South Africa v England, 4th Test, Jo'burg, 2nd day January 14, 2005

Vaughan leads the fightback after a clatter of wickets

England 411 for 8 (Strauss 147, Key 83, Vaughan 82*, Ntini 4-111) v South Africa
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Michael Vaughan straight drives as he led England's fightback © Getty Images
Michael Vaughan returned to form as England first lost, and then regained, the initiative on a rain-affected day at Johannesburg. They made a gloomy start, losing three quick wickets after a rain delay - but Vaughan shared two fifty partnerships in the final session of the day, with Ashley Giles and Steve Harmison, as England fought their way back from a middling 278 for 7 to a prosperous 411 for 8 when indifferent light brought an early close.

Such riches looked unlikely as the clouds hovered over England earlier in the day. Their batsmen were unsettled after waiting two hours for play to begin, then they were taken off for bad light again ... and a combination of a juiced-up pitch and clammy overhead conditions that were conducive to swing bowling made their job no easier when they returned.

Makhaya Ntini struck twice in quick succession, first trapping the wide-eyed Matthew Hoggard, a rabbit in the floodlights, as he fended to AB de Villiers in the gully for 5 (273 for 5). Then, after play was halted for 20 minutes, Andrew Flintoff became Ntini's fourth victim as his brainless back-foot prod to a widish delivery flew straight to Graeme Smith at first slip. Flintoff made 2, England were in trouble at 275 for 6 - and there was worse to come.

Vaughan valiantly held up one end, playing a largely defensive game and overcoming his teen angst as he passed 20 for the first time in seven innings in this series, having reached 10 in all of them. But he soon lost his new partner, Geraint Jones, for 2. This time it was Shaun Pollock's turn to strike as Jones pushed forward at a good-length ball that left him off the seam, and Smith was in action again. England, who had been cruising at 262 for 2, were now sinking after losing five wickets for 16 runs.

But after an extended tea brought on by more bad light, the fightback began. It was spearheaded by Vaughan, whose increasingly brilliant innings lit up proceedings. His was a true captain's knock, as he hooked and shook his way to his second fifty in 12 Test innings. And where Vaughan led, his mate Giles followed, creaming Pollock for four fours in seven balls. Between them, they brought up their fifty partnership in 70 balls as England grabbed back the initiative.

Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and Shaun Pollock try to arrest the onslaught © Getty Images
It was not a chanceless innings from Giles, as he flirted with slip and gully. And then, just as England were inching towards the par first-innings score at the Wanderers - a portentous 333 - Giles's luck ran out. Dale Steyn made an immediate mark when he was brought back into the attack, and Giles flashed hard to Herschelle Gibbs in the gully (329 for 8).

But Vaughan stood firm, bringing up his half-century with a quiet single, while Harmison found his groove. He looked nervous at first, but then he found his feet, and even had the temerity to send first Steyn, then Ntini, back over their heads for two cracking fours.

Another fifty partnership - from 66 deliveries - was secured as Ntini sprayed a wide one which Harmison slashed through point. And it didn't stop there. Vaughan and Harmison have so far put on 82, and they were still unbeaten at the close. The previous-highest partnership for England's ninth wicket in South Africa was 71, by Harry Wood and Jack Hearne in 1891-92.

For his part, Harmison enhanced his allround credentials, following up his top-score of 42 at Cape Town with an undefeated 32 here. It took his batting average for the series to 29, to go with a bowling average of 61. You'd have got long odds on that six weeks ago.

But Smith pooped England's impromptu party, complaining repeatedly about the light until Steve Bucknor offered it to the fielding side. Smith's relief, and England's frustration at the decision, neatly reflected the shifting balance of power in this game. It looked unlikely in mid-afternoon, but Vaughan's men were left holding all the aces by the end.

Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo.