South Africa v England, 1st Test, Port Elizabeth, 5th day December 21, 2004

Knowing how to chase



Eight and counting: Andrew Strauss and Graham Thorpe acclaim England's victory at Port Elizabeth © Getty Images

In the end, it all came down to know-how. England and South Africa have been evenly matched in the course of this match - more so than many had predicted in the run-up to this series - but when it comes to sealing the deal in the fourth innings of a match, England are currently a class apart.

Of the 11 matches that England have now won this year, no fewer than eight have involved a run-chase of some description. Some have been large (the 284 against New Zealand at Trent Bridge, for example) and others have been laughable (scores level, one for victory at The Oval against West Indies). But 18 matches have now passed since England were last bowled out in the fourth innings, by South Africa themselves at Headingley in 2003.

The requirement in this match was 142, which was neither here nor there, but it was precisely the sort of total that has habitually tripped up the Australians, more often than not through their eagerness to finish it off. At 11 for 2 yesterday afternoon, with Shaun Pollock rampant in the seam-friendly conditions, an upset was not out of the question - but that was to reckon without England's lucky charm, Andrew Strauss.

Strauss, indisputably named as the Man of the Match, has now played eight, won eight in a remarkable start to his Test career. He remains some way short of equalling the world-record-holder in that regard - it wasn't until Australia's miraculous defeat at Kolkata in 2000-01 that Adam Gilchrist's 15-run winning streak came to an end. But, like Gilchrist, Strauss has been an integral part of the team achievement.

Patience is Strauss's key attribute, but with a filthy bank of rain-bearing clouds rolling along the coast, there was no time for standing on ceremony this morning. In this particular run-chase, Strauss scored almost twice as many runs as his team-mates put together (94 to 48), and today racked up 43 runs to Graham Thorpe's eight, including ten in two balls from the eager Dale Steyn, which effectively ended any hopes of a late South African rally.

Strauss was denied a pair of centuries on debut at Lord's when he was famously run out by Nasser Hussain, but today he could not have done more to emulate his team-mates, Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan, both of whom scored twin hundreds earlier in England's current hot streak. Strauss aside, England were merely tepid in this match, but with back-to-back challenges following rapidly at Durban and Cape Town, they may yet be grateful to be holding something back in reserve.

Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo. He will be following the England team throughout the Test series in South Africa.