For the second time in the historic series against South Africa, a shadow loomed over the future of the England captain. Michael Atherton, having survived the dirt-in-pocket affair at a cost of £4,000 in fines, now had to fork out a further £1,250 (half his match fee) for showing dissent when umpire Ken Palmer gave him out leg-before for a first-ball duck.
South Africa, who scored 332 in their first innings, were on top and England's chances of squaring the three-match series would have looked more remote still but for an explosive final session on Friday, during which Darren Gough and Phillip DeFreitas added 59 runs off 50 balls. England, once 222 for 7, closed at 281 for 7.
But the enduring magic of sport is that nothing is ever certain. Saturday turned out to be as glorious and exhilarating as any an England cricket team has enjoyed on home soil perhaps since Ian Botham was in his pomp.
England were 293 for 9 when Devon Malcolm, surprisingly recalled for the first time since the opening Test against New Zealand, set off for a visit to the crease expected to be routinely brief. But then something happened which, had it be contrived in fiction, would have been dismissed as cliched nonsense.
Malcolm's innings was indeed short, but long enough for him to take a first-ball bouncer from Fanie de Villiers straight between the eyes, the force of the ball against his visor knocking him to the ground.
As he rose to his feet, thankfully unharmed, the habitually cheerful Derbyshire bowler fixed De Villiers with as withering a stare as he could muster and, imagining himself as some cricketing Clint Eastwood, reputedly said to his adversary: "OK, you guysare going to pay for this. You're history."
And did he make them pay. In an extraordinary opening, Gary Kirsten was out, caught off the glove by the bowler himself, to the third torrid ball he faced. By the time Malcolm, driven by fire, and with the radar for once firmly locked on, had bowled nineelectrifying deliveries, Peter Kirsten and Hansie Cronje had gone too. South Africa were three wickets down for one run, their overall lead 31.
South Africa recovered to be 40 for 3 at lunch. In the afternoon, Malcolm's control began to desert him and as Kepler Wessels and Darryl Cullinan extended their partnership to 70, Atherton must have wondered if he had been tantalised by cruel fates.
But, at the end of his second spell, Malcolm had a moment of luck. Wessels reached for a wide one and was caught behind. In his third spell, either side of tea, the balance tilted. Having removed Bruce McMillan just before the interval, he dismissed DaveRichardson and Craig Matthews immediately afterwards. South Africa were 143 for 7 and Malcolm had all seven.
The possibility of a perfect 10 disappeared when the plucky Cullinan fell to Gough for 94 at 175 but Malcolm was not done. The wickets of Jonty Rhodes and Allan Donald in the space of three balls enabled him to return the figures of 9 for 57, the sixth-best in Test history.
When he left the field, beaming broadly as a full house rose in a wonderful din of approval, Malcolm found De Villiers, the not out batsman, waiting at the pavilion gate to offer a handshake.
Needing 204 to win, England might easily have stumbled but, happily, did not. Maintaining the mood with some splendid, belligerent batting by Atherton and Graham Gooch, they had scored 107 by Saturday's close, with only Gooch out. On Sunday, when Graeme Hick set about Donald with rare self- belief, the match was won by eight wickets, the series squared and English pride restored.Reuse content