England cut debts with spirited recovery

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The Independent Online

Not even the gyrating figure in a block of flats overlooking The Oval could upstage the action in the final Test. The person (of indeterminate sex) was dressed in shocking pink lurex or similar material and appeared to be trying to draw attention to an equally indeterminate cause, possibly Third World debt.

At last England fans had something to cheer about. Indeed the only blemish was the premature close when Marcus Trescothick and Graham Thorpe accepted an offer to come off early for bad light with their reply on 165 for 2, still 319 behind the South Africans and a further 120 needed to avoid following on.

This was a fine England fightback with ball then with bat. There was also a landmark for the South African all-rounder Shaun Pollock when the tourists hit back in the afternoon.

That solitary protestor had draped a banner ordering whoever to "Drop The Debt". England were not exactly in debt but certainly had a deficit to wipe out. They battled hard to do just that, although their cause was not helped by the loss of their captain, Michael Vaughan.

He became Pollock's 300th Test victim when he had made 23 - which leaves him averaging a shade over 18 runs since he took over the captaincy from Nasser Hussain after the first Test.

Thankfully Trescothick, Mark Butcher and Thorpe got things going again, and however daunting that South Africa first-innings score of 484 may appear, it could have been a lot worse.

The reason they did not have a mammoth score to chase can be put down to a couple of factors - luck and the attack. After the miseries of the first day the England bowlers emerged looking tighter and in more control of the ball and therefore of proceedings. They were hungrier and consequently the fielders looked sharper. The result was that the last six South African wickets fell for 122 runs either side of lunch.

Martin Bicknell's double strike in the first half-hour - his second giving Alec Stewart his 50th dismissal against South Africa - marked the start of a sustained spell of England domination. There were two run-outs, with Ashley Giles having a hand in both, and in between Andrew Flintoff was rewarded with a wicket as well.

So by the interval South Africa were down to their last pair of Pollock and Makhaya Ntini. Unfortunately, England needed a further 49 minutes to end affairs, by which time the partnership was worth 52, a South African record for the last wicket against England at The Oval.

James Anderson finally bowled Ntini, but by then Pollock had reached his highest score against England, 66.

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