South Africa needed just 70 balls to finish off the England second innings here to win by 191 runs and go 2-1 up in the series. The final Test starts at The Oval on Thursday week.
England resumed yesterday morning on 165 for 5 needing another 236 runs to win but in classic Leeds conditions, low cloud, the ball swung and on a pitch of variable bounce the innings collapsed in 50 minutes. Three wickets including both overnight batsman and the last realistic hopes of securing victory, Mark Butcher and Andrew Flintoff, fell in the first three overs. The South African all-rounder, Jacques Kallis, returned career-best bowling figures of 6 for 54.
Vaughan conceded: "We should have got on top and we should have won the match on a tricky Headingley wicket.''
The South African captain Graeme Smith, whose best fast bowler, Shaun Pollock, flew home to attend the birth of a daughter, Jemima, and thus missed this match, praised his team for: "tremendous character, immense determination and lots of guts.'' He agreed that England's controversial decision to come off for bad light, at 164 for 1 in their first innings, was a turning point: "We weren't bowling well. This gave us a chance to go back to the dressing-room. We had a few harsh words. After the break the boys were refocused.
"It was a tough batting wicket and to top 300 twice was a great effort. I knew the boys wanted it badly. We're not going to The Oval to hold on, we're going there to win and make it 3-1.''
South Africa will have Pollock back next week and will be at full strength for the first time in the series. England selector's meet on Thursday to name their squad and may omit Hussain, who has a broken right toe.
Their priority will be to give the team a sharper cutting edge. All three of the young fast bowlers chosen - James Anderson, James Kirtley and Kabir Ali - showed signs of nervous tension. South Africa huddled together on the pitch as the match ended. Smith added: "It was an emotional moment. Deciding to bat first when we expected the ball to move around was the hardest decision of my career. In the end we thought we would take a loss early on in the hope of later gain on what was never a good Test wicket.''
South Africa recovered from 21 for 4 on that first morning and from 160 for 5 in their second innings to win by a substantial margin. It was one of the great Test performances.