Harmison's last stand fails to save Vaughan's ragged England

South Africa 441 & 222-8 dec England 163 & 304 South Africa win by 196 runs
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There are worse places for an unbeaten run to come to an inglorious end than Cape Town. Table Mountain, the beaches at Camps Bay, Robben Island and the wineland areas of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are ideal locations for a crestfallen cricketer to relax and forget about a dreadful week at the office.

But it is to be hoped Michael Vaughan's side do not spend every minute of their two-day break enjoying the attractions which surround this beautiful city. It would be unfair to lambast a team who won 11 and drew two of their previous 13 matches, but this was a poor performance by England, and they will need to significantly improve the quality of their cricket if they are to avenge yesterday's 196-run defeat against South Africa.

The paceman Steve Harmison dominated proceedings yesterday with his bat, hitting seven fours and a six in a career-best 42, an innings which made him England's top scorer in the second innings and that just about sums up their batting in this match.

The fourth Test in Johannesburg is only six days away and the five-Test series is level at 1-1 but several of Vaughan's side could do with spending a large proportion of this period working on their games. A three-day match against a provincial side is unavailable to England following their decision to scrap a game in Kimberley so that the players could rest.

So net practice it will have to be. Nets are good when your team is on top of their game and your players are in form but when they are looking ragged, and your batsmen keep throwing their wickets away before they have reached fifty, it is middle practice that is required. And it will be interesting to see how these batsmen will improve this aspect of their game with a 20-minute net, when the only way to replicate the emotions they are going through is in a match situation.

Vaughan was understandably disappointed that his team's unbeaten run had come to an end but he defended England's decision to cancel the match in Kimberley. "Only time will tell whether we needed a game in the next week," the England captain said. "But I am pretty confident about our ability to come back from this disappointment.

"I am very happy that we are getting a bit of a break, but I expect individuals to be working on aspects of their game. I will be working on one or two things with Duncan Fletcher [the England coach] during the next couple of days but a lot of the players need a good break. The bowlers have bowled their hearts out in three consecutive games."

England lost this match because their batsmen and bowlers failed to show the same levels of discipline and concentration as South Africa. It was Jacques Kallis's batting which won this game. It took the South African almost 12 and a half hours to compile the 224 runs he scored, and he batted for eight hours longer than England's most restrained performer, Andrew Strauss.

Robert Key was dismissed for nought in England's first innings, as was Marcus Trescothick in the second, but the remaining five front-line batsmen reached double figures in each of their innings. Yet, for the first time since England played the West Indies at Lord's in 2000, not one went on to score a fifty.

England would have harboured hopes that they could produce something special on the final day of this Test but the game finished as a contest when the last ball of the sixth over found the outside edge of Graham Thorpe's bat. Shaun Pollock was bowling the 18th delivery with the second new ball and it was the extra bit of pace and bounce which it produces which caught the left-hander by surprise.A B de Villiers took an excellent diving catch and South Africa knew that victory was theirs.

But England failed to capitulate and the lower order showed more fight than their celebrated colleagues. Ashley Giles offered Geraint Jones support for an hour and a half but both fell to the left-arm spin of Nicky Boje just before the lunch interval.

It is hoped that Giles will have noted how Boje bowls. The England left-arm spinner has spent most of this tour bowling over the wicket and aiming for the fast bowlers' footholes. It is a method which brought him success during the English summer but it is a pretty negative tactic and it would be nice to see him bowl from over the wicket every now and then. This is the line of attack Boje prefers and it was lovely to see a left-arm spinner deceiving a batsman with flight and guile.

After the break Simon Jones made a few lusty blows before Pollock found his outside edge and Kallis took a sharp catch at second slip. But South Africa were kept waiting by an entertaining partnership of 51 from Harmison and Matthew Hoggard.

The fitness of Andrew Flintoff was the only encouraging news to come out of the England dressing-room yesterday. The Lancashire all-rounder was sent for a scan on his left side after feeling discomfort in the area on the fourth day. The scan revealed a minor tear to a muscle under his 12th rib and England are hopeful that he will be fully fit for the fourth Test.

England may be optimistic about Flintoff's health but they will be taking a huge risk if they expect him to bowl 40 overs at Johannesburg. These injuries do not just disappear and he could rule himself out for four to six weeks if England try to rush his recovery.

Seeds of destruction five reasons why England are losing the plot

Preparation

Seven of the 12 players used by England in the first three Test matches of the five they will play against South Africa in this series had only four days of competitive cricket before the first Test. Duncan Fletcher and Michael Vaughan said they were happy with the arrangement but after two months of inactivity this itinerary gave them little chance of preparing properly. England won the first Test in Port Elizabeth but they are yet to play well in South Africa. Too many of the players are trying to find their best form in the Test matches and this is unacceptable.

Harmison/Vaughan

England's spearhead and captain were expected to be two of the most influential figures but so far they have been anonymous. Harmison's seven wickets have cost him 62 runs a piece and Vaughan has scored only 84 runs in six innings. Harmison's problems are a result of not bowling in October and November. After a busy summer the Durham paceman needed a good rest but this should have involved occasional sessions of bowling.

Vaughan's predicament is more worrying. His highest innings score so far is 20. This suggests that his concentration is letting him down.

Complacency

In 2004 England believed they could get themselves out of any situation. Whenever Vaughan's side needed a player to pop up and change the course of a match, one or two did. On the back of this the confidence of the team grew.

But in this cycle there comes a stage when players get carried away with their success and fail to take on the responsibility of winning a game themselves. And if every member of the side reacts in a similar way nobody goes on to post a match-winning score. In this Test, 16 of the 22 innings played by England reached double figures but nobody went on to score a fifty.

Jacques Kallis

The all-rounder is a machine. There are more entertaining batsmen in the world than Kallis but he is the man you would pick to bat for your life. The right-hander's technique is immaculate and very little seems to faze him.

In the first three Test matches the 29-year-old has spent more than 21 hours at the crease, and the England bowlers need to find a way of getting him out if they want to win this series. Crowd-favourite Kallis does not appear to have any weaknesses and England's bowlers will be hoping he eventually gets bored of batting. But don't bank on it.

The Toss

England desperately needed Vaughan to win the toss here. After an exhausting final day in Durban it would have helped the side physically and psychologically. South Africa's bowlers had four days rest during the festive season while England's had only two.

Hoggard, Harmison, Flintoff and Jones toiled manfully but it was inevitable that the workload would eventually take its toll. The result of the toss can have a major impact on a game and England's record in 2004 is even more remarkable when you consider Vaughan lost nine out of 13.

Angus Fraser

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