The one-day circus departed Bloemfontein early yesterday and prepared to pitch its big top 500 miles south. Port Elizabeth craves more of the same tonight.
These two sides, England and South Africa, must be punch-drunk by now. They have spent the whole tour slugging it out and coming back for more, and at Goodyear Park (formerly Springbok Park) late on Wednesday they slugged it out to the highest-scoring tie in the history of international one-day cricket.
It was the second match of seven in the Standard Bank Series and it left the tourists still 1-0 up. That lead was disappearing before their eyes as South Africa, a team who are beginning to prove that chaos theory is not only real but works, pursued a formidable target of 271.
They came agonisingly close and in the end they should have won. The crowd knew it, the teams knew it. Michael Vaughan, England's captain, was off the field with a dose of something unattractive and most of the proceedings can only have made the stomach-churning symptoms worse.
"It was some game to watch," he said yesterday. "In the last over to see the game go and then get it back and get a draw felt like a victory. It felt like a loss to them, I'm sure."
Of the 2,218 one-day internationals, 20 have been tied and South Africa have now been involved in five of the last six, four of which they should have won. The other, polite way of looking at it is that the home side did well to get within touching distance.
They might have been impelled by the distinctive passion of their crowd, by the need to prove that their doubters were at best misguided, or by the urge to rebuff Kevin Pietersen's booming, rudimentary century. Pietersen, born and raised in KwaZulu/Natal, had seemingly put daylight between his native country and his adopted one, and had further rubbed noses in it by his ostentatious celebration of badge kissing to mark his hundred.
South Africa kept hunting down their prey. When Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs were together it had begun to look elementary as they shared a partnership of 134 for the third wicket. With them both removed, the game changed complexion but a brutally swift intervention from the inexperienced figure of Justin Kemp swayed matters.
It was time to call on Shaun Pollock and Mark Boucher, with 403 one-day caps between them - more than England combined. The rate on a slow dog of a pitch was high but these two seemed to have the measure of it.
So they arrived at the last over needing eight to win. England prevaricated over who should bowl it and Marcus Trescothick decided on Kabir Ali, a bowler in his third match. He bowled an above waist height no ball, which went for four. Eight from six had become three from six.
Boucher then slogged the next to Ashley Giles at deep midwicket - "an unbelievable catch," Vaughan said.
Indecision gripped South Africa now, there was another run out and they still needed one off the final ball. England's fielders were hither and thither. "I didn't know what was going on, it was a bit of a lottery," Trescothick said.
Amid the shenanigans, Geraint Jones, the wicketkeeper, decided to stand up to the stumps. He made an excellent take off a full-length delivery and stumped Andrew Hall. All that was left was for Pietersen to scoop him up in his arms, not quite with the elegance of Astaire sweeping Ginger off her feet.
The third match is tonight. Stephen Harmison is in serious contention for England and Vaughan should be back. But South Africa have not gone yet.
South Africa (from): G C Smith (capt), A M Bacher, N Boje, M V Boucher, A B de Villiers, H H Gibbs, A J Hall, J H Kallis, J M Kemp, A Nel, M Ntini, S M Pollock, A G Prince, J A Rudolph.
England (from): M P Vaughan (capt), Kabir Ali, J M Anderson, G J Batty, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, A F Giles, D Gough, S J Harmison, M J Hoggard, G O Jones, K P Pietersen, V S Solanki, A J Strauss, M E Trescothick, A G Wharf.
Umpires: B G Jerling (SA) and S A Bucknor (WI).
FROM JAWS OF VICTORY THE FINAL OVER
As Kabir Ali prepared to bowl the last over, South Africa were 263 for 5, needing eight runs to win the game.
1 Mark Boucher swats waist-high no ball for four. Score goes to 268 for 5; three runs needed from six balls.
1 Boucher pulls another Kabir full-toss straight to Giles, who takes catch at deep midwicket. 268 for 6, three needed from five balls.
2 Pollock on strike as the batsmen crossed. Pollock drives at a full ball but misses. No run. 268 for 6, three needed from four balls.
3 Pollock carves ball to mid-off, scrambles a single. 269 for 6, two runs needed from three balls.
4 Ashwell Prince squeezes his first ball to extra cover. Batsmen cross but Prince is run out. 269 for 7, two runs needed from two balls.
5 Pollock scampers a single to point to bring scores level. 270 for 7, one run needed with one ball remaining.
6 Andrew Hall faces Kabir with Geraint Jones up to the stumps. Hall misses a full ball; Jones takes neatly and whips bails off to tie game.Reuse content