Lightning strike provides England with shelter from Nel pyrotechnics

South Africa 247 England 114-4
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The Independent Online

England's quest to win their first series in South Africa for 40 years gained support from an unexpected source on the third day of the fifth Test. Michael Vaughan's side only need a draw to emulate the achievement of Mike Smith's in the winter of 1964-65, and they were teetering on 114 for 4 when bad light and a high veldt electric storm came to their assistance.

England's quest to win their first series in South Africa for 40 years gained support from an unexpected source on the third day of the fifth Test. Michael Vaughan's side only need a draw to emulate the achievement of Mike Smith's in the winter of 1964-65, and they were teetering on 114 for 4 when bad light and a high veldt electric storm came to their assistance.

Though England are only 133 runs behind South Africa's first-innings total of 247 they are not yet safe. There are still 196 overs scheduled to be bowled in the final two days of this unpredictable series, and the pitch is not getting any easier to bat on.

England would have been happier had Andrew Strauss been batting at the close. But in the over before lightning forced the players from the field he injudiciously flashed at a wide delivery from Andre Nel and gave Mark Boucher a simple catch behind the stumps.

This was just the tonic Graeme Smith's side needed following an earlier electric storm that had kept his hungry team off the field for almost two hours. The weather gods have not looked favourably on South Africa during the course of this match. After going 2-1 down in Johannesburg the Proteas would have been hoping for five full days of cricket here, yet only 121.3 of a possible 270 overs have been bowled.

But despite these hindrances Smith's side are pushing the tourists as hard as they can, hoping they will crack under the sort of pressure South Africa were placed under at the Wanderers a week ago.

England appeared to be in little trouble after Simon Jones quickly wrapped up South Africa's first innings with the second ball of the day. Marcus Trescothick and Strauss looked comfortable against the new ball and the scoreboard had moved on to 27. But then Strauss stuffed his opening partner with the old "yes, no, sorry" call. Strauss had just pulled Ntini for four, when he pushed a good length ball from the fast bowler back down the pitch. Believing he had hit the ball hard enough to beat mid off the left-hander called and set off for a single.

Strauss made two strides down the pitch before realising Nicky Boje was going to cut the ball off, and he then attempted to retract his call. But by this time Trescothick had made his way six or seven yards down the pitch. The Somerset opener turned quickly but his dive was beaten by an excellent one-handed pick-up and throw from the left-handed Boje.

This should not have sent panic waves through the England dressing-room. But what happened in the 11th over would have. Robert Key will regard himself unfortunate to have been dismissed in the way he was, but the execution of his leg-glance was careless. Shaun Pollock was not attempting to strangle the right-hander down the leg side, but Key should not just have flicked at it, he should have watched it come on to his bat and guided it down to fine leg for a single.

This brought Vaughan to the crease, and the England captain played anything but the shot of a leader. South Africa have got after Vaughan in this series and at times he has not been sure whether to hook or let it go through to the wicketkeeper.

The barrage of short balls aimed in his direction has affected his game. The pull is a strong shot for Vaughan but he is now looking for, rather than waiting for, the short ball. The delivery from Pollock was nowhere near short enough to pull and Vaughan spliced a simple catch Jacques Rudolph at square leg.

England were now on 29 for 3 and the players in the dressing-room would have spent more time sucking the clouds towards Centurion than watching their team bat. Before the first rain break Strauss and Graham Thorpe survived close appeals for leg before from Nel, who lived up to his reputation.

Nel is a big, strong fast bowler who likes to get in the face of the opposition and it did not take long for him to become provocative. Thorpe was the first to be told his fortune by the 27-year-old and his antics livened up a capacity crowd of 17,500.

There is a fine line between aggressive behaviour and doing something that brings the game into disrepute, and Nel treads it like a man on the high wire. But Nel is not just a thug with a big mouth. His action may be unorthodox but he can bowl, and he could easily have picked up more than one wicket.

Earlier, the dismissal of Andrew Hall, who top-edged a cut to Strauss at third man, gave Jones his fourth wicket of South Africa's innings, but it was Andrew Flintoff who merited it. England had looked disinterested for most of Saturday's play and it was Flintoff who held things together and dismissed South Africa's big three - Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis and Smith. The Lancashire all-rounder also ripped Pollock's middle stump out of the ground and deserved his second five-wicket haul in Test cricket.

Flintoff's performance with the ball was soured by the fact that he finished the second day with his left foot giving him pain. The 27-year-old had a pain-killing injection in his left heel before the match and England have a major decision to make at the conclusion of this Test.

Injections mask Flintoff's condition but he will need an operation to get rid of the bone spur which causes him problems. England need their talisman fit for July's Ashes series against Australia, and the dilemma is whether to advise Flintoff to have surgery or to keep treating the ailment with injections.

Rehabilitation is said to take three to four months and this should be the course of action taken by England.

CENTURION PARK SCOREBOARD

England won toss

SOUTH AFRICA - First Innings

A B de Villiers lbw b Giles 92 257 min, 165 balls, 15 fours

H H Gibbs c G Jones b Flintoff 14 39 min, 29 balls, 3 fours

J A Rudolph c Key b Hoggard 33 119 min, 83 balls, 6 fours

J H Kallis b Flintoff 8 33 min, 23 balls, 1 four

*G C Smith c Trescothick b Flintoff 25 85 min, 49 balls, 3 fours

ÝM V Boucher c Trescothick b S Jones 25 68 min, 58 balls, 2 fours

S M Pollock b Flintoff 0 2 min, 2 balls

N Boje c Thorpe b S Jones 9 62 min, 27 balls, 1 four

A J Hall c Strauss b S Jones 11 41 min, 19 balls, 2 fours

M Ntini c Hoggard b S Jones 6 11 min, 9 balls, 1 four

A Nel not out 1 10 min, 8 balls

Extras (lb1 w3 nb19) 23 Total (368 min, 75.3 overs) 247

Fall: 1-27 (Gibbs) 2-114 (Rudolph) 3-144 (Kaliis) 4-187 (De Villiers) 5-200 Smith) 6-200 (Pollock) 7-222 (Boucher) 8-237 (Boje) 9-245 (Ntini) 10-247 (Hall).

Bowling: Hoggard 18-4-64-1 (nb6) (4-1-13-0, 4-2-10-0, 5-0-26-1, 1-0-5-0, 4-1-10-0); Harmison 17-2-79-0 (w2) (6-1-26-0, 3-0-24-0, 6-1-15-0, 2-0-14-0); Flintoff 19-6-44-4 (nb8 w1) (1-1-0-1, 5-1-12-0, 6-1-20-1, 6-2-12-2, 1-1-0-0); S Jones 15.3-3-47-4 (nb5) (6-3-13-0, 5-0-22-0, 4.3-0-12-4); Giles 6-1-12-1 (1-0-5-0, 5-1-7-1).

Progress: First day: rain. Play abandoned for the day at 3.30pm. Second day (10am start, min 98 overs): 50: 64 min, 13.4 overs. 100: 137 min, 29.1 overs. Lunch: 108-1 (De Villiers 51, Rudolph 33) 32 overs. 150: 200 min, 41.2 overs. Tea: 196-4 (Smith 24, Boucher 7) 57 overs. 200: 277 min, 58.1 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.07pm. Close: 247-9 (Hall 11, Nel 1) 75.1 overs. Third day (10am start, min 98 overs): Innings closed: 10.01am.

De Villiers' 50: 131 min, 81 balls, 8 fours.

ENGLAND - First Innings

M E Trescothick run out

(Boje TV replay) 20 34 min, 26 balls, 4 fours

A J Strauss c Boucher b Nel 44 194 min, 124 balls, 5 fours, 1 six

R W T Key c Boucher b Pollock 1 11 min, 8 balls

*M P Vaughan c Rudolph b Pollock 0 2 min, 4 balls

G P Thorpe not out 32 147 min, 115 balls, 3 fours

A Flintoff not out 0 4 min, 0 balls

Extras (lb15 w1 nb1) 17 Total (for 4, 199 min, 46 overs) 114

Fall: 1-27 (Trescothick) 2-29 (Key) 3-29 (Vaughan) 4-114 (Strauss).

To bat: ÝG O Jones, A F Giles, M J Hoggard, S P Jones, S J Harmison.

Bowling: Pollock 9-4-22-2 (7-4-13-2, 2-0-9-0); Ntini 13-6-19-0 (w1) (7-2-16-0, 5-3-3-0, 1-1-0-0); Nel 12-3-29-1 (7-3-6-0, 5-0-23-1); Hall 7-0-22-0 (nb1) (6-0-17-0, 1-0-5-0); Boje 3-2-2-0, Kallis 2-0-5-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Third day: 50: 108 min, 23.1 overs. Lunch: 66-3 (Strauss 21, Thorpe 15) 31 overs. Lightning stopped play 1.24-3.45pm 79-3 (Strauss 30, Thorpe 15) 35 overs. Bad light stopped play 3.48-4.19pm 79-3 (Strauss 30, Thorpe 15) 36 overs. 100: 185 min, 42.5 overs. Bad light stopped play 5.02pm.

Umpires: Aleem Dar (Pak) and S A Bucknor (W Indies).

TV replay umpire: K H Hurter (SA).

Match referee: C H Lloyd (W Indies).

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