Rain brings curtain down on series for England

South Africa 211 England 7-2 Match abandoned

England lost the Standard Bank Series last night as a coastal squall swept across the Kingsmead ground. If it was an unsatisfactory way to go, it was not as unfortunate as some of England's team selections in the past fortnight.

England lost the Standard Bank Series last night as a coastal squall swept across the Kingsmead ground. If it was an unsatisfactory way to go, it was not as unfortunate as some of England's team selections in the past fortnight.

With one match still to go - proving that all circuses eventually run out of towns to visit - the tourists are 3-1 down to South Africa. Had the weather been kinder, they might have made it 3-2 but then again, given their recent, disjointed performances, it could have ended prematurely.

South Africa were bowled out for 211 and England were seven for two after three overs in reply when the second heavy downpour came in from the sea. Rain might have saved them, who knows?

England could at least feel uplifted by their bowling performance. After losing a toss deemed unfairly to be crucial, the bowlers responded with their most efficient performance of the series. They were led admirably by the 34-year-old Darren Gough.

His has been a tour de force exhibition of accuracy throughout the series and he has rammed the words of the critics back down their throats. He is doing so now with a tramline haircut, having apparently taken his example from Kevin Pietersen's blond sidewinder stripe.

It could be argued that Gough is not fast enough to pose any threat with the new ball and he again missed out in his opening spell. But he went for only 14 runs in his nine overs and conceded no boundaries. On this form the 2007 World Cup is far from Gough merely talking a good game.

Nor was that all. Kabir Ali has occasionally been flayed to all parts in the past fortnight, but he is confident enough and just nippy enough not to have been unsettled. He has leapt ahead of several more illustrious bowlers.

And then there was one of the tour's forgotten men stepping out of the shadows and into the spotlight. It was all probably a bit of fury signifying not much, but that was hardly Alex Wharf's fault.

He was surprisingly summoned - although given the recent random one-day selection policy perhaps it was entirely predictable - to be Gough's third opening partner of the series.

If you count James Anderson in the warm-up game, he was the fourth in seven games in two weeks, which proves either that England have a sensible seam bowling rotation policy or have not got a clue who to pick from one match to the next.

How long this one will last is open to question - though long-termism is not in prospect - but Wharf, at least, made a fist of it. He took three wickets, including two in two crucial ones with the new ball. This saw the removal of both Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis.

At one for two, South Africa were not exactly on the ropes, given their batting depth, but they were hardly strutting in the centre of the ring either. Herschelle Gibbs ensured that they took advantage of the middle overs.

He was reluctant to bat at No 4 at the start of this series, and small wonder since he had scored 13 hundreds as an opener. But he has taken to his new role comfortably and scored his second century of the series.

There were some big shots but he restrained himself. At one point South Africa scored 49 consecutive singles, breaking the monotony when Mark Boucher at last swept a boundary. There were half-century partnerships for both the fourth and fifth wickets but England kept chipping away.

The first rains then arrived and reduced the match to 48 overs and England lost two quick wickets. The first was Marcus Trescothick, who is ending the tour as he has ended many before it, on a low note. He has scored 99 runs in six one-day innings and might have been rested.

The second was Geraint Jones (125 in six), and the experiment with him as callow opener rather than dashing number seven may now be brought to an end.

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