August 3, 2003

England go down fighting at last

South Africa 682 for 6 dec (Smith 259, Kirsten 108) beat England 173 (Ntini 5-75) and 417 (Flintoff 142, Ntini 5-145) by an innings and 92 runs

Andrew Flintoff breaks his bat, but not his spirit

In a Test match full of records, two more were broken in a memorable fourth and final day of the second npower Test at Lord's, which South Africa inevitably won, by a huge innings and 92 runs. England were always on to a lost cause, but Andrew Flintoff made sure they went out with a bang with a Test-best 142 - the highest score by a No. 7 at Lord's - while Makhaya Ntini became the first South African to take ten wickets at the ground.

It was a surprisingly dramatic ending to such a one-sided Test. Flintoff and Ntini locked horns in their own personal battle, but both came out winners. Flintoff reached his second Test century with a pull past square leg, while Ntini took the magic ten when he removed Steve Harmison two balls later.

Their reactions were different, however. Flintoff greeted the raucous applause in a muted fashion, simply holding up his second bat (the first one had earlier split in dramatic fashion), before thanking Harmison for sticking around with him. Ntini, on the other hand, bent down and kissed the pitch in recognition of his achievement.

Ntini showed the sort of fight and heart lacking from any of the England bowlers and thoroughly deserved his joint Man of the Match award with Graeme Smith. Along with the exemplary Shaun Pollock and the combative Andrew Hall, Ntini made sure England lost by a mile, but Flintoff kept everyone interested as he fanned the embers of their innings.

While Ashley Giles and Harmison gave him the majority of his support before they both fell to Ntini, Flintoff, as was the case with the ball, didn't give up. He brought up the 250 with a towering six off Paul Adams which nearly smashed a window in the Media Centre. He continued to give Adams a bit of hammer with three more crushing boundaries and signalled his fifty with a classy straight drive off Dewald Pretorius. Then the fun really began.

Ntini returned with the new ball and he and Flintoff tussled out an intriguing duel. Flintoff pulled him for a four and two sixes in the same over and then broke his bat trying to lace him through the covers. Ntini then replied by hitting Flintoff on the helmet, but it didn't deter him from playing his shots, much to the delight of the crowd.

Gough also joined in the fun with a few flashy drives before he drove Pollock loosely to Adams at cover not long after tea (344 for 8). Even when Harmison went, Flintoff continued to keep England alive with some astonishing hits. He brought up the 400 in a 20-run mauling of Pollock, including two sixes, and the whole of Lord's were cheering their hero, who eventually fell when Adams had him stumped by Boucher.

But Flintoff's fireworks couldn't hide the fact that England's was an embarrassingly poor display, made worse by a late morning mini-collapse in which three late wickets undid England's solid work in the first hour-and-a-half of the day.

Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart all fell before lunch to make England's good start a complete waste of time and effort. Butcher and Hussain had played watchfully in good batting conditions and passed a sparkling hundred partnership on the way, but once Butcher succumbed to a lapse in concentration, the house of cards began its collapse.

After an encouraging first hour for England, in which Butcher passed his fifty and Hussain passed 5000 Test runs, they both gave their wickets away. In a gaping lapse in concentration, Butcher clipped Hall to Gary Kirsten at square leg for 70, before Hussain attempted a bizarre pull against an Ntini ball which pitched way outside off stump. The ball squirted up in the air, Hussain let out a desperate cry of anguish, and Mark Boucher did the rest (208 for 4).

That may well have been Hussain's last Test innings at Lord's, but for Stewart it was most certainly the final curtain. He lasted only two balls before edging Ntini to Hall at second slip. The ball moved away a touch, Stewart prodded firmly at it, and Hall dived low to his left to take a good catch (208 for 5). It was a sad end for Stewart who only made 7 in the first innings.

And just after lunch, England's woes continued when McGrath nibbled a Shaun Pollock awaycutter to Boucher for a scratchy 13. It was a good ball from Pollock, but McGrath didn't move his feet as he poked at the ball which nipped down the hill (208 for 6). Never mind the rumours that this may be the last Test for the old stalwarts such as Stewart, Hussain and Gough - it may be McGrath's too.

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