Vaughan's best laid plans come to fruition

South Africa 484 and 229 England 604-9 dec and 110-1 England win by 9 wickets
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Captaining Australia must be boring. You win a game here, you smash a side there, all that changes is the venue. Captaining England must surely produce a more rounded individual. Well, it is either that or you end up visiting people in white coats - and I do not mean the umpires. Michael Vaughan has had only four matches in charge of England but during this period he will have been through a far greater range of emotions than Steve Waugh in the four years he has led the world champions.

This match was a huge test for Vaughan. Rightly or wrongly the captain was under pressure following an unconvincing performance from himself and his side at Headingley. After four volatile weeks in the job, his laidback style of leadership was receiving criticism and there must have been times when he questioned his decision to accept the selectors' invitation.

After captaining his side to one of the most remarkable victories in the history of Test cricket - only six other teams have ever won a Test match after conceding a bigger first-innings score than the 484 South Africa posted - Vaughan had every right to feel proud of what he and his side had achieved during the fifth Test.

England's nine-wicket win may only have levelled this see-saw series at 2-2 but the cheers from another huge crowd would have been as reassuring to him as the positive way his players responded to his leadership.

The reception that greeted Vaughan at the end of the game - it finished at 2.05pm when Marcus Trescothick edged a drive over second slip to add four more runs to the 284 he had already accumulated - was in stark contrast to that of Nasser Hussain, his predecessor, who was booed here in 1999 after losing his first series in charge against New Zealand.

Vaughan admitted that he had heard similar protests after a miserable opening day. "At tea on the first day I thought we were pretty doomed," Vaughan said. "There were a few boos from the crowd but the wicket on the last ball of the day gave us a lift.

"On the Friday morning we knew we needed early wickets and we showed a lot more character. I had a slight suspicion that 484 was not a par score on this pitch. Tres (Marcus Trescothick) and Thorpey's (Graham Thorpe) partnership was outstanding and they set up a platform for Freddie Flintoff.

"I knew we could put them under some pressure once we got past their first-innings score. You can put any side in the world under pressure, even Australia, if you get a first-innings lead and this is what we did. This was a real good team effort but there were also some excellent individual performances out there."

"We have to be realistic though," a philosophical Vaughan added. "This is a fantastic result and it was an excellent performance but we have only drawn the series when we should have won the whole thing. We should have beaten the South Africans at Headingley."

While the runs scored by England's batsmen on a magnificent Oval pitch were crucial, it was the ability of Vaughan's bowling attack to take 20 wickets that won them the game. England's bowling has been inconsistent during the summer and Vaughan was fortunate that this group eventually got their act together here.

Vaughan was quick to acknowledge this. "In this game we were really good at executing plans," he said. "You can do all the planning you want in the dressing-room but you still have to go out on the pitch and execute them. I thought the bowlers were outstanding."

With rain forecasted, each England player would have afforded himself a smile when he opened his curtains at the team hotel to see the sun shining. Once at the ground, there was still the potential for a South African comeback. The tourists may have been six down but in Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock and Andrew Hall they had three players capable of scoring hundreds.

England, however, who allowed Alec Stewart to lead them out on his last day as an international cricketer, only had to wait 15 minutes to realise that this game, bar a catastrophic collapse, was theirs.

Boucher and Pollock had stretched the visitors' overnight lead from 65 to 73 before Boucher nibbled at a Martin Bicknell away-swinger. The catch was safely taken by Alec Stewart and it was fitting that the last of his 277 victims should come off the bowler he has spent more time playing with than any other in his career.

Throughout their time at Surrey, the pair have been very close and it was a lovely gesture by Stewart, after running through the guard of honour that England's players had formed for him at the conclusion of South Africa's second innings, to wait for Bicknell and shake his hand after his Test-best performance.

Roared on by an ever-growing crowd, Bicknell then forced Andrew Hall to chip a soft catch to mid-wicket with his very next ball, the 23rd of the final day. This was Hall's third golden duck in five innings and the reaction of the England players told everyone how important this wicket was.

England's fears of Pollock inflicting similar damage to their prospects as Flintoff had to South Africa's failed to materialise and after a few lusty shots both he and Makhaya Ntini fell to the hostile Steve Harmison.

Needing 110 to win, England started nervously. Trescothick was dropped at slip on 1 as the South Africans made England work hard for every run. Indeed the only disappointment for Vaughan was that he could not hit the winning runs himself. We will see the effect the captaincy may be having on his batting another day.

THE OVAL SCOREBOARD

Final day: South Africa won toss

SOUTH AFRICA - First innings 484 (Gibbs 183, Kirsten 90, Kallis 66).

ENGLAND - First innings 604 for 9 dec (Trescothick 219, Thorpe 124, Flintoff 95).

SOUTH AFRICA - Second innings (Overnight: 185 for 6)
G C Smith lbw b Bicknell 19
H H Gibbs c Stewart b Anderson 9
G Kirsten c Trescothick b Harmison 29
J H Kallis lbw b Harmison 35
N D McKenzie lbw b Flintoff 38
J A Rudolph b Bicknell 8
M V Boucher c Stewart b Bicknell 25
S M Pollock c Thorpe b Harmison 43
A J Hall c Smith b Bicknell 0
P R Adams not out 13
M Ntini c Smith b Harmison 1
Extras (b1 lb7 nb1) 9
Total (302 min, 69.2 overs) 229

Fall: 1-24 (Gibbs) 2-34 (Smith) 3-92 (Kirsten) 4-93 (Kallis) 5-118 (Rudolph) 6-150 (McKenzie) 7-193 (Boucher) 8-193 (Hall) 9-215 (Pollock) 10-229 (Ntini).

Bowling: Bicknell 24-5-84-4 (10-3-26-1, 7-1-23-1, 1-0-2-0, 6-1-33-2); Anderson 10-1-55-1 (8-1-46-1, 2-0-9-0); Harmison 19.2-8-33-4 (nb1) (13-5-24-2, 6.2-3-9-2); Giles 10-2-36-0 (4-1-10-0, 6-1-26-0); Flintoff 6-2-13-1 (2-1-2-0, 4-1-11-1).

Progress: Fourth day: Lunch: 10-0 (Smith 2, Gibbs 8) 2 overs. 50: 65 min, 14.4 overs. 100: 130 min, 29.5 overs. Tea: 101-4 (McKenzie 3, Rudolph 4) 30 overs. 150: 208 min, 47.2 overs. Bad light stopped play: 5.45pm-close 185-6 (Boucher 22, Pollock 19) 57 overs. Fifth day: (min 99 overs) 200: 274 min, 63 overs. Innings closed: 11.40am.

ENGLAND - Second innings
M E Trescothick not out 69
*M P Vaughan c Boucher b Kallis 13
M A Butcher not out 20
Extras (lb4, nb4) 8
Total (1 wkt, 95 min, 22.2 overs) 110

Fall: 1-47 (Vaughan).

Bowling: Pollock 6-0-15-0 (nb3), Ntini 8-0-46-0 (nb1), Kallis 5.2-0-25-1, Adams 3-0-20-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Fifth day: Lunch: 47-0 (Trescothick 26, Vaughan 13) 12 overs. 50: 60 min, 12.3 overs. 100: 93 mins, 21.2 overs. England won at 2.05pm.

Trescothick's 50: 82 min, 56 balls, 8 fours.

ENGLAND WIN BY NINE WICKETS

Man of the match: M E Trescothick.
Men of the series: A Flintoff and G C Smith.

Umpires: S J A Taufel (Aus) and S Venkataraghavan (Ind).

TV Replay Umpire: J W Lloyds.

Match Referee: R S Madugalle.

GREATEST TEST COMEBACKS
Highest totals of teams batting first in Test matches and losing

586 - Australia lost to England in Sydney in 1894 by 10 runs
526 for 7 dec - West Indies lost to England in Port of Spain in 1968 by seven wickets
520 - Australia lost to South Africa in Melbourne in 1953 by six wickets
519 - England lost to Australia in Melbourne in 1929 by five wickets
496 - England lost to Australia at Headingley in 1948 by seven wickets
490 - Australia lost to West Indies in Bridgetown in 1999 by one wicket
484 - South Africa lost to England at The Oval in 2003 by nine wickets

RECORDS BROKEN AT THE OVAL

No England team had ever conceded as many runs in the first innings of a Test on home soil and gone on to win as Michael Vaughan's team at The Oval.

South Africa's 484 is the seventh largest first-innings score in Test history to be made by a losing side.

England have twice won overseas when conceding more first up - a 10-run win over Australia in Sydney in 1894-95 after the hosts scored 586 and a seven-wicket success in a 1967-68 match in the West Indies, when the home side amassed 526 for seven.

Six different England players scored centuries in a series for the first time since 1974 against India. Marcus Trescothick and Graham Thorpe hit centuries at The Oval, following earlier hundreds by Michael Vaughan, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain and Andrew Flintoff.

WORLD TEST CHAMPIONSHIP

England's victory at The Oval has helped them narrow the gap on third-ranked New Zealand in the World Test Championship standings. In drawing the series, England have improved their rating by three points to 104. The standings are updated at the end of each Test series.

Current standings
1 Australia 129 points
2 South Africa 116
3 New Zealand 106
4 England 104
5 India 94
6 Pakistan 92
7 Sri Lanka 91
8 West Indies 83
9 Zimbabwe 58
10 Bangladesh 0

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