'We struggled a bit but we pulled through and won'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the wake of a titanic series victory, England's first in South Africa for 40 years, it was inevitable what everybody wanted to know. It had been a briefly heart-stopping, nerve-sapping final afternoon but the captain, Michael Vaughan, had seen it through with a bat straighter than a guardsman's back.

In the wake of a titanic series victory, England's first in South Africa for 40 years, it was inevitable what everybody wanted to know. It had been a briefly heart-stopping, nerve-sapping final afternoon but the captain, Michael Vaughan, had seen it through with a bat straighter than a guardsman's back.

Yes, Captain, very well done, but what about the Ashes? Vaughan was prepared for it and he did not make himself a hostage to fortune by challenging: "Bring 'em on." Instead, he said: "Australia are by far the best side in the world. We've watched them and they seem to be getting better. We're going into the series to win but let's be realistic, we will have to be at our very, very, very best to beat them this summer, but we think we can certainly play well against them."

Vaughan, although plainly ecstatic at achieving this significant bit of history on the high veld, was also clinical in his analysis of his side's performances in winning the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy for the first time. "We have struggled a bit in the whole series but we have pulled through it and won," he said. "I think the fact that we came into this series on such a winning run helped. You get into a situation when the game can go either way and because of what's happened in the past we believed things were going to go our way."

Despite the tension yesterday, which might have become unbearable had South Africa only given themselves more overs to bowl England out, both captains knew that the turning point of the rubber was on the last day at the Wanderers. "We took a couple of gambles at the Wanderers to try to put South Africa under pressure and that gave us the series win." Vaughan declared twice to open up the game.

Graeme Smith, the home side's captain, knew that was his most expensive missed opportunity. "It's been a tremendously fought series and one afternoon in Johannesburg has cost us it," he said.

The series was certainly closer than many pundits estimated, confirmation perhaps that England had not beaten too much before in their seven successive wins coming here, and that South Africa should never be underestimated on their own soil. But yesterday there was a feeling that South Africa could have done more.

In the morning Jacques Kallis and A B De Villiers had done a splendid job for their country in ensuring there was no loss of wickets and keeping the board going at four an over. But after lunch there emerged cricket's eternal dichotomy between team and individual performance.

Kallis, in pursuit of his 20th Test century, and the 20-year-old De Villiers, craving his first, did not kick on. Only 21 accrued in six overs after lunch when attacking might have given South Africa more than 44 overs to bowl England out.

Smith defended Kallis: "Jacques was stabilising the innings, it was up to those around him to take it on." None the less, Kallis, the supreme practitioner, said last week that if people do not like watching the way he bats they could always go to the beach. Centurion Park is some 6,000 feet above sea level but shortly after lunch yesterday a quick dash for the coast seemed a most reasonable alternative.

Comments