Third Test: Flintoff shines but England struggle

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The Independent Online

As if two miserable sessions were not enough, England haplessly added a third as South Africa took control, redeeming themselves only in small part by claiming the wicket of the visiting captain, Graeme Smith, in the 11 overs they had to bowl at the close. This match may be only one day old but already the tourists, who will clinch the series with victory here, must be feeling pleased with themselves already.

Six down at tea, Michael Vaughan's only hope of seeing some respectable numbers on the board to reward his decision to bat - and divert some attention from his first-ball duck - lay with Tim Ambrose and Andrew Flintoff.

But the diminutive wicketkeeper struggled to get going and with Freddie pondering when and if he should go onto the attack, progress was not quick enough to dent South Africa's confidence.

When Ambrose, who had just cracked a nice four off the back foot off Jacques Kallis, inside-edged the next delivery into his stumps, everything was down to Freddie alone. Ryan Sidebottom made only a brief appearance, following one to be caught behind.

The big fellow launched into Makhaya Ntini, pulling a hefty six and then almost taking the bowler's head off with a straight-driven four, but it was not long before he ran out of partners.

Indeed, he did so in the very same over as England's innings ended farcically with two run-outs off consecutive balls, for which Flintoff had to shoulder a large part of the blame.

Calling Jimmy Anderson through for a sharp single after pushing the ball towards Ashwell Prince in the off side was always a risky move and proved exactly that as Prince hit the stumps with a direct hit.

But if that was embarrassing, it paled against what happened next, as Monty Panesar squeezed his first ball towards backward square, set off not unreasonably for a single but then decided - presumably with Flintoff's blessing - that he could get back for two. Hashim Amla threw in swiftly and Monty was so far out of his ground as Mark Boucher broke the stumps that from the side-on camera view he wasn't even in shot.

Flintoff, called into the attack after seven overs as South Africa began their reply, at least paid some of his dues by taking a wicket with his second ball, a fine delivery that skipper Graeme Smith could only edge to Andrew Strauss at first slip -- but there is a long way to go for England.

For the opening day of a Test, the Edgbaston crowd was pretty thin - only 13,000 in a ground that holds 20,000. The Wednesday start may have been a factor, although a minimum adult ticket price of £55 probably did not help. England have a duty to offer better value tomorrow.

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