James Kirtley kept England's hopes of winning their five-Test series against South Africa alive in Nottingham yesterday when he claimed the outstanding figures of 6 for 34 on his Test debut. By sealing a thrilling 70-run victory for England in the third Test the Sussex fast bowler not only helped level this intriguing contest at 1-1 and provided Michael Vaughan with his first victory in charge as captain, he ensured that the side travel to Leeds for Thursday's fourth Test full of confidence and hope.
Such a mood is in stark contrast to that felt by the England side who left Lord's 16 days ago after a humiliating innings and 92 run defeat. Although England's supporters, who again turned up in their thousands to cheer their side on, should celebrate their team's performance, this abrupt change in fortunes has to be put in perspective.
In the same manner that Vaughan's squad were not a bunch of no-hopers that did not know one end of a cricket bat from the other after the second Test, England, following this much needed victory, are still no closer to becoming the best side in the world by 2007, which is the England and Wales Cricket Board's mission statement. On a pitch where the call at the toss was the most crucial decision either captain made, the most encouraging thing for England was that this victory highlighted the quality of cricket they are capable of playing.
While uplifting, this result gives little indication as to what may happen at Headingley during the next week because lesser teams than South Africa would have capitulated to a heavy defeat by Sunday in this unfair encounter. Graeme Smith, the South African captain, had every right to be proud of the spirit his side displayed during the last five days.
Choosing his words carefully, after openly criticising the Trent Bridge pitch on Friday, Smith said: "I have already made my comments on the wicket and what has happened in this Test match certainly backs that up. England won the game on day one when they got in first and put a good batting performance under their belt. But we showed a lot of character in taking this Test match to five days. This all means it is now a big Test match in Headingley."
For this game the tourists will have to cope without the services of Shaun Pollock, who returns home to Durban to be present at the birth of his first child. The loss of one of the game's great bowlers, on a pitch that would help his style of bowling, is a major blow to South Africa.
"Shaun will definitely be a loss," said Smith. "He is a world-class cricketer. However, we lost Jacques Kallis in the first two Test matches and the guys showed a great deal of character. It is up to someone else to take on the responsibility. James Kirtley took his opportunity in this game and hopefully one of our players can go on to do great things. It will not be difficult to regroup because the side is really close and hungry to do well at Headingley. They are more pissed off than anything else at having lost a Test match."
Kirtley's route to becoming an England hero has been far from straight. A Pakistani match referee ensured that when he reported the bowling action of the Sussex fast bowler to the International Cricket Council at the conclusion of his England one-day debut. Ever since, suspicion has surrounded the cricket of this likeable 28-year-old.
However, after winning the man of the match award Kirtley can now write off those dark days in Harare 20 months ago as no more than a bad, thankfully short-lived, dream. For an honest, hard-working cricketer, such innuendo would have been harrowing because accusing a bowler of such trickery is akin to calling him a cheat.
It was Kirtley's selection that Vaughan had most reason to celebrate last night because it was he who exploited the bowler-friendly conditions better than any of his more experienced colleagues. For the second time in this match Vaughan gave Kirtley the responsibility of bowling at the end where the bounce was at its most inconsistent and the game would be won.
Like a golfer who practices for hour after hour so that his swing does not let him down in a tense moment, Kirtley's thousands of overs for Sussex ensured he was on the button when the pressure was on. "The conditions for batting were far from ideal and my instructions were very simple," said Kirtley. "They were to keep it boring and to keep on aiming to hit the top of off-stump."
Even though South Africa were unlikely to score the 139 runs they still needed for victory yesterday they continued to make England work hard. The 14,000 who flocked to Trent Bridge had roared Andrew Flintoff and Kirtley in to bowl 34 times before the tourists lost three wickets in consecutive overs. Neil McKenzie was the first to fall when his staunch defence was beaten by a grubber from the Sussex pace-man.
In the next over, bowled by Flintoff, England's win was all but sealed when a delivery from the Lancashire all-rounder, which barely left the surface after pitching, shot through the defence of Pollock and knocked his off-stump out of the ground. The look of contempt from the all-rounder as he inspected the damage behind him, and his body language as he left the arena, showed what he and South Africa thought of this whole sorry affair.
TRENT BRIDGE SCOREBOARD
(Final day; England won toss)
ENGLAND - First Innings 445 (N Hussain 116, M A Butcher 106, A J Stewart 72, E T Smith 64).
SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings 362 (N D
McKenzie 90, S M Pollock 62; J M Anderson 5-102).
ENGLAND - Second Innings 118 (S M Pollock 6-39).
SOUTH AFRICA - Second innings (Overnight: 63 for 5)
N D McKenzie b Kirtley 11
M V Boucher c Stewart b Kirtley 52
S M Pollock b Flintoff 0
A J Hall c Trescothick b Kirtley 0
P R Adams c and b Kirtley 15
M Ntini not out 3
Extras (lb2, nb1) 3
Total (252 min, 56.2 overs) 131
Fall: 1-22 (Smith), 2-28 (Rudolph), 3-40 (Gibbs), 4-41 (Dippenaar), 5-50 (Kallis), 6-71 (McKenzie), 7-80 (Pollock), 8-81 (Hall), 9-126 (Adams), 10-131 (Boucher).
Bowling: Kirtley 16.2-7-34-6 (8-5-13-2, 7-2-20-2, 1.2-0-1-2); Flintoff 17-4-54-1 (nb1) (5-1-24-0, 12-3-30-1); Harmison 11-2-24-1 (8-1-16-1, 3-1-8-0); Anderson 12-4-17-2 (9-4-7-2, 3-0-10-0).
Progress: Fourth day: 50: 96 min, 21 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.46pm-close 63-5 (McKenzie 6, Boucher 9) 33 overs. Fifth day (min 101 overs): 100: 205 min, 46.1 overs. Innings closed 12.31pm.
Boucher's 50: 136 min, 85 balls, 7 fours.
Man of the match: R J Kirtley.
Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and D J Harper (Aus).Reuse content