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December 20, 2004
Two Christmases ago, Simon Jones was contemplating the prospect of never setting foot on a cricket pitch again, after that fearful knee injury at Brisbane which kept him out of all forms of cricket for 16 months. Today, however, his thrilling diving catch at fine leg, and his subsequent dismissals of Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock from consecutive deliveries, gave England the momentum they needed to push for an eighth Test win in a row.
Jones was rather more subdued in front of the microphones than he had been on the pitch, however, where he greeted the wicket of Kallis by charging down to third man and leaping into the arms of Matthew Hoggard. "The boys have been giving me a good ribbing about that," he admitted, after a bizarre celebration, which resulted - puzzingly enough - in Hoggard grabbing his ears and squeezing them as hard as he could.
It was that earlier catch, however, that really set England on the road towards victory. "It gave us a bit of a buzz," said Jones, who understandably enough has not been England's most mobile fielder since his comeback. "It was one of those where you get into position and it just sticks. Fred [Flintoff] thought it was going to come straight to me, but in the end it was awkward and I had to stretch for it."
Pollock himself came close to trumping Jones's starring role, when - having just removed Marcus Trescothick with the first ball of the innings - he followed up with a perilously close shout for lbw against Mark Butcher. "I haven't seen it yet, but it must have been close," agreed Pollock. "But when you're defending small totals you need those 50/50s to go your way."
He admitted: "It was a disappointing day for us. We'd talked about 270 being a tough target here, with the wicket going up and down, and we were conscious we needed a big partnership. The luck didn't go our way, but cricket's a strange game. We'll be fighting to the end, and there'll be some serious headlines if we pull off a win."
Pollock was at least pleased that his side had been wrapped up in a close duel for four days of the Test, and predicted an even contest for the rest of the series as well. "It's been good Test cricket," he said. "England were in the pound seats after Day Three, we showed some good character to fight back, and the people have enjoyed watching it. It's been entertaining stuff."
One of the most entertaining moments was an explosive delivery from the young speedster Dale Steyn, which nipped away to detonate Michael Vaughan's off stump. "I certainly enjoyed it!" enthused Pollock. "Dale's an exciting talent - he's got good gas, and a good wrist on him as well. It comes out nicely with a good seam. He's a huge find, and I hope he kicks on and plays a big part in the series."
And Pollock warned: "We'll come out fighting tomorrow," before taking a sneak peak towards the heavens. "It would only be human to wake up and look out of the curtains to check the weather. England are favourites, but if we can put a run together, like Makhaya [Ntini] did in the first innings, then anything can happen."
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following the England team throughout the Test series in South Africa.
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