reports from Pretoria
England 272-8 South Africa 276-3 (South Africa win by 7 wickets)
A crushing win by South Africa, with two overs and seven wickets to spare, saw England to their second defeat in as many days. Chasing 273, the highest target of the series so far, South Africa's batsmen, led by Gary Kirsten's sparkling century, made light work of an England bowling attack which even in it's brighter moments, rarely adhered to the fundamentals of line and length.
Blessed with a glorious sunny day and a pitch - which unlike the previous day's surface at the Wanderers - held little in it for the ball, it was always going to be a game to test bowling reputations to the hilt. Unfortunately it was England who wilted, as South Africa batted with both power and panache.
Ironically, out of the bowlers on both sides, it was Allan Donald and Dominic Cork, the joint highest wicket-takers in the Test series, who suffered the greatest indignities. Cork going for 65 off his 10 overs, a figure Donald was able to top, having conceded 72 off nine.
But while few bowlers bar Shaun Pollock were spared a rate of less than 4.5 an over, the fact that there was only two extras, and just a single maiden in the South African innings, meant that England were rather better at locating the middle of the bat than the middle stump.
As ever the problems were self-inflicted and too much width was the main shortcoming, although length too varied almost as wildly as a politician's promises. Unless the ball swings, there appears to be no one with the pace to hit the splice - as Pollock does - to prevent the carnage possible in the first 15 overs. A situation Andrew Hudson and Gary Kirsten, took full advantage of by scoring 73 without taking a risk.
Of the bowlers, only Gough was able to stem the flow of liberties taken, as Kirsten, so often a dour and unlovely batsman to watch, unleashed a series of drives on the up, along with his more customary cut and pull shots. Hudson mixed his strokes too, playing elegantly off the front foot and quite brutally off the back as two pulled sixes over midwicket will testify.
Unlike on Saturday, England were never able to get themselves into the game once they had batted. Even after they got Kirsten, luckily bowled off his pads by Cork, Hansie Cronje rammed the humility home by slamming a run-a-ball 47.
Yesterday's effort with the bat was by far his most positive knock of the series and he was particularly savage on Richard Illingworth, striking him for two huge sixes before giving the bowler a crumb of comfort going for a third. After which Daryll Cullinan and Jacques Kallis eased their side to a victory greeted by near hysteria from the 15,000 strong capacity crowd.
Little has separated these sides all tour, and yet the one glaring difference that has become apparent during these one-dayers has been in the standard of fielding. South Africa hurl themselves around, taking brilliant catches and stopping fours. By contrast, England seem reluctant to dive, and it cost them dear and will do so again wherever outfields are fast.
It was a failing that has been particularly apparent over these last two games, particularly at the Wanderers on Saturday, where some of the sloppiness was inexcusable given the paucity of the target of 198, England had set. That situation was partly brought about in light of Mike Atherton's ill-judged decision to bat on a seaming pitch after winning the toss, although some guileless batting - Neil Fairbrother and Jack Russell excepted - did not help their cause.
However, at least England put bat to ball yesterday, something rarely accomplished on Saturday, where they probably missed more deliveries than they hit. Alec Stewart in particular was in superb touch, hitting a quickfire 64 off 78 balls, including a driven six straight back over Donald's head that brought up his fifty.
It was his first international as captain since Melbourne in 1994, when Atherton withdrew with a back strain. This time, the England captain was just taking a rest, although by the agitated way he kept tapping his book against his knee on the player's balcony he did not appear at all relaxed. Not surprising, as England were being flayed around the park at the time.
His absence did, however, allow Stewart back to open - his preferred position - though his partner on this occasion was Robin Smith. If those who approved of the pinch-hitting option were disappointed - being shelved after only two outings - it was the right tactic on a pitch that had some pace and bounce, particularly while the ball was new.
But if Stewart quickly settled, on the Oval-like conditions, Smith took a while longer. Even so the pair put on a 103 for the first wicket. Stewart outscored his partner at a rate of two to one before being brilliantly caught by Cullinan in front of the square-leg umpire, as he swatted at the off-spinner Pat Symcox.
In any case, after his brief knock at the Wanderers, Robin Smith was right to bide his time and he happily allowed Graeme Hick and Graham Thorpe to play brief - and in the former's case with two sixes in 17 balls - violent cameos around him.
However, well though Smith played for his eventual 63, the fact that he got out when he did, to the shot he played - caught trying to hit the first ball of Donald's second spell over the top - contributed to England losing their way.
Instead of gently accelerating between the 30th and 40th overs, only 44 runs were scored. Fortunately for England, some intelligent batting by Mark Ramprakash and Craig White, followed by a quite brilliant 17-ball 39 from Russell, saw England to a target that if not impregnable, should at least have been defendable four times out of five.
(England won toss)
*A J Stewart c Cullinan b Symcox 64
(87 min, 78 balls, 8 fours, 1 six)
R A Smith c Symcox b Donald 63
(135 min, 90 balls, 6 fours)
G A Hick b Cronje 21
(18 min, 17 balls, 2 sixes)
G P Thorpe c Pollock b Symcox 15
(17 min, 18 balls, 2 fours)
M R Ramprakash c Kallis b Donald 32
(64 min, 44 balls, 1 six)
C White c Donald b Cronje 19
(39 min, 30 balls, 1 four)
R C Russell not out 39
(29 min, 19 balls, 6 fours)
D G Cork c Richardson b Matthews 0
(4 min, 2 balls)
P A J DeFreitas c Cullinan b Donald 2
(5 min, 3 balls)
D Gough not out 1
(4 min, 1 ball)
Extras (lb5, w10, nb1) 16
Total (for 8, 205 min, 50 overs) 272
Fall: 1-103 (Stewart), 2-139 (Hick), 3-168 (Thorpe), 4-174 (Smith), 5- 216 (White), 6-245 (Ramprakash), 7-249 (Cork), 8-260 (DeFreitas).
Did not bat: R K Illingworth.
Bowling: Matthews 10-0-48-1 (nb1, w1) (6-0-19-0, 2-0-6-0, 2-0-23-0); Pollock 10-1-36-0 (6-1-16-0, 2-0-11-0, 2-0-9-0); Cronje 10-0-57-2 (w1) (2-0-9-0, 6-0-39-1, 2-0-9-1); Donald 9-0-72-3 (nb1, w3) (3-0-30-0, 4-0- 19-1, 2-0-23-2); Symcox 10-1-48-2 (w5); Kirsten 1-0-6-0 (one spell each).
Stewart 50: 69 min, 63 balls, 7 fours, 1 six.
Smith 50: 108 min, 74 balls, 4 fours.
A C Hudson lbw b Gough 72
(110 min, 85 balls, 7 fours, 2 sixes)
G Kirsten b Cork 116
(162 min, 125 balls, 11 fours)
*W J Cronje c Thorpe b Illingworth 47
(64 min, 46 balls, 3 fours, 2 sixes)
D J Cullinan not out 25
(29 min, 21 balls, 2 fours)
J H Kallis not out 14
(16 min, 13 balls, 2 fours)
Extras (w2) 2
Total (for 3, 192 min, 48 overs) 276
Fall: 1-156 (Hudson), 2-223 (Kirsten), 3-247 (Cronje).
Did not bat: J N Rhodes, S M Pollock, D J Richardson, P L Symcox, C R Matthews, A A Donald.
Bowling: Cork 10-0-65-1 (nb1, w1) (4-0-24-0, 2-0-17-0, 4-0-24-1); DeFreitas 10-0-46-0 (6-0-27-0, 4-0-19-0); Gough 10-1-41-1 (6-1-21-0, 2-0-9-1, 2- 0-11-0); Hick 3-0-17-0 (w1) (one spell); Illingworth 9-0-65-1 (nb1) (5- 0-29-0, 4-0-36-1); White 6-0-42-0 (2-0-18-0, 4-0-24-0).
Hudson 50: 83 min, 69 balls, 6 fours, 1 six. Kirsten 50: 81 min, 59 balls, 7 fours. 100: 137 min, 106 balls, 11 fours.
Man of the match: G Kirsten.
Umpires: K E Liebenberg and W A Diedricks.