Kirsten's rescue act
Gary Kirsten completed his rescue act yesterday as he produced the second longest Test innings of all time and saw South Africa to a draw after they were forced to follow-on against England in the third Test at Kingsmead.
Kirsten was bowled for 275 (made in 14 hours, 38 minutes) by part-time spinner Mark Butcher just after 5pm on Thursday, leaving him tied with Daryll Cullinan as the highest run-scorer for South Africa in a Test and bringing to an end a brilliant South African second innings of 572 for seven declared.
Having been asked to follow on 210 runs behind, South Africa began the final morning on 251 for four, just 41 runs ahead and still very much in danger.
But Kirsten and the ever-confident Mark Boucher not only survived but flourished. Andy Caddick, England's main strike bowler, was worn out as the ball followed him everywhere in the field and Phil Tufnell, Andrew Flintoff, Darren Gough and Chris Silverwood could also make no inroads as the determined South African duo took the score to 343 for four by the end of the 150-minute morning session.
After the break, young Boucher led the way as the pair delighted the 5000-strong crowd by getting stuck into an England attack that had become impotent after two-and-a-half sweltering days in the field. Kirsten once again began to essay the sweetest of cover drives while Boucher was an entertainer supreme, pulling and cutting superbly as he hit 14 fours and a six.
Their record partnership of 192 completed South Africa's journey from the edge of the cliff to the top of the highest mountain, the English becoming steadily browned-off. Boucher, who captain Hansie Cronje said relishes such pressure situations, continued to make a nonsense of speculation that his place was in danger by going to his third Test century of the year, lifting his average well into the 30s. Some may call him cocky, but there is little doubt the wicketkeeper is hot property and the number of records he now has a hand in has led his team-mates to nickname him "Guinness", as in the book.
Kirsten went to his second Test double century the ball before Boucher reached 100 and, as an English win became a more and more theoretical concept, so the attention turned to records.
Boucher looked set to eclipse his own world record for the highest score by a nightwatchman (125 v Zimbabwe in Harare in November) when some rather ordinary shot-selection, two balls before tea, saw him sky an attempted pull from outside off-stump, gifting trundler Chris Adams with his first Test wicket.
Despite a draw being the only possible result, the atmosphere in the final session was vibrant as Lance Klusener was at the crease and the brilliant Kirsten chased Cullinan's 275 not out. In their disappointment, England used their part-time bowlers - Adams, Darren Maddy, Butcher and Nasser Hussain - for most of the session.
Most of the crowd were probably expecting a quick-fire Klusener century but, being the thoroughly unselfish individual he is, he got out once he had scored 45 off 58 balls to ensure that Kirsten enjoyed the limelight he so thoroughly deserved.
Butcher dismissed the seemingly invincible Klusener with a super off-break that turned appreciably, but, no matter how many tries his captain gives him in future, he is unlikely to snare a more significant wicket than his next one, only his third in Test cricket.
With Kirsten just a single away from breaking Cullinan's record, Hussain had brought the field in and Butcher promptly responded with a well-flighted leg-side delivery which turned enough to hit the stumps as the left-hand batsman missed his attempted tickle.
The unexpected dismissal brought to an end an absorbing Test that had produced much top-class cricket. Ultimately, the Kingsmead pitch, as has been the case throughout the season, favoured the bat over the ball, although Caddick showed on the third day what could be done when plentiful bounce was still available.
The teams will now go to Cape Town with the South Africans no doubt lifted by a memorable fightback - England have to find a way to beat them at Newlands if they are to keep their hopes of winning the series alive.