FOR THE second day in a row, England showed two sides of their cricketing character. Had the pair been close relatives they would now be dominating South Africa instead of trailing them, and this ding dong battle to secure the series would have been more than half way in the bag.
As it stands, they have merely got themselves back into the match, mainly through another supreme performance from Angus Fraser, who finished with 5 for 42 - his third five-wicket haul in three inings. Yet if that appeared to be a sterling effort it should have been much better for England, who dropped four catches; those lapses, as well as the lack of a third man, probably cost them close on 80 runs.
In what is turning into a match on a knife-edge, England were just out- manoeuvred, although more by South Africa's intransigence than any superiority in skill level.
Missing chances - two difficult, two regulation - does not help matters, particularly when one of those reprieved was Hansie Cronje. Missed on 20 and 32, he eventually fell for 57 dubiousdly lbw to Fraser. In a match as nip and tuck as this one, 37 runs represent a luxury that neither team can really afford, especially when the pitch is keeping the bowlers interested with its increasingly varied bounce.
When play began, England needed a quick breakthrough and got it in the third over of the day, as Gary Kirsten became the latest in a lengthy list of disillusioned batsmen to be sorely treated by the umpires. Some left-handers are obvious lbw candidates and Kirsten is one of them. On this occasion, though, the ball Fraser got him with was doubtful on two counts, pitching wide and then hitting the player high on the knee roll.
Although a bowler known for equanimity as well as consistency, the early success clearly lifted Fraser and he twice beat his old Middlesex colleague, Jacques Kallis, before the batsman got off the mark. In fact, Fraser beat the bat regularly and was by far England's best bowler in the early exchanges, a prominence duly rewarded when he had Gerry Liebenberg smartly held by Graeme Hick at second slip for 21, his highest score of the series.
Few players appear as determined as Cronje, but his loyalty to Liebenberg, a team-mate with the Free State, has perhaps bordered on the stubborn and Liebenberg's lack of form may have been the reason why the all-rounder Brian MacMillan was picked in place of a spinner.
Such doubts have not followed Kallis, the No 3 and testing swing bowler who has been the find of the tour. As a batsman, he looks unhurried and he now combined with Daryll Cullinan in adding 47 runs.
When given the opportunity, Cullinan can look a complete player. Yet impatience takes over if he is denied the easy runs that Dominic Cork and Andrew Flintoff offered him. With Stewart forced to bring Ian Salisbury on 20 minutes before lunch, South Africa were in control. Moments later, however, the equilibrium was restored when Cullinan, trying to force the second ball of Gough's second spell off the back foot, edged behind.
Before lunch only Fraser and Gough had looked the part, but the afternoon session saw an improvement from Cork. Twenty-seven yesterday, Cork sometimes behaves like he is going on 13 and for a bowler with such undoubted talents he allows himself to be easily distracted.
On this occasion, the sore elbow he received batting on Thursday appeared to be bothering him. As a captain, Stewart is a man who holds little truck with excuse-makers, and Cork's added zest after the break, suggested that his captain had probably spelt out a few home truths to him over a cheese roll.
If the effort was there, his first dismissal was hardly a case of classical swing bowling and it required a feline catch by Mark Ramprakash at mid- wicket to put his name in lights. Ramprakash caught an equally brilliant catch here on his debut seven years ago. On that occasion he was at cover point when he clung on to a fierce square cut from Phil Simmons. Yesterday, he pounced as Kallis ended his three-hour vigil by pulling a long-hop low to the fielder's right.
It was not long after that England had their mad 15 minutes, spilling three catches in 22 balls. Slip fielders will tell you there is no such thing as an easy edge. If there was, though, the snick given to Nasser Hussain by Cronje off Cork and the one offered by Jonty Rhodes to Graeme Hick, would surely have been among them. Both were around waist high and hit the meaty part of the hands.
Rhodes was doubly fortunate for he had been dropped just moments before by Ramprakash at the square leg. This time the power of the shot was too much for Ramprakash and the ball burst through his hands.
Rhodes, clearly trying to accelerate while his captain dropped anchor, did not profit much from his luck and he added just 12 runs before edging Gough behind. Twenty runs later MacMillan followed, chipping Cork to Salisbury at mid-on.
South Africa then aped England's collapse of the first day, losing their last five wickets for 68 as Fraser ran through the tail with 3 for 2 in 11 balls. Deservedly the tall seamer was given a standing ovation as he left the field. His body language suggested to his old friend Michael Atherton that it is now down to England's batsmen to give him and his colleagues something to bowl at in the final innings of the game.
England won toss
ENGLAND - First Innings 220 (M Butcher 116; M Ntini 4-72).
SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings
(Overnight: 9 for 0)
G Kirsten lbw b Fraser 6
(27 min, 24 balls, 1 four)
G F J Liebenberg c Hick b Fraser 21
(62 min, 42 balls, 2 fours)
J H Kallis c Ramprakash b Cork 40
(180 min, 134 balls, 7 fours)
D J Cullinan c Stewart b Gough 27
(54 min, 29 balls, 4 fours)
*W J Cronje lbw b Fraser 57
(238 min, 163 balls, 9 fours)
J N Rhodes c Stewart b Gough 32
(37 min, 39 balls, 4 fours)
B M McMillan c Salisbury b Cork 7
(36 min, 25 balls, 1 four )
S M Pollock c Salisbury b Fraser 31
(84 min, 64 balls, 1 four)
M V Boucher c Atherton b Gough 6
(24 min, 16 balls, 1 four)
A A Donald lbw b Fraser 0
(2 min, 2 balls )
M Ntini not out 4
(9 min, 6 balls, 1 four )
Extras (lb20, nb1) 21
Total (381 min, 90.3 overs) 252
Fall: 1-17 (Kirsten), 2-36 (Liebenberg), 3-83 (Cullinan), 4-120 (Kallis), 5-163 (Rhodes), 6-184 (McMillan), 7-237 (Cronje), 8-242 (Pollock), 9- 242 (Donald).
Bowling: Gough 24.3-7-58-3 (8-2-19-0, 7-4-9-1, 4-1-7-1, 2-0-9-0, 3.3- 0-14-1); Fraser 25-10-42-5 (10-3-16-2, 6-2-13-0, 5-3-3-0, 4-1-10-3); Cork 21-3-72-2 (2-0-12-0, 3-0-13-0, 16-3-47-2); Flintoff 8-1-31-0 (4-1-17-0, 4-0-14-0); Salisbury 3-0-6-0 (one spell); Butcher 9-4-23-0 (nb1) (6-3- 19-0, 3-1-4-0).
Progress: 50: 76 min, 18.4 overs. Lunch: 88-3 (Kallis 25, Cronje 4) 33 overs. 100: 161 min, 39 overs. 150: 238 min, 56.5 overs. Tea: 168-5 (Cronje 28, McMillan 4) 62 overs. 200: 310 min, 74.1 overs. New ball: taken after 83 overs at 228-6. 250: 375 min, 89.2 overs. Innings closed: 6.02pm.
Cronje 50: 226 min, 151 balls, 9 fours.
ENGLAND - Second Innings
M A Butcher not out 0
(3 min, 3 balls)
M A Atherton not out 1
(3 min, 3 balls)
Extras (lb1) 1
Total (for 0, 3 min, 1 over) 2
To bat: N Hussain, *A J Stewart, M R Ramprakash, G A Hick, A Flintoff, D G Cork, D Gough, I D K Salisbury, A R C Fraser.
Bowling: Pollock 1-0-1-0.
Umpires: Javed Akhtar and P Willey.Reuse content