Michael Vaughan's return to form was welcomed just as warmly as England's morale-boosting four-wicket win over South Africa here last night. As a prelude to Saturday's NatWest Series final at Lord's between the sides, this was what England wanted. Before this otherwise dead match both captains had talked about the importance of arriving in London with a win behind them. Such motivation seemed to spur England's leader into playing the game's most decisive innings.
Vaughan was helped by a brutal 36-ball half-century from Andrew Flintoff and by Rikki Clarke, who scored an impressive 37 before falling when the scores were level. However, it was the calming influence of the captain that allowed England's two young all-rounders to play with such freedom. The only disappointment for Vaughan, on an evening when he at last passed 63, his previous best one-day score, was that he was unable to lead his side off the ground after their victory. With 83 against his name Vaughan was adjudged lbw to Andrew Hall but by then England were only five runs short of the 199 they required. The win came via a wide with 11 overs remaining.
It has taken some time for the England captain to get to grips with the demands of one-day cricket but this was the clearest indication yet that he has. The 28-year-old has been unsure of where to bat in England's order but this innings should ensure he remains in the top three. Here Vaughan is in the best position to control the game, which is what he did in his hundred partnership with Flintoff.
With England on 30 for 3, South Africa's bowlers had their tails up when Flintoff entered the arena. Flintoff is at his best when he bats positively and this is exactly how the 25-year-old went about his business. The right-hander cracked his first ball for four and with it went any control the visitors had. In form like this bowling at Flintoff is a daunting prospect. On a pitch that offered little to the bowlers, he can hit the ball out of the ground off both the front and back foot.
Vaughan took longer to settle but there were plenty of crisp drives and cuts in his 15 boundaries to suggest he is almost back to his best. Against a predominantly seam attack the Yorkshire opener used the pace of the ball superbly and though 28 of his first 50 runs went to third man they came from controlled shots rather than outside edges.
That England restricted their opponents to such a modest total was remarkable in itself because their bowling at the start of South Africa's innings was appaling. The worst offender was James Anderson. Graeme Smith, the South African captain, gorged himself on the fodder lobbed his way, taking 19 runs off the first over.
Anderson was banished to third man but his return in the middle of South Africa's innings confirmed he does have golden balls. Only he, with his knack of retrieving something that glitters out of the mire, could come back from such a mauling and end with figures of 4 for 38.
Before Anderson's spell England had fortuitously reduced South Africa to 74 for 4. Darren Gough, Flintoff and Richard Johnson each picked up wickets with poor deliveries and Smith fell when Anthony McGrath fumbled a simple catch and caught the rebound between his legs.
Flintoff was the bowler but it was his innings and three fine catches that made him man of the match. The first of these was a stunner. Fielding at fourth slip Flintoff dived full length to his right to take a brilliant one-handed catch to dismiss Jacques Kallis. This was not Johnson's last success and after leaving the field with a groin strain he must be doubtful for Saturday.
Johnson's injury brought Anderson back into the attack and this time he made it count. Mark Boucher became his first victim when he drove loosely and was well caught at first slip. Jacques Rudolph went in his next over and Anderson's day turned full circle when he dismissed Shaun Pollock three balls later. Flintoff took the catch and Anderson had turned 0 for 28 into 3 for 28 in nine balls.
South Africa were now on 104 for 7 and it took a responsible partnership of 71 between Martin van Jaarsveld and Paul Adams to ensure this match did not finish before the lights took effect. A miserable evening for the tourists was completed when their 12th man, Nicky Boje, broke his tibia and ruptured ligaments in his right leg after falling awkwardly. He is expected to be operated on today.
Craig White's hopes of regaining his place in the England side seem to have disappeared after the Yorkshire all-rounder broke down playing for his county at the weekend. White, who injured his left side during the World Cup in March, had an operation to remove two inches of rib following his return from South Africa. This re-aggravation of the condition could signal the end of White's bowling career and with it his chances of playing for England.
South Africa won toss
G C Smith c McGrath b Flintoff 45
H H Gibbs c Clarke b Gough 2
J H Kallis c Flintoff b Johnson 15
A J Hall lbw b Johnson 3
J A Rudolph c McGrath b Anderson 16
M V Boucher c Trescothick b Anderson 13
M van Jaarsveld lbw b McGrath 45
S M Pollock c Flintoff b Anderson 0
P R Adams not out 33
A Nel c Flintoff b Anderson 1
M Ntini not out 10
Extras (lb6, w8nb1) 15
Total (for 9, 208min, 50 overs) 198
Fall: 1-28 (Gibbs), 2-65 (Smith), 3-67 (Kallis), 4-74 (Hall), 5-99 (Boucher), 6-104 (Rudolph), 7-104 (Pollock), 8-175 (van Jaarsveld), 9-177 (Nel).
Bowling: Anderson 10-2-38-4 (2-0-24-0 6-2-8-3 2-0-6-1); Gough 10-3-29-1 (nb1) (5-2-13-1 3-1-6-0 2-0-10-0); Johnson 8-1-34-2 (w3) (one spell); Flintoff 9-0-47-1 (w4) (5-0-23-1 3-0-21-0 1-0-3-0); Giles 10-0-29-0 (w1) (2-0-8-0 7-0-19-0 1-0-2-0); McGrath 3-0-15-1 (one spell).
Progress: 50: 41 min, 59 balls. 15 overs: 74-4. 100: 105 min, 140 balls. 150: 164 min, 227 balls.
M E Trescothick c Hall b Pollock 8
V S Solanki c Nel b Ntini 2
M P Vaughan lbw b Hall 83
A McGrath b Kallis 11
A Flintoff c Adams b Ntini 54
R Clarke lbw b Adams 37
C M W Read not out 0
A F Giles not out 0
Extras (lb1, w3) 4
Total (for 6, 171min, 39 overs) 199
Fall: 1-11 (Solanki), 2-11 (Trescothick), 3-30 (McGrath), 4-130 (Flintoff), 5-194 (Vaughan), 6-198 (Clarke).
Did not bat: R L Johnson, D Gough, J M Anderson.
Bowling: Pollock 6-1-15-1 (one spell); Ntini 6-0-30-2 (w1) (4-0-17-1 2-0-13-1); Kallis 6-0-43-1 (one spell); Nel 8-1-38-0 (w1) (6-1-18-0 2-0-20-0); Adams 6-0-44-1 (2-0-16-0 4-0-28-1); Hall 7-0-28-1 (w1) (one spell).
Progress: 50: 52 mins, 69 balls. 15 overs score: 65-3. 100: 105 mins, 140 balls. 150: 131 mins, 174 balls.
Vaughan 50: 98 mins, 76 balls, 10 fours.
Flintoff 50: 69 mins, 36 balls, 6 fours, 1 six.
Umpires: D R Shepherd and S J A Taufel.
TV Replay Umpire: P Willey.
Match Referee: C H Lloyd.
Man of the match: A Flintoff
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