England v South Africa, NatWest ODI Triangular Series - Match 8

Report by Neil Robinson 08/07/03

With both teams already certain of their place in Saturdayís final at Lordís, the day-night game between England and South Africa at Edgbaston could easily have been a turgid affair. But, with team captains Graeme Smith and Michael Vaughan both stressing the importance of taking a psychological advantage into the final, what took place in the end was a stirring contest filled with some excellent cricket played out before an enthusiastic, sell-out crowd.

The two young captains led from the front, Smith getting South Africa off to a flying start with some vigorous strokeplay, but in the end it was a calm, stylish innings of 83 by his opposite number which saw England home with eleven overs to spare.

For Michael Vaughan it was a magnificent return to form, perfectly timed with the really serious business of this summer about to begin. The first signs of renewed confidence had appeared in the rain-ruined game at Headingley, then in his quiet support of the explosive Andrew Flintoff in the defeat of Zimbabwe at Bristol. Here again there was another superb partnership with the Lancashire all-rounder, but this time Vaughan was equally impressive, playing all the strokes familiar to those who have watched him bat over the last twelve months, the smooth, gliding cover drive, the swivelling pull played with lightning quick wrists, the delicate late cut past gully. At times Vaughan found gaps in the field which didnít seem to be there, while Flintoff simply hit the ball so hard that the positioning of the field was never an issue.

For the third time out of three in this statistic-defying summer, the side batting second in a day-night match won at a canter. Although this may have been due to the sudden shift in conditions between innings which saw South Africa bat under cloud-shrouded gloom before England came out to chase on a brilliant, sunny evening through which the light remained excellent until the last twenty minutes.

South Africaís innings was a tale of two recoveries. First came that of James Anderson. Perhaps distracted by the two official warnings for following through down the pitch he had received at Bristol, Andersonís first over was a mix and match affair which Graeme Smith quite rightly took for 19. Five more came from his second, at which Vaughan banished the lad to the boundary for a rest and a rethink. By the time he returned, South Africa were already stuttering, with four down for little more than 90, but the captainís faith in his young star was quickly rewarded by an irresistible spell of 3 for 0 in 9 balls which pitched the visitors towards defeat. It was top-class bowling, fast and full with devastating late movement, to which Boucher, Rudolph and Pollock had no response.

Martin van Jaarsveld and Paul Adams thus came together with their team in dire straits at 104 for 7. Their partnership of 71 was to be the second recovery. For once, Vaughan kept his field in close, his attacking bowlers in harness, but the wicket didnít come. The England captain was not helped by the absence from the field of Richard Johnson, who had bowled with great control to take 2 for 34 from 8 overs before aggravating a groin injury, but with Anderson, Gough and Flintoff all straining hard for the next breakthrough, it was still commendable resistance from the two South Africans, each of whom went on to record his highest score in ODIs.

The eighth wicket finally fell to the gentle medium of Anthony McGrath, who trapped van Jaarsveld lbw for 45. But South Africa were nearing 200 and only fell short thanks to a crafty final over from Ashley Giles, bowling a much improved spell, which went for only 2 runs. The final total of 198 for 9 was a disappointing one, but South Africa would have been encouraged with their recovery from the prospect of an even lower score, and by the thought that England would have to chase their target under lights.

As it was, the chase took place under bright sunlight with the ball moving around less than it had when England had bowled on what remained an excellent pitch. But when the losses of Solanki, Trescothick and McGrath left them at 30 for 3, England were reeling. Andrew Flintoff then strode to the crease like a colossus who has just come into the full knowledge of his own power. His confidence, growing by the game, had been bouyed earlier on by a stunning catch to remove Jacques Kallis. The in-form South African had hit a cut shot off Johnson like a bullet, like one of those shots Robin Smith used to play which were as dangerous bouncing back off the boudary boards as they had been coming off the bat in the first place. There was a lightning flash of movement as the ball sped away, then everything seemed to stop. It was one of those freeze-frame moments in which the whole world is paused in appreciation of a sublime, transitory image. There was the ball, no longer speeding on its way but held by the outstretched hand of Flintoff at gully, reaching full-length and about to overbalance. The image was held in stasis for a fraction of a second before Flintoffís legs jacknifed into the air and he came crashing to the ground. In another instant he was on his feet again, the ball borne high above his head like the Holy Grail.

Moments like that are so powerful they can remove all self-doubt from a playerís mind. Flintoff is at last beginning to realise what he can be capable of. A crashing drive through cover for four from his first ball quickly emphasised that. It was quickly followed by a huge pulled six off the expensive Kallis and a succession of powerful, but still text-book correct shots which took him to his fifty off only 36 balls. The South Africans couldnít dismiss him, so they tried to shake him. Andre Nel, bowling an aggressive spell on his return to the side, forced Flintoff to sway out of the way of a vicious bouncer, then walked up the pitch to add a few choice verbals. Flintoff just grinned, then caned the next ball, just barely short of a length, back past Nel with a deliberate cross-batted swipe. In Nelís next over Flintoff ran a single straight up the line of Nelís follow through challenging the bowler to get out of the way, which, sensibly, he did. Another bouncer soon followed, which sat Flintoff down on the seat of his trousers, but the batsman just grinned again at which Nel joined in the smiles and helped big Freddie to his feet. It was cricket just as it should be, the grimace and the grin never far away.

Vaughan reached his own fifty from 76 balls with ten fours. An awful lot of dot balls in there, but when he did look to score he did so with full effect. The 100 partnership came up from 103 balls before Flintoff finally fell, hooking Ntini down to Adams at long leg. There were still 69 needed, which gave young Rikki Clarke an opportunity to show what he could do. He took it with both hands, getting off the mark with a stylish square driven boundary off the back foot, then following it up with a hook for six off Nel and a more controlled pull for four. The captain and the kid carried on playing shots of the highest class until the game was well beyond South Africa. Sadly, neither of them made it to the end, Vaughan adjudged lbw padding up to Hall with only five more needed, Clarke lbw sweeping Adams with the scores level. No matter, it was still a comprehensive win for England which should give them that crucial psychological head-start at the weekend.

South African sprits will not have been improved by the injury suffered in the field by Nicky Boje. On as a substitute, Boje slipped as he tried to pick up a ball on the run. As he went down, his left ankle went over underneath him at almost 90 degrees. It was a nasty looking affair, like Simon Jonesís horrible knee injury at Brisbane a few months ago. Boje was carried from the field by his team mates and taken to hospital where a scan revealed a broken fibula which may require surgery. He will be out for at least two months.

The Proteas still have one more chance to take some momentum into Saturdayís final with their game against Zimbabwe at Southampton on Thursday. They will be confident about their batting strength and can be sure that Pollock and Ntini are among the finest new-ball partnerships in the game, but they will be worried about the quality of their back-up bowling. England too have some concerns. Apart from his brilliant hundred at The Oval, Vikram Solanki has failed to reach double figures in this series, which might suggest that he would be more comfortable lower down the order away from the new ball. But England will be reluctant to weaken an already shaky and inexperienced middle-order by moving Vaughan up to open in his stead.

Scorecard Summary:

South Africa 198 for 9 (Smith 45, van Jaarsveld 45, Adams 33*, Anderson 4 for 38)

England 199 for 6 (39 overs) (Vaughan 83, Flintoff 54, Clarke 37)

England won by 4 wickets

Man of the Match:

Andrew Flintoff

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