in the series with three to play. Having had only two daysí breathing space since the drama of Edgbaston, England still looked shell-shocked and bewildered following Nasser Hussainís surprise resignation. They never really competed in the match, but were heartened on the final afternoon by a defiant innings from Andrew Flintoff, who bludgeoned 142 off 146 balls to give the home side hope for the rest of the series.
Perhaps the defining moments of the match came on the first day in two incidents involving South Africaís captain. Having put England in on a pitch bearing a tinge of green, Smith watched Ntini find the edge of Marcus Trescothickís bat only to put down the straightforward chance at slip himself. Ntini, as he always does, simply walked back to his mark and continued to charge in, soon causing Trescothick to play on to his stumps for 6 with a ball of similar line, much to Smithís relief. Later that afternoon, with Smith on 8 at the beginning of South Africaís reply, he drove a ball from James Anderson at catchable height straight to Nasser Hussain at cover, who started, fumbled and dropped to the ground after the ball in despair. Had Steve Waugh been around, he might well have inquired how it felt to drop the series. South Africaís error was quickly redeemed, Englandís practically cost them the match. Such is the way of things when one team is in the ascendancy in cricket.
ďWeíre finding it difficult to read these English pitches,Ē said Smith after winning the toss and asking England to bat first. If an element of guesswork came into this decision, then Smith is probably right to play the hunches at this golden point in his career. It worked like a dream. Pollock and Ntini found life and movement to remove Trescothick and Butcher with only 35 on the board, but Hussain and Michael Vaughan played sensibly to restore the balance. The dangerous new ball pair were seen off and England looked to be making headway, when suddenly it all went wrong for Vaughanís men. Andrew Hall, called up from county cricket with Worcestershire to replace Charl Willoughby, used the famous slope to nip one through Hussainís expansive drive, then brought one back up the slope to find the leading edge of McGrathís bat. Ntini then returned to sucker Vaughan into a top edged hook down to fine leg, and England wobbled into lunch on 94 for 5.
After lunch, things rapidly got worse for England. Another short ball from Ntini had Alec Stewart caught at square leg from a mis-hit pull, Ashley Giles edged a good ball from Hall to slip and then Andrew Flintoff played one of the most brainless strokes of his career, hooking Ntini straight into the trap at deep square leg. Harmison was quickly bowled and it was only an entertaining last wicket partnership of 55 (the highest of the innings!) between Gough and Anderson which took England to the comparitive respectability of 173.
Englandís one hope was that they might get off to a good start with the ball. But none of Englandís bowlers managed to extract the same life from pitch and ball as Pollock and Ntini, and they werenít helped by a particularly flat performance from the whole team in the field, exemplified by Hussainís drop. In the four years of his captaincy, England always seemed to take their lead, their moral tone if you like, from Hussain in the field. His ultra-competitive style fired them up and got them through many sticky patches. But if that was an advantage during his time as captain, now, in the first Test since his resignation, it was a clear hindrance, for their old leader was flat and listless and they seemed to find it hard to break the habit of looking to him for their fire. Vaughanís quiet, diplomatic style had not yet gripped them, not yet taken its hold and in the gap between the old and the new there fell an embarrasing vacuum.
Beyond that, England still seemed to have little idea of how to bowl to Smith. Seduced perhaps by his struggles against the movement of the white ball in the one-dayers, Anderson continued to try and slip full, swinging deliveries between bat and pad. But there was little swing to be had, and Smith kept clipping the ball away through midwicket in trademark style. Better luck might have been gained if they had bowled a consistent line and length to him, full and a foot or so outside off stump. Such deliveries produced his only moments of discomfort, but so many easy runs were available to him in his favoured leg-side areas that he rarely had to play at those anyway.
The one time England bowled with something like a plan came in a fine spell from Harmison just before stumps. The Durham paceman bowled five in a row just short of a length, two feet outside Herschelle Gibbsí off stump . The first four Gibbs let go, but he had a nibble at the fifth and the ball cannonned back off an inside edge onto the stumps. But by then the record breaking opening pair had stroked their way calmly to 133, and were looking set for another mammoth partnership. That they didnít get one didnít really matter to South Africa, as Gary Kirsten came in and took Smith along to similar heights anyway. The two left handers amassed a colossal 257 in a stand lasting almost until the close of day 2. Kirsten played steadily and unflappably for 108 off 244 balls, while Smith cruised on and on, becoming the most annoying sight for English cricketers since the Ashes series of 1989 when Steve Waugh wasnít dismissed until the third Test, until he finally chopped on to Anderson for 259. Records tumbled like wilting English fielders, but the most impressive was the overhauling of Bradmanís 254, which had stood for 73 years. A stirring ovation was awarded to Smith for that achievement, and a standing one came when he walked proudly from the field a few minutes later. Smithís workmanlike, closed-face style is not the most aesthetically pleasing, but it sure is effective, and English crowds have warmed to this determined young man with his diplomatic demeanour and appetite for big runs.
By the time Smith was out, South Africa had reached 513 for 3, but their innings was far from over. Boeta Dippenaar struck a fine 92, Mark Boucher smashed 68 off 51 balls, South Africa raced past their all-time record Test score of 622 (v Australia at Durban in 1969-70), finally declaring at 682 for 6 just after tea on day 3. The deficit of 509 runs was the biggest ever conceded by England and if there were a record for the breatest number of records smashed in back to back Tests, South Africa would surely have sealed it. England were left to bat out the best part of seven sessions to save the match. A near impossible task which proved well beyond them.
For Michael Vaughan it was about as rough a baptism to Test captaincy as could be imagined. Given the almost total lack of preparation time it would be churlish to criticise and indeed there was little to complain about in his on-field tactics. He continued Hussainís annoying habit of refusing to set a third man (England have been leaking runs through there for far too many years) and was too reluctant to look beyond his five main bowlers (McGrath didnít appear until the score was well over 350 -he quickly grabbed the wicket of Kirsten- while Vaughan himself didnít bowl at all), but that was about it. He was lucky that a day like this came when he had a hatful of excuses to hand. To his great credit, he didnít use any of them.
More blame might, and surely will be directed at the bowlers. But even here the bare figures do not tell the whole story. Englandís poor first innings batting made the pitch appear more of a minefield than it really was. In fact it was quite flat, while the batting was simply magnificent. Overs which on another day would have been maidens went for 9 or 10. Deliveries which might have found an edge were lashed through the covers. Catches were dropped. How often did Smith whip away to leg deliveries which were pitched wicket to wicket on a good length and straightening to hit the top of off stump? The wrong place to bowl to a well set Graeme Smith, to be sure, but good bowling most other days. They were the faults of inexperience rather than inability.
How different might it have been had Hussain held that catch when Smith was just 8? It was not the only lapse. Kirsten was dropped on 54 at second slip by Butcher, who went on to drop Dippenaar at slip on 36, but not before Giles had dropped him at slip on 15. None of these chances was difficult. Perhaps the worst error came when Flintoff found the edge of Jacques Rudolphís bat and the ball flew chest high between Stewart and Giles at first slip. Neither man moved. Stewart had earlier left the field for a time following a blow in the eye when Giles made a ball leap out of the rough, and had apparently been suffering from double vision during lunch. But if he was fit enough to take the field again, he should have been fit enough to take that chance. It was typical of Englandís sloppy performance in the field. When the bowlers created an opportunity, which they did often enough by the third day, the fielders were too distracted or unmotivated to take the chance. It was in stark contrast to South Africaís busy vigour in the field.
Head and shoulders above this hurly-burly stood Andrew Flintoff. Charging in with massive heart and exemplary accuracy through a workload of 40 overs, Flintoff, even before his scintillating innings at the death, gave his most mature performance as an England player. He suffered more than most from the butterfingered efforts of his team-mates, but never complained or let his shoulders drop, just kept bowling and smiling. Although his career statistics do not yet bear witness to this, he has begun to exude a strong, authoritative presence on the field which could yet mark him out as the talismanic figure in this new era of English cricket.
It should certainly spare him from any pricking of the knives which, inevitably, will come out in the wake of this massive defeat for England. However the selectors react, the media will be filled with outrage at this performance. Many of those who a few weeks ago were heralding a brave new world for English cricket, will now be decrying its haplessness and calling for the exile of players to outer Siberia, the ritual disembowelment of the selectors and, that perennial favourite, a radical overhaul of county cricket, to go with all the other radical overhauls weíve had in the last 20 years.
Questions will be asked about the young pacemen, Anderson and Harmison, most of all. Anderson, still hungover from his mauling at Edgbaston and worried by recent warnings for running down the pitch, began poorly, but came back strongly towards the end after his dismissal of Smith. Harmison too was good in parts, but any calls for his head should be tempered by a glance at the current table of leading Test wicket takers in 2003. There Harmison stands at number 7, with 16 wickets from 5 matches at an average of 26.53. He is the only English bowler on the list, and if thatís the record he earns when heís a raw tearaway who has yet to find his stock length, imagine what heíll do after a couple of years more experience. He certainly isnít going to get it if heís sent back to Durham. Giles, for his part, was slightly less impressive than at Edgbaston, and Gough about the same. This wasnít the friendlier pitch I hoped to see Gough bowl on before a final verdict was reached, but it looks like the end for him anyway. It was the first time he had bowled at Lordís without taking a wicket, and he was really the only England bowler who never looked like doing so. His control was still good, but all the zip had gone, he looked to be hauling himself to the crease rather than propelling himself as in days gone by. It was heartbreaking to see it, more so even than if heíd never made it back at all.
There is no easy way to bat when youíre staring at a deficit of over 500. Do you block it out and at least look as if youíre determined to pull off the impossible job, just play your normal game and hope to save some pride, or do you go out all guns blazing in a show of grand defiance? On balance, England settled for the second option, but it was still galling to see the first four batsmen get set then throw their wickets away. Vaughan and Trescothick went on the third evening, Vaughan edging a wild drive at Hall to slip, Trescothick top edging a hook at Ntini to square leg, where Paul Adams (recalled in place of Peterson) took a brilliant running catch. Hussain, who started out like an edgy debutant, then settled in with Butcher to play out time.
For an hour or so on the fourth morning, all seemed to be going well for England. Hussain showed all his old steel as he kept out Pollock, Butcher stroked away at Ntini with Goweresque elegance. They had moved on to 186 for 2 when Butcher lazily clipped to Pollock at square leg. His 70 was a fine innings, but the lapse in concentration which ended it, like those which led to his two dropped catches, displayed the one real flaw in his make-up. Hussain moved to a well received 61 with support from McGrath, before he too cracked five minutes before lunch, getting into a tangle trying to hook Ntini and lobbing a catch to Boucher. With the ball about to drop into Boucherís gloves, Hussain let out an anguished cry of ďno!Ē This innings had clearly meant a great deal to him, whether as a means of prolonging his Test career or of going out with a bang, who knows.
The South Africans scented blood now, and soon there was more in the air as Stewart nicked a good one from Ntini to slip, second ball. In the first over after lunch, McGrath got a good one from Pollock which he could only fend to Boucher and England were 208 for 6, effectively dead. No-one could have expected what happened next.
At first all was quiet, Flintoff and Giles batting sensibly as South Africa plugged away and the crowd waited in silence for the killer blow. Together they put on 89 as South Africaís frustration increased before Giles nibbled at a wide one from Hall and was caught at slip for 23. By then, Flintoff had already brought up his 50 with a booming straight drive which did its best to leap up the pavilion steps and into the long room, but this was only a prelude for what was to come. With only three wickets left to fall and the prospect of defeat close at hand, Flintoff decided to have some fun. He lofted Paul Adams for one glorious straight six, then slog-swept him for two fours. He hooked two sixes and a four from one Ntini over then, trying to finish off with another crashing straight drive, struck with the bottom corner of his bat which split in two right up the middle until it was hanging apart by the splice. Flintoff grinned, Ntini flung his arms wide in mock triumph.
Gough played his part too with a couple of hefty off side blows and 47 were added before Gough was held at extra cover off Pollock. Harmison managed to hang on to see Flintoff through to his hundred from 112 balls before edging Ntini to slip to give the tireless paceman his tenth wicket of the match. He was now the first South African ever to perform that feat at Lordís, and he knelt to kiss the turf in tribute.
The end was near, but Flintoff was determined to go out in a blaze of glory. Getting his front leg out of the way, he lofted Pollock over the off side infield for 20 in one over, to rapturous applause from the crowd. Here we were, England just one wicket away from a crushing defeat in a game in which they had been utterly outplayed on every level, yet the partisan home crowd had remained glued to their seats even since the flurry of wickets either side of lunch which sealed Englandís fate. Now they roared and thundered in appreciation of Flintoff and the tailís efforts. The rest of the England team piled out onto the balcony with expressions of blithe enjoyment as Big Freddie tore the enemy apart and, with heavy defeat beckoning, we had the bizarre sight of dejected South African fielders and jubilant English fans.
It was a remarkable period of play, and hard not to think of the match in which Flintoff had scored his only previous Test hundred, at Christchurch 18 months before when Nathan Astle had struck the fastest ever double century as New Zealand tumbled to defeat against England. That innings had altered completely the balance of the series, New Zealand recovering to draw the Second Test and win the Third. If not in this match, we now realised, there was hope yet for England in this series. But it had to end sometime. Smith, craftily, replaced Pollock with Adams, who hadnít had the best of matches with the ball, Flintoff seemed less at ease with the ball pitched into the rough outside his leg stump and was soon stumped giving Adams the charge. His 142 had come off 146 balls and made this a day which everyone could feel good about.
But, it was still South Africaís triumph and one they greatly deserved. The call up of Andrew Hall had been a masterstroke, revitalising the back-up bowling, adding a fine slip fielder and a man who was bursting with energy and enthusiasm to an already eager line-up. There was, in fact, not one player who did not deserve congratulations for his performance. Even Adams had redeemed his average bowling with two fine catches and the wicket of Flintoff. It is a sobering thought for England that Jacques Kallis flies in from Cape Town this week and will surely play at Trent Bridge.
England have a lot of thinking to do, but at least they have a week or more to do it in. The calls for change will be heavy and in all probability they will be answered in a couple of cases. Nasser Hussainís fighting innings of 61 showed that he still has the application and the skill to play Test Cricket, but he still looked drained throughout this match and his presence in the team may have served as a distraction for some of his team mates. With his age and his batting average both in the mid-thirties, his claims for an extension of his career may be insufficient. Graham Thorpe, no doubt, is waiting in the wings, and half a dozen youngsters are waiting for a chance, not least Englandís own run-machine named Smith; Ed Smith of Kent who has struck five centuries in the last five matches.
Anthony McGrath and Alec Stewart will surely live to fight another day, but it is hard to imagine that we havenít seen the last of Darren Gough as a Test bowler. Full credit to him for fighting his way back to fitness, but wear and tear seem to have caught up with him , and it is a shame to see him looking so pedestrian. In the continued absence of Caddick, Johnson, Hoggard and Jones, a recall for Surreyís James Ormond is on the cards. The next few days will see some in depth discussions between Vaughan and the selectors, the result of which should be the emergence of an England side which bears the Vaughan stamp. The old era has passed, bring on the new.
England 173 (Ntini 5-75, Hall 3-18) and 417 (Flintoff 142, Butcher 70, Hussain 61, Ntini 5 for 145)
South Africa 682 for 6 dec (Smith 259, Kirsten 108, Dippenaar 92, Boucher 68)
South Africa won by an innings and 92 runs
Man of the Match:
Graeme Smith & Makhaya Ntini (shared)