England wipe slate clean for next battle

In 2004 Michael Vaughan's side dealt brilliantly with every challenge that was placed in front of them. The character of the side was tested on numerous occasions but each time England came through, winning 11 and drawing two of the 13 Test matches they played.

Yet despite a year of unprecedented success England will enter 2005, and the third Test which starts in Cape Town tomorrow, in somewhat downhearted mood. Vaughan's side knew they were only two balls away from winning a ninth consecutive Test match in Durban. The victory would have all but wrapped up this five-Test series.

While England cheerlessly sat on the Kingsmead outfield praying for the light to improve, Graeme Smith's side would have been punching the air with delight in their dressing room. Even though South Africa were once in a position from where they should have won the game the result would still have felt like a victory.

For England's players, who worked so hard to get back into the game, the sentiment would have been akin to those of a team which had just been defeated. And it is these contrasting emotions which could have a major influence on the coming Test match, as well as the remainder of the series.

They have in the past. On South Africa's 1998 tour of England there was a drawn Test match at Old Trafford which changed the shape of the series. South Africa were 1-0 up when the teams travelled to Manchester and a Gary Kirsten double-hundred set "The Proteas" up for another victory. England followed on but somehow managed to eke out a draw with the last pair - Robert Croft and myself - at the crease.

When Croft and me entered our dressing room it was as though we had won the game. There was lots of hugging, shaking hands and back slapping. We went down to the South African dressing room for a beer and a chat. It was like a morgue. For five days Hansie Cronje's side had thrown everything at England but they had nothing to show for it. Their players were downbeat and exhausted.

We realised we had been very, very fortunate and the momentum of the series had swung in our favour. England won the final two Test matches at Trent Bridge and Headingley to claim the series 2-1. Ashley Giles made his debut in the Old Trafford Test and yesterday he was in a philosophical mood.

"We are obviously very disappointed not to wrap it up," he admitted. "We toiled hard but as a unit we did not bowl as well as we could have done. It could affect us mentally but South Africa have been through the grinder as well. They got themselves into an excellent position and saw it disappear. Their bowlers, particularly Makhaya Ntini and Shaun Pollock, have carried a huge workload and, looking at that game as well as the series, we are still ahead of them."

To enter a Test with such a frame of mind is new for England. Throughout the year the confidence and momentum of the team has grown but it will be interesting to see how they handle the situation. The tourists are unlikely to change their side even though Mark Butcher has struggled for form.

Boeta Dippenaar, a centurion in the first Test, missed out in Durban because of a knee injury but the middle order batsman is expected to play here. Dippenaar will replace Martin van Jaarsveld and this may not be the only change in the South African side. Dale Steyn is an exciting young fast bowler but "The Proteas" may go for Charl Langeveldt. The swing bowling would offer greater consistency and this may help reduce the workload on Pollock and Ntini.

The weather in Cape Town is not as debilitating as that in Durban but the toss will be vital. Should the pitch be flat and England find themselves in the field, Vaughan's players will be tested. But the England captain is due some luck on this front.

South Africa: (from) G C Smith (c), H H Gibbs, J A Rudolph, J H Kallis, H H Dippenaar, H M Amla, A B de Villiers, S M Pollock, N Boje, C K Langeveldt, M Ntini, D W Steyn, A J Hall, T L Tsolekile.

England: M P Vaughan (c), M E Trescothick, A J Strauss, M A Butcher, G P Thorpe, A Flintoff, G O Jones, A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S P Jones, S J Harmison.

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