Trescothick's ton boosts England on a fluctuating day
England 411 for 8 dec and 197 for 5 (Trescothick 101*, Vaughan 54) lead South Africa 419 (Gibbs 161) by 189 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
A compelling fourth Test continued to swing this way and that on the fourth day at Johannesburg. After a counter-attacking stand from Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan had put them in charge, England lost three wickets in four overs towards the end of the day to leave the game in the balance. When bad light - the scourge of this Test - forced another early close, England led by 189 runs with five wickets standing.
England's bowlers had struggled to polish off South Africa's first innings in the morning, with the home side edging into a slender first-innings lead of eight runs - thanks mainly to Herschelle Gibbs's wonderful 161 - and Makhaya Ntini rubbed their noses in it with two early wickets.
But England put that indifferent start behind them as Trescothick and Vaughan's unexpected fireworks launched them back into a solid position. Then, as so often in this seesaw series, the momentum swung the other way. By the close, all bets were off.
England's captain and vice-captain shared a stand of 124 in what could yet turn out to be the decisive passage of play. Trescothick was at his rasping best as he brought up his tenth Test century, with 15 crunching boundaries, from 159 balls. It was typical Trescothick, as he spanked crisp cover-drives and pulls with merry abandon.
For his part, Vaughan maintained the form he had found in the first innings here, despatching some silky drives and confident pulls of his own. But Shaun Pollock came back from an unusually costly early spell to claim the crucial scalp of Vaughan for 54, with an awayswinger that did just enough to brush the edge on its way through to Mark Boucher (175 for 3).
Vaughan's wicket heralded yet another dizzying turnaround, as England were sent in a tailspin, losing two more quick wickets. Graham Thorpe escaped a pair, but only just - after he'd managed a single he prodded a low chance back to the diving Jacques Kallis, who smacked his head on to the turf in the process of taking a brilliant catch. England were almost as groggy as the bowler at 176 for 4, and their headache worsened when Andrew Flintoff, having just hauled Pollock over the midwicket boundary, flapped at the next one and feathered it through to Boucher for 7. Having been a healthy 175 for 2, England were flagging at 186 for 5, and they added just one more run before grabbing the chance to leave the field for bad light.
That riposte from Trescothick and Vaughan changed the mood of a match that seemed to be slipping away from England at the start of the day, despite the early wicket of Pollock, trapped in front for 0 by Matthew Hoggard in the first over. It was Hoggard's fifth wicket, and he should have had a sixth moments later when Nicky Boje, on 4, inside-edged to Geraint Jones, who spilled a relatively straightforward catch.
It would have been a dream start for England, but Jones was still in the grip of a personal nightmare, which started last night when he dropped Gibbs off the penultimate ball of the day just after injuring his left thumb. Boje's letoff made it two drops in seven balls, and was more grist to the mill of the purists who lament the dropping of Chris Read.
Those reprieves proved costly, as Gibbs and Boje set about battering down the first-innings deficit with gusto. Gibbs, who had 135 when he was dropped last night, went on to a superb 161, helped by some tired bowling.
Boje, not for the first time in the series, chipped in crucially down the order, and their fifty partnership came from just 72 balls. Gibbs eventually fell to James Anderson, as he found Hoggard at third man (358 for 8). So much drama in the first hour ... and an intriguing day had only just begun.
Ntini joined Boje and they added 41 before a moment of madness. Boje, on 48, steered Ashley Giles to square leg, and called for two as Hoggard threw to the bowler's end. The batsmen were stuck in the middle, and Giles chose to remove Boje, so he threw to Jones who whipped off the bails (399 for 9). Ntini's valiant knock of 26 could not last, and Giles yorked him just after South Africa had edged into an eight-run lead.
Then, in a tricky two-over spell before lunch, England lost the talismanic Andrew Strauss for a duck. Ntini angled his first ball across and Strauss, driving, sliced to AB de Villiers at third slip. But Trescothick and Robert Key refused to let that trouble them - and they came out with the stomach for a fight after lunch. Key hit a breezy 19 from 27 deliveries before he sent a rising delivery from Ntini zooming to Kallis at second slip (52 for 2).
Trescothick and Vaughan then put England back in the driving seat but, in
this topsy-turvy series, it was not a position to take remotely for granted - and, by the end, both sides had a hand on the steering wheel. It is still
Jenny Thompson is assistant editor of Cricinfo.