THIS TIME there was no miracle as there had been in Johannesburg three winters ago, for Lord's is rarely kind to its own. Instead, it was the visitors, South Africa, who, by playing the more knowing and necessary cricket, made short of the longest day, winning the second Cornhill Test by 10 wickets, to go 1-0 up in the series.
Only the customary mirage, this time thrown up by some late heroics from Nasser Hussain, who scored his seventh Test century, and a fighting half- century from England's captain, Alec Stewart, prevented the innings from being a rout. Mind you, after the home side's abysmal collapse for 110 on Saturday, at the hands of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, cricketing realists would have seen it as a minor triumph that England, following on 250 runs behind, made South Africa bat again.
Yet we live in times of unreal expectations and England's collapse after lunch, when they lost six wickets for 11 runs in under an hour, was atrocious, and most of the middle-order batted with less spine than your average inverterbrate.
Indeed, against what was essentially the support bowling of Lance Klusener and Jacques Kallis, whose spell of four for three in 25 balls contributed to his best ever Test figures, it was an unacceptably poor performance. The odd head will surely roll before the next Test at Old Trafford.
"Obviously we're disappointed, but full credit to South Africa" the England captain, Alec Stewart, said afterwards. "We had the better of the Edgbaston Test, but they've outdone us here. It's not all doom and gloom. We've got good players, as we showed at Edgbaston.
"There are three matches left. We have to try to win all three, or at least two of the three. We know we are capable of beating them and we look forward to evening things up at Old Trafford."
Since their return to the international arena, resilience has been something of a South African speciality, a quality England mostly appear to lack. South Africa nearly always manage to turn unpromising situations on their head. A classy new ball attack helps, but so does their attention to fielding, which helps to lift and bind a team as it confronts its foe.
"We knew it would be difficult on days one and two," Hansie Cronje, South Africa's captain said. "But we felt that if we could get a reasonable score we could put England under pressure. With Jonty batting so well that he made me look like an inexperienced amateur, we were able to do that."
In truth there is rarely a moment when England are not under the cosh these days, though when the fourth day began there was none of the cloud cover that had helped contribute to their rout in the first innings, when the ball had swung and seamed appreciably.
In fact the only thing hanging over England, who resumed on 105-2, was the impending punishment about to be handed to Mark Ramprakash, for the dissent he showed in England's first innings, when umpire Darrell Hair gave him out caught behind off his elbow.
Needing to bat at least until lunch today, the riposte did not begin auspiciously when Dean Headley, the nightwatchman, was out to the 12th ball of the morning, prodding a simple pad-bat catch to silly point off Paul Adams.
Bowling from the Nursey End, and extracting a considerable amount of turn, as well as some inconsistent bounce, Adams looked like he might finish England off quickly. Certainly England needed luck against him and Klusener. Both Stewart, on 17, and Hussain, on 67, were dropped, after the latter had survived an lbw appeal against the left-arm spinner that looked stone dead.
Until South Africa took the second new ball Hussain and Stewart ground away like fastidious apothecaries, using pestles and mortars. Hussain in particular owed his team a score, following his appalling flat-footed scythe in the first innings, and it took an effort of immense fortitude for him to deliver.
With hardness of the new ball restoring Stewart to the role of quasi- opener, runs were suddenly added at an alarming rate, 40 of them coming in just six overs. In some ways the spree showed England what they are missing by employing him in the middle-order, and for a brief moment either side of lunch, after Hussain had reached his hundred and Stewart had passed fifty, England looked capable of saving the match.
But as is so often the case in batting collapses that involve England, the catalyst - as it was in Antigua a few months ago, when a careless run-out caused seven wickets to fall for 26 runs - was out of all proportion to the damage caused.
On this occasion it was Stewart, pushing forward to a Kallis outswinger, who was given out caught behind. The TV replay showed he was unlucky, as was Graham Thorpe, who having survived an appeal for caught behind - a brilliant decision as the ball actually shaved his stumps - was then given out lbw to a ball that pitched well outside leg stump.
In the first ball of the next over, Hussain's six and a half hour stay was ended with another contentious decision, the batsman probably just getting his pad outside the line of off-stump to Klusener's in-swinger.
Four balls later, Ramprakash left nobody in any doubt as his off-stump was uprooted by Klusener's yorker. Incredibly it was his fourth duck in six Test innings at Lord's and he looked like a man fully expecting the hangman's noose rather than one receiving a fine and a suspended one-match ban.
A last-wicket flurry by Robert Croft and Angus Fraser ensured South Africa would bat again, though the inconvenience was brief, Daryll Cullinan opening in place of Adam Bacher, who had earlier injured his shoulder diving to prevent a boundary.
Needing 15 to wrap up victory, they duly won off the first ball of the second over. With almost a day and a session to spare, few can deny the advance in their cricket since Edgbaston. If a similar improvement is made over the next fortnight, England are likely to face another fallow summer. Lord's Scorboard England won toss South Africa - First Innings 360 (J N Rhodes 117, W J Cronje 81; D G Cork 6-119). England - First innings 110 (A A Donald 5-32). Second innings (Saturday: 102 for 2) M A Atherton c Kallis b Adams 44 197 min, 142 balls, 7 fours S P James c Kallis b Pollock 0 13 min, 7 balls N Hussain lbw b Klusener 105 390 min, 294 balls, 17 fours D W Headley c Cronje b Adams 1 27 min, 30 balls *A J Stewart c Boucher b Kallis 56 161 min, 117 balls, 7 fours G P Thorpe lbw b Kallis 0 12 min, 9 balls M R Ramprakash b Klusener 0 8 min, 4 balls M A Ealham b Kallis 4 38 min, 21 balls D G Cork c Boucher b Kallis 2 18 min, 17 balls R D B Croft not out 16 61 min, 41 balls, 1 four A R C Fraser c Pollock b Adams 17 46 min, 42 balls, 1 four Extras (b1 lb6 w5 nb7) 19 Total (490 min, 120 overs) 264 Fall: 1-8 (James) 2-102 (Atherton) 3-106 (Headley) 4-222 (Stewart) 5-224 (Thorpe) 6-224 (Hussain) 7-225 (Ramprakash) 8-228 (Cork) 9-233 (Ealham) 10-264 (Fraser). Bowling: Donald 24-6-82-0 (nb2 w2) (4-2-16-0, 5-2-11-0, 6-1-8-0, 7-1-39-0, 2-0-8-0); Pollock 27-16-29-1 (nb2) (6-4-4-1, 5-4-1-0, 2-2-0-0, 4-2-5-0, 7-2-17-0, 3-2-2-0); Klusener 23-5-54-2 (5-1-14-0, 7-2-20-0, 5-1-10-0, 6-1-10-2); Kallis 19-9-24-4 (3-2-8-0, 3-2-3-0, 13-5-13-4); Adams 23-7-62-3 (1-0-4-0, 7-3-12-1, 13-4-35-1, 2-0-11-1); Cronje 4-2-6-0 (one spell). Progress: Third day: tea: 47-1 (Atherton 26, Hussain 15) 19 overs. 50: 85 min, 19.4 overs. 100: 194 min, 48.3 overs. Close: 105-2 (Hussain 52, Headley 1) 54 overs. Fourth day: 150: 304 min, 77.1 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 160-3. 200: 340 min , 85.5 overs. Lunch: 200-3 (Hussain 97, Stewart 43) 86 overs. 250: 479 min, 116.5 overs. Innings closed 4.09pm. Hussain's 50: 181 min, 147 balls, 9 fours. 100: 329 min, 260 balls, 17 fours. Stewart's 50: 131 min, 94 balls, 7 fours. South Africa - Second Innings G Kirsten not out 9 6 min, 4 balls, 2 fours D J Cullinan not out 5 6 min, 4 balls, 1 four Extras (nb1) 1 Total (6 min, 1.1 overs) 15 Bowling: Fraser 1-0-10-0; Cork 0.1-0-5-0 (nb1). Progress: South Africa won by 10 wickets at 4.36pm. Man of the match: J N Rhodes. Umpires: D B Hair and G Sharp. TV Replay Umpire: B Dudleston. Match Referee: Javed Burki.Reuse content