July 27, 2003

Vaughan masterclass keeps South Africa at bay

Close England 374 for 7 (Vaughan 156, Pretorius 4-107) trail South Africa 594 for 5 dec (Smith 277, Gibbs 179) by 220 runs

Michael Vaughan: carrying the fight to South Africa

Michael Vaughan stroked his way to a sublime 156, his ninth Test century and his eighth in 15 matches, to lead England's fightback on a fascinating fourth day's play at Edgbaston. By the close, England had reached 374 for 7, needing just 21 to avoid the follow-on - and all but save the match.

Despite his heroics Down Under during last winter's Ashes series, this was a performance that Vaughan later rated as his best Test innings, and given the uncompromising circumstances in which it began, it would be hard to disagree. Glenn McGrath may have been left behind for now, but in Shaun Pollock, Vaughan had an adversary every bit as tenacious.

Seaming and swinging the ball both ways at will, Pollock opened the day with a tireless spell of wicket-to-wicket thriftiness that Vaughan could barely lay a bat on. He did manage a brace of cover-driven boundaries in one over - a sign of things to come - but Pollock responded by ripping through his defences with a booming inswinger that all but clipped the off stump. Somehow Vaughan survived to reach 49 not out at the break - and with the foundations of his innings firmly in place, there was no looking back.

He went to his fifty with his first ball of the afternoon, an effortless pull off Makhaya Ntini, whom he launched over midwicket for six in the same over, before guiding Pollock through third man for his sixth boundary in 13 balls. But not everything was swinging England's way. Ntini, who had already accounted for the injured Marcus Trescothick, then trapped Mark Butcher lbw for 13, as he offered no stroke to one that curved back on him. When Nasser Hussain (1) made a similar mistake in Pollock's very next over, England were 133 for 3 and wobbling.

But Anthony McGrath, who got off the mark with a welcome clip to fine leg, was just the ballast the situation required, and while he was at the crease Vaughan was once again free to play his strokes. In particular, he took full toll of Dewald Pretorius and Charl Willoughby, who are effectively competing for a solitary place when Jacques Kallis returns later in the series. As each strived to outdo the other, Vaughan whistled into the nineties with series of cut shots and clips through the leg side.

Vaughan was briefly halted on 99 by the spin of Robin Peterson, whom he had slapped for 14 in his solitary over before lunch, but eventually he pushed for two through the covers and took the plaudits of an extremely grateful Edgbaston crowd. But McGrath soon departed, after getting himself into a hopeless tangle to a short ball from Pretorius, and spooning a simple catch to Jacques Rudolph in the gully (222 for 4).

After reaching tea on 131 not out, Vaughan was in a more watchful mood in the evening session, as Pollock and Ntini returned with the new ball. This caution didn't quite extend to his running between the wickets, however, and he suffered a huge scare straight after the break, when he sauntered out of his crease after a tight lbw shout, and was all but run out by the fielder's shy from gully.

All the same, Vaughan was as eager to latch onto the loose delivery as ever, and when Ntini served up a pair of half-volleys with the new ball, he was rifled through the covers for a pair of fours, the second of which brought up his fifth score of 150-plus in six attempts.

One day, Vaughan is sure to convert one of these innings in a double-century. Not today however, as Pretorius found an extra gear in the final overs to keep South Africa sniffing the follow-on. Vaughan's magnificent innings finally ended at 156, when he failed to get his feet fully to the pitch of a full-length inswinger, and nibbled a catch to Mark Boucher behind the stumps. Despite his effort, he was livid with himself, knowing that, with England still 88 runs from saving the follow-on, his job was far from done.

Alec Stewart, batting with the mobility of your average 40-year-old after ricocheting an attempted pull into the side of his knee, soon justified Vaughan's concerns, when he had his stumps - and his feet - ripped off the turf by a devastating yorker from Pretorius. And, on the stroke of stumps, Pretorius produced a shooter to end a determined innings from Andrew Flintoff, to ensure that England would face one or two flutters in the first hour tomorrow.

But, thanks to another masterclass from Vaughan, England ought to reconvene at Lord's later this week with honours more or less even.

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