England Win NatWest ODI Triangular Series

Report by Neil Robinson 12/07/03

A formidable performance by Englandís bowlers blasted the heart out of South Africaís batting and sealed a comprehensive victory for the hosts in the final of the NatWest Series at Lordís.

On a blazing hot day and with a pitch declared by both sides to be an absolute belter, England captain Michael Vaughanís decision to insert South Africa upon winning the toss raised a few eyebrows. But Vaughan, quite rightly, bore in mind that only one of this summerís ODIs had been won by the side batting first and trusted his opening bowlers to take control of the match from the very start. Once again, his faith in them proved to be well founded.

After a wide and a dropped catch from the first two balls, it was all England. Making the most of the movement available with the new ball, Darren Gough and Jimmy Anderson swiftly swept up the first four wickets. Anderson, wayward at times but always able to produce a wicket-taking delivery, had Proteas skipper Graeme Smith caught in the slips, then produced a vicious nip-backer to pierce debutant Morne van Wykís defences. From the Pavilion End, Gough used all his skill and experience to deliver a spell of outstanding accuracy causing both Gibbs and, crucially, Kallis to edge catches behind. For Jacques Kallis it was a bitter comedown. After such a brilliant series, here he found himself reduced to a stuttering twelve-ball duck while his bowling was later caned by England for 33 runs from his three overs. If he had dropped a couple of sitters and split his trousers in the process, it couldnít have gone much worse.

As South Africa stumbled to 107 all out, there were just two partnerships of minor note. Jacques Rudolph and Mark Boucher put on 32 for the fifth wicket, before the pressure told and both were caught behind chasing wider deliveries. Then another 27 were added by Shaun Pollock and Martin van Jaarsveld for the seventh, after which the last three wickets crumbled to Anderson and Giles. It was South Africaís lowest ever ODI total against England, the lowest ODI total by any team at Lordís.

With a full house and glorious weather, organisers and spectators alike were probably hoping for a high scoring match from two evenly matched sides high in confidence and determined to go into the forthcoming Test series with a psychological advantage. Now, with South Africaís innings lasting just 32.1 overs, it looked like everyone would have to find some other way of filling the rest of the afternoon. So ruthless and enthralling had been Englandís demolition job, however, that no-one really seemed to mind. Afterwards, South Africa were unwilling to make any excuses and were generous to their victors, admitting they had been outclassed by superior opponents on a blameless pitch.

It was a remarkable achievement, that this young and inexperienced England side had triumphed so conclusively over a South Africa commonly believed, even after their World Cup debacle, to be the second best and second toughest outfit in the world. With a new captain, a fragile batting order and a recent record of dubious value, England have travelled a long way in a very short time. Credit must go to the captain. In his first few matches in the job, many observers, myself included, were critical of Vaughanís negative tactics in the field. He has learned more quickly than anyone could have expected. The inability to attack in the middle of the innings was quickly addressed by the inclusion of an extra pace bowler. The dreary, supine tactic of bowling Ashley Giles over the wicket at the right-handers has slowly been adjusted, to the extent that here Giles bowled all his three overs round the wicket with increased aggression and confidence. The final, most impressive, piece of the jigsaw was on view here at Lordís too. At 43 for 4, South Africa were on the ropes. This time, in his quiet, undemonstrative way, Vaughan kept pounding them. The close catchers were always in attendance, the pressure was always on, the poor shots to which some of the South Africans succumbed were the classic product of pressure applied with intelligence and to telling effect. From a young side and a rookie captain, it was a ruthless, near faultless performance.

In response, South Africa needed to make equally good use of the new ball and put the same kind of pressure on Englandís batsmen. But itís one thing exerting pressure on a side that has lost wickets and is desperately trying to push its total up to something near 250, quite another to pressurise a side chasing just 108 to win with time and wickets in hand. After the early loss of Trescothick (like Kallis suffering the comedown of a duck after a marvellous series), Vikram Solanki and Michael Vaughan batted with style and confidence to put on 87 in a match-sealing stand. South Africaís bowlers were never allowed to settle. They used their feet to upset Pollockís length, while Makhaya Ntini again struggled to control the new ball. Once they had departed from the scene, the two batsmen wrought havoc on what followed.

Solanki, after a run of single figure scores, was back in the sublime form which characterised his century at The Oval. His driving through the off-side was accompanied by a static posed follow through for all the photographers to capture. One slightly airy on-drive met with some lip from the disgruntled bowler, Kallis. Solankiís response was a rapid, dismissive flick off the line of off-stump which flew over square-leg for six, then a straight driven four all along the ground past the stumps. Kallis had nothing to say after that. Vaughan eventually mis-timed a drive to mid-on and Solanki chopped Hall on to his stumps shortly after reaching his fifty . There was just time for Andrew Flintoff and Andre Nel to resume their good-natured banter and pantomime aggression from Edgbaston before the winning runs were struck. Of the 100 overs scheduled for the match, only 52.3 had been bowled. But few of the majority England fans will have left feeling short-changed.

If part of this match was about one team gaining the moral upper hand before the First Test a week on Thursday, there can be no doubt that England have achieved this. The size of this particular win probably exaggerates the gap between the sides, but a number of clear differences have opened up. South Africa, whose openers may well have less of a struggle against the new red ball in the Tests, have clearly had the stronger batting side in this series. With Kallis, Rudolph and Boucher in the middle order, they have had more experience and nous than England in that area. But they will be worried about their bowling. Pollockís nagging accuracy may well seem much less troublesome if not backed up by a genuine threat from the other end. Ntini has been occasionally devastating, but has found the new ball hard to control and has struggled to find a consistent length appropriate to English conditions. There is not much, fast or slow, to follow. The most impressive of the back-up bowlers has been Andre Nel, but now this series is over he is to return to his post as overseas pro at Northamptonshire. South Africa will have to hope for some extra fire from someone like Dewald Pretorius or Monde Zondeki. Nor, in the absence of Nicky Boje, does the spin department look too threatening.

For England, on the other hand, all is rosy. Their seam bowling attack has been their strength, and with the spin of Ashley Giles beginning to look more like the real thing in this last match, they can be happy with the all round quality of their attack. The figures of all their bowlers in this match are worth noting. Anderson 10-0-50-3, Gough 7-2-9-2, Flintoff 6.1-0-18-1, Johnson 6-1-26-1, Giles 3-2-3-2. Having come through this tournament unscathed and looking as dangerous, and possibly craftier, than ever, Gough is sure now to come into the reckoning for the Tests. Add to this mix Harmison and Hoggard and England have a rich seam to mine.

Their one weakness in the one-dayers has been in the middle order. Neither Troughton nor Key made much of an impression with the bat, McGrath and Clarke flickered rather than shone. But for the Tests England will welcome back Mark Butcher and Nasser Hussain, both of whom have been making runs galore in county cricket , while Graeme Thorpe, having declared his willingness to tour this winter, will be the subject of many a bar and long-room discussion over the coming weeks. None of this is to discount the threat of a South African side sure to come out snarling for revenge, but England must now be the favourites.

Scorecard Summary:

South Africa 107 (32.1 overs) (Rudolph 19, Anderson 3-50, Giles 2-3, Gough 2-9)

England 111 for 3 (20.2 overs) (Solanki 50, Vaughan 30)

England won by 7 wickets

Man of the Match:

Darren Gough

Man of the Series:

Andrew Flintoff

Fansí Series Award:

Jacques Kallis

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