An inspired Andrew Flintoff breathed life into England at a gloomy Edgbaston yesterday evening, taking two crucial wickets in a magnificent spell of high-quality fast bowling to bring Michael Vaughan's side back into the third Test. The all-rounder ignored fatigue and strained every muscle in his huge frame at the end of a truncated day to flummox and intimidate South Africa's previously comfortable batsmen and rouse the home crowd, who boisterously cheered as he roared in to bowl.
South Africa were easing their way towards England's disappointing first innings total of 231 and a probable series victory when Flintoff showed exactly why he remains the country's favourite cricketer. Jacques Kallis, South Africa's best batsman, had looked in little trouble before a break for rain, but he failed to pick up the first ball he faced from Flintoff, a stunning yorker that just missed off stump. Two short balls then whistled past the right-hander's nose before another yorker clipped his toe on the way through to Tim Ambrose, the England wicketkeeper. England appealed loudly, but the umpire Aleem Dar said "not out", believing that the ball had missed everything. Television replays showed Kallis was plumb lbw.
Flintoff did not have to wait long to get his man, bowling him with a superb away-swinging yorker with the fourth ball of his next over. The 30-year-old had earlier taken his 200th Test wicket, but few dismissals can have given him greater pleasure, and seldom can Kallis, one of the finest batsmen in the game, have been made to look so foolish.
With his tail up and an engrossed crowd cheering him on, Flintoff then set about A B de Villiers who, in an attempt to knock some of the sting out of his opponent, naively chose to hook at a bouncer. The top edge flew high to Ryan Sidebottom, who held on to a swirling catch at fine leg.
With the light fading Mark Boucher failed to see a further couple of full balls from Flintoff, losing them in the gloom above the sightscreen at the Pavilion End. Boucher looked as though he could have gone at any moment and the South Africans were mightily relieved when the umpires deemed the light to be too poor for play to continue.
By then South Africa had moved to 256 for 6 and a 25-run lead. Graeme Smith's side remain slightly ahead in the Test, but when Flintoff is in this sort of mood anything can, and normally does, happen. If England are to gain parity, Flintoff will need to repeat last night's heroics this morning because James Anderson and Sidebottom, hard as they tried, seemed incapable of causing the same unrest.
The style in which the day finished was in stark contrast to the morning, when an uninspired England failed to make the early inroads they required. There is nothing a fielding side dislikes more than a nightwatchman who hangs around the morning after he has fulfilled his role, yet that is just what Paul Harris did, sapping valuable energy from England's bowlers, vitality that would have been better spent attempting to dismiss South Africa's resolute middle order.
Vaughan probably missed a trick after a 15-minute rain delay too, when he opened up with Flintoff in muggy, overcast conditions made for swing bowling. Flintoff, as ever, ran in hard and made life uncomfortable for McKenzie and Harris, but full swingers should have been harder to keep out than bruising short-of-a-length deliveries. Even so, Flintoff created one of the few chances before lunch when he forced McKenzie to edge a push low to Andrew Strauss at first slip. Strauss seemed to take the ball cleanly and England began to celebrate, but McKenzie stood his ground, uncertain whether the ball had carried. Strauss immediately told the umpire that he thought he had caught it cleanly but was not 100 per cent sure, and the decision, predictably, was referred to the third umpire. Television replays were inconclusive and McKenzie was given the ridiculously biased and batsman-friendly verdict – the benefit of doubt.
Sidebottom ended Harris's resistance but he had done his job, adding 77 precious runs with McKenzie. The South African opener passed fifty when he drove Sidebottom through extra cover for three to complete another session of dominance. England lacked vigour in the morning and there was an air of resignation about some of their cricket, but after the interval, and possibly a few harsh words from Vaughan or Peter Moores, the coach, they were far livelier.
Hashim Amla was brilliantly caught and bowled by a diving Anderson when he inside-edged a clip to the leg side on to his pad and McKenzie, who had been dropped by Paul Collingwood at slip on 57, was finally trapped plumb in front to give Flintoff his 200th Test wicket – 193 for England, seven for The Rest of the World.
With South Africa on 135 for 4 and the bowlers looking threatening, England were suddenly back in the Test. England believe Kallis is vulnerable to a yorker and their bowlers fired a few into the toes of the right-hander. One was edged along the ground to the third-man boundary, another inside-edged past off stump to fine leg.
A labouring Sidebottom made Kallis's task easier. England's bowler of the year missed the second Test with a back injury and he looked uncomfortable here. His pace was down, at 76 to 78mph, and he appeared to be bowling with his shoulder rather than his body, the characteristics of a bowler worried about his back.
Neither did Monty Panesar pose much threat as Kallis and Ashwell Prince cut him for boundaries. It would have been around then that Vaughan must have wished that he and the selectors had picked a fifth bowler.
With the new ball 17 overs away and his three seamers beginning to tire after 55 overs of hard work, fresh legs capable of whizzing the ball down at 85mph-plus were required. But in Vaughan's hour of need Flintoff stepped up, showing what a wonderful cricketer he is.
Shot of the day
South Africa's Ashwell Prince has developed into a fine batsman as his two hundreds in the series to date have shown. The left-hander seems completely unruffled by what takes place around him and leaves the ball beautifully. He is capable of playing exquisite shots, too, as England's left-arm seamer Ryan Sidebottom found out when he drove him through extra cover yesterday for four.
Ball of the day
Andrew Flintoff celebrated his 200th Test wicket yesterday but it was the 201st that gave him the greatest pleasure. Very few bowlers can make Jacques Kallis look foolish but that is just what Flintoff did in 10 balls of high-quality hostility. The last of the 10 was a magnificent away-swinging yorker that knocked out Kallis's off stump.
Moment of the day
James Anderson's bowing may frustrate, but he is a wonderful athlete as his dismissal of Hashim Amla highlighted. Amla inside edged a leg-side inswinger on to his pad and the ball lobbed out into the off side. Most fast bowlers would not have contemplated going for the catch but Anderson raced forward and to his left before diving to take a brilliant one-handed catch.
England won toss
England – First Innings 231 (A N Cook 76, I R Bell 50).
South Africa – First Innings Overnight: 38 for 1)
N D McKenzie lbw b Flintoff 72
176 min, 127 balls, 12 fours
*G C Smith c Strauss b Flintoff 7
32 min, 21 balls
P L Harris c Cook b Sidebottom 19
91 min, 54 balls, 3 fours
H M Amla c and b Anderson 9
33 min, 23 balls
J H Kallis b Flintoff 64
137 min, 114 balls, 9 fours
A G Prince not out 37
158 min, 92 balls, 7 fours
A B de Villiers c Sidebottom b Flintoff 5
17 min, 17 balls, 1 four
†M V Boucher not out 11
16 min, 13 balls, 2 fours
Extras (lb27, nb5) 32
Total (for 6, 335 min, 76 overs) 256
Fall: 1-17 (Smith) 2-94 (Harris) 3-117 (Amla) 4-135 (McKenzie) 5-226 (Kallis) 6-238 (De Villiers).
To bat: M Morkel, A Nel, M Ntini.
Bowling: Sidebottom 18-6-60-1 (nb1) (7-2-26-0, 5-3-9-1, 4-1-14-0, 2-0-11-0); Anderson 23-5-64-1 (nb3) (3-0-10-0, 6-2-16-0, 4-1-8-1, 6-1-20-0, 4-1-10-0); Flintoff 26-8-68-4 (nb1) (7-3-10-1, 9-0-38-1, 10-5-20-2); Collingwood 2-0-12-0 (one spell); Panesar 7-0-25-0 (6-0-16-0, 1-0-9-0).
Progress: First day close: 38-1 (McKenzie 12, Harris 10) 11 overs. Second day: Rain delayed start until 11.14am. 50 in 58 min, 13 overs. Rain stopped play 11.24-11.42am 51-1 (McKenzie 25, Harris 10) 13.3 overs. 100: 134 min, 29.4 overs. Lunch: 104-2 (McKenzie 52, Amla 4) 31 overs. 150: 205 min, 45 overs. 200: 271 min, 61.4 overs. Tea: 205-4 (Kallis 48, Prince 24) 63 overs. 250: 328 min, 74.1 overs. Rain delayed restart until 5.24pm. Bad light stopped play 6.23pm.
McKenzie's 50: 134 min, 100 balls, 8 fours. Kallis's 50: 130 min, 93 balls, 7 fours.
Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and S J Davis (Aus).
TV replay umpire: I J Gould.
Match referee: R S Madugalle.
Today: Sunny yet hazy. Max temp 19C. Small chance of rain.
Tomorrow: Overcast and showery. Max temp 18C.
Sunday: Cloudy with scattered showers. Max temp 18C.