England v South Africa, NatWest ODI Triangular Series - Match 2

Report by Neil Robinson 28/06/03

There are some images which never fail to stir the soul of the English cricket lover; Bob Willis tearing in down the Headingley hill, Ian Botham swatting Dennis Lillee over square-leg for six, or less specifically, the sight of two English batsmen creaming it to all parts of the ground on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

It was this last, most exquisite of pleasures which delighted another capacity crowd at The Oval in the second game of the NatWest Series. Set a testing target of 265 by South Africa, England cruised home on the back of a stunning opening partnership of 200 by Marcus Trescothick and Vikram Solanki, swiftly erasing the humiliation of Thursdayís defeat at the hands of Zimbabwe and laying this Triangular Series wide open.

It was only the third double century partnership by England batsmen in the history of One Day Internationals, following Gooch and Gower at Lordís in 1985 and Fairbrother and Hick also at Lordís in 1991. The second of those prompted Denis Compton to declare that Neil Fairbrother should never be left out of an England side again, after today there will be plenty of people having similar thoughts about Vikram Solanki. While Trescothickís fine innings was merely a continuation of his current remarkable form, for Solanki this was an arrival on the international stage which few could dream of matching. It was an absolute gem of an innings, peppered with shots of the highest class played with a verve and an elegance matched by few Englishmen since Gower. If he never makes another run for his country, he will still be remembered for this.

Englandís win will have been all the more satisfying for having been made in the absence of their captain Michael Vaughan, who had played at Trent Bridge on Thursday despite suffering from back spasms. When his back problem failed to resolve itself before this game he stood down in favour of Trescothick in order to rest and undergo a scan at a local hospital. Happily, the scan revealed no serious damage, so Vaughan should return to the side to face Zimbabwe at Headingley on Tuesday, a game he would be loathe to miss since it gives him the chance of captaining his country on his home ground.

The temporary change in captain brought with it, perhaps coincidentally, a change in the balance of the side. James Anderson returned in place of Rikki Clarke to form a full hand of five front line bowlers, while Troughton came back in for Vaughan. Whether this would have led Trescothick to attack more freely if South Africa were on the ropes we will never know. Electing to bat first on a belter of a pitch, South Africaís deep batting order built a good total which looked as if it would provide a stern test of Englandís frail and inexperienced batting. The visitors lost openers Gibbs and Smith early on, both to fine bowling by Anderson, while a promising innings by Jacques Rudolph was cut short by a brilliant piece of fielding off his own bowling by Richard Johnson. His swift pick up, swivel and throw left the young batsman stranded a foot short of his ground.

Thereafte, Kallis and Boucher built a partnership which would form the backbone of the innings. They began with steady accumulation, working the ball into gaps and gradually increasing the run-rate so that the balance of the game began to shift almost indiscernably. There were few scares, although Boucher was nearly run out twice early on, near misses being recorded by a Trescothick throw and a Flintoff left boot. The 50 partnership came up in 73 balls, Kallis reaching his own 50 soon after off 84.

It was about this stage that England began to realise the innings was drifting out of their control. South Africa moved from 100 to 150 in 46 balls, too many easy runs coming off the flightless spin of Ashley Giles. Again bowling over the wicket at the right handers, Giles was used in an entirely defensive role, but his economy rate this summer has been in excess of 4.5 runs per over and his one wicket has come at an average too high to publish on a family website. Giles has always seemed to prefer bowling over the wicket, perhaps a legacy of his origins as a left arm seamer in the Surrey leagues. When he first came into the England side he had some success with this method, few batsmen knew how to deal with it, but practice has made experts of many of them and Giles will need to reassess his role in the one day side soon before someone reassesses his presence in it.

Kallis and Boucher brought up their 100 partnership in 120 balls, and took the score on to 183 before Flintoff found the perfect yorker to account for Boucher for 55 off 64 balls. It was the more aggressive, sparky innings of the two and its end should perhaps have caused Trescothick to think about going on the offensive. With Giles removed from the attack, it was all front-line pace now, but still no slip, no close field at all. It was difficult to know how the bowlers were supposed to claim wickets, or stop the batsmen taking at least a single off every ball. Kallis moved steadily to a well paced hundred, at which he removed his helmet and gestured emotionally to the number 65 on his shirt, a reference apparently to his father who is not in the best of health. Kallisí senior spirits can only have been lifted by his sonís classy knock. Not his most stirring or expansive, the product mostly of well placed manoevring shots and late dabs down to third man, it was nevertheless a commanding performance in which he never once looked less than in charge. Two elegant cover drives and one rasping cut remained fixed in the mind even after Solankiís brilliant tour de force.

In the end it was the perseverance of Flintoff which brought Englandís last breakthroughs. Two more perfect yorkers dismissed Martin van Jaarsveld for 13 then Kallis himself for 107. But even then South Africa continued to build their score. Gough, normally Englandís Mr Reliability at the death, watched in horror as his cunningly disguised slower ball was lifted by Shaun Pollock high into the pavilion before the first five balls of his last over were dispatched to the boundary by Andrew Hall. On such a perfect wicket and on such a perfect June day, 264 for 6 was no more than a par score, but for the new-look England side it would be a sterner test than any they had faced yet.

Inevitably, given his purple patch over the last two weeks, the host nationís hopes were largely invested in Marcus Trescothick. He did not let them down. When Trescothick is playing with such confidence there is really only one place to bowl at him, full in length, pitching around middle and off and sliding across him. Makhaya Ntini found the spot three times in one early over, beating the bat twice and seeing his third effort fly off an outside edge past slip for four. But this was to be the exception rather than the rule. Afterwards, South Africaís new young captain Graeme Smith said ďI donít think we put enough pressure on the batsmen. There were too few dot balls, too many boundary balls.Ē This was visible from the very start. Shaun Pollock, his pace greatly reduced from his early years, struggled in particular to find a consistent length. Trescothick was fed too many easy runs square of the wicket off the back foot, while Solanki opted to loft the ball over the infield, finding the boundary with regularity from the very beginning of his innings.

Eight days earlier, during their spectacular, match-winning stand of 109 against Pakistan at the same ground, it was Trescothick who had dominated proceedings as well as the strike. Here it was Solanki. He had the better of the strike, albeit not so markedly as Trescothick had against Pakistan, and if he seemed to dominate as his partner had before it was largely because of the style of his strokeplay. There is not one shot in the book which he did not display, and few in the book are shown so handsomely executed. Most keen watchers of the game in England have long known how well this boy could play, but so often they have been left shaking their heads as another stylish cameo came to a premature end through some bizarre aberration. Not today. When the field was up, he played over the top, when it was back he eased the ball into the gaps. He ran his singles with urgency, in which he was matched, Iím glad to say, by Trescothick. On the off-side he stroked the ball through the covers with all the fluidity and elegance of Gower or Mark Waugh, on the leg it was despatched with the wristy vigour of Tendulkar. Successive balls from Kallis will linger long in the memory, one a searing pull through midwicket off a ball barely short of a length, the next a full length ball, not a half volley, met with a giant stride and a straight, flowing bat that sent it straight through extra cover for another boundary. But those were just 2 of 17 fours, any one of which could be described with equal praise.

He had one moment of fortune, being caught behind off a Pollock no-ball when 21. It was the second time in this summerís one-dayers he had benefitted in this manner, playing with half a bat and edging to the keeper only to be reprieved by the umpireís call. The indentical nature of both raises the question of whether it was coincidence at all, or whether Solanki heard the call early and played an audacious shot in response. As the first occasion involved the bowling of Shoaib Akhtar, he would need to be one hell of a player to get away with it, but after this innings he is one hell of a player. No question.

The South African bowling was, it must be said, rather samey. The ineffective spin of Boje apart, the rest were standard 80mph plus fast medium. Ntini found occasional extra zip, but no-one found the consistency required for containment in such ideal conditions for batting. After 25 overs South Africa had been 94 for 3, England were 155 for 0, the required rate already well under 5 per over with all 10 wickets in hand. Solanki brought up his maiden international century with a classy on-driven four from his 101st ball. Then six runs later he was gone. Ntini, craftily holding the ball across the seam, gained extra bounce and found a thin edge which flew to slip.

Astonishingly, England then stumbled. Key flashed at his first ball, a wide if heíd left it, and was caught behind. A few balls later McGrath edged Kallis to the keeper for another duck. It looked as if Englandís raw middle order was about to throw it all away. But, just as happened here a week before, Flintoff came in and sealed it. He crashed 32 from 21 balls before Hall slipped one through his gate, but by then only 18 were needed. Trescothick added a worthy second hundred of the summer and Troughton stood firm to see England home.

It was a fabulous day for English cricket. A fine day too for The Oval, all the more for the announcement that Surrey had finally received the go-ahead for the total refurbishment of the Vauxhall End of the ground. The architectís model on display was of a wholly new order. A sweeping, parabolic roof gliding across the whole side, a ground which has too long remained stubbornly stuck in 1939 suddenly updated to the 21st century. The massive playing area, thought to be the largest in the world, will be drastically reduced with the result that the action at the wicket will for the first time be visible from some areas of the ground without either strong binoculars or a live satellite link, thus creating more space for extra spectators and better facilities. The one downside for the romantic being that The Oval will no longer be, strictly speaking, oval, but more of a circle.

Work is due to begin in January next year and should be completed by the time the Aussies visit in the second half of 2005. Subject, that is, to the raising of a final £6 million in funding. Any wealthy readers willing to make a donation should contact Paul Sheldon, Surrey CCC, The Oval, Kennington, London SE11 5SS, United Kingdom . Telephone (0044) 20 7852 6660. Now where did I put that tin full of old halfpennies?

Scorecard Summary:

South Africa 264 for 6 (Kallis 107, Boucher 55, Flintoff 3 for 46)

England 265 for 4 off 45.5 overs (Trescothick 114* Solanki 106)

England won by 6 wickets

Man of the Match:

Vikram Solanki

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