South Africa in England: Great Performances July 16, 2012

Rhino's breakthrough

England and South Africa went to Leeds in 1998 with the series square and one to play. Nice time for a local hero to make his presence felt

Headingley. No, not Botham's Headingley. Think 1998.

Much of England was talking and reading about and listening to what was happening up north in August for the final Test of the five-Test series between England and South Africa. The series was tantalisingly poised at 1-1 after England pulled off a convincing victory at Trent Bridge. They had fought hard in the third Test too, at Old Trafford, where they were made to follow on but hung on for a draw. Arriving in Leeds, England stood on the verge of winning a five-Test series for the first time since Mike Gatting's team won the Ashes in 1986.

Summers in England are never predictable; it was the same with their team's cricket in 1998. The first Test, in Birmingham was drawn. South Africa lived up to their billing as favourites with a ten-wicket victory at Lord's. At Old Trafford a double-century from Gary Kirsten helped South Africa to a formidable total. England were forced to follow on, but a combination of guts and raw determination by the lower-order trio of Robert Croft, Darren Gough and Angus Fraser in the final session helped them escape with a draw.

"That Test match was massive - if we had lost that, we would have been steamrollered," said Gough, who had been injured while batting on the second day of the series, and had returned for that match.

The series then turned in England's favour at Trent Bridge. England needed 247 to win. Allan Donald came out all guns blazing, but Michael Atherton, arch enemy, stood up to the task. Atherton had stepped down as captain before the series but his 98, a valiant effort, along with the belligerent batting of the new captain, Alec Stewart, helped England level the series.

Stewart surprisingly elected to bat in bowling-friendly conditions in Headingley. England were grateful for Mark Butcher's boldness - his 116 helped them to a modest 230 in the first innings. It was Butcher's first Test century and the only hundred in the match.

Fraser may have turned 33 on the third day of the Test, but he still took his third successive five-for, to limit the lead to 22 runs. "Gus Fraser was fantastic and was a senior bowler when I came into the team in 1994*," Gough said. "He wasn't quick but he was quick enough, and he was tall and hit the deck very, very hard and got bounce. On pitches that did a bit, he came to the fore, being accurate." Gough, who took three wickets himself in that innings, remembered Fraser as their best bowler in that series.

South Africa were lucky to get ahead - Hansie Cronje and Shaun Pollock, who put on 53 for the seventh wicket, were dropped more than once each. "They had a lead but we knew they had to bat last," Gough said. "If we got what we got in the first innings, it would be difficult for them."

When England batted again, Atherton was trapped lbw by Donald with his very first delivery. But England had another hero this time with the bat: Nasser Hussain, who had scored a century at Lord's.

Hussain was unyielding, presenting a picture of intense focus, not distracted by the numerous wide deliveries that came his way. "It was very unlike Nasser, that innings," Gough said. "He liked to get stuck in, and if you bowled well to him, he would give you respect, but he was always on the lookout for the boundary, especially the drive though covers. But that day he played an uncharacteristically cautious knock. It was more like a Graham Thorpe or Atherton kind of knock."

When Hussain left, England were 229 for 8. His innings lasted 341 deliveries and seven hours, during which he faced some top-quality hostile fast bowling from a five-pronged bowling attack. He departed six runs short of a deserved century and hid his tears with his hand as he walked back to the dressing room, head bowed, ignoring the standing ovation from the crowd. Disappointingly, England's lower order failed to rise to the occasion, adding 34 runs for the final six wickets for the second time in the match.

A target of 219 for South Africa with five sessions to go. "They should have won it," Gough said. "We thought 240-250 would have been a good target."

It was Gough's home ground and he knew the importance of the new ball. He had eight men in the cordon as he ran in with the new ball on the fourth evening. "I ran in and bowled very, very quick. I got Kirsten early on, got Atherton at gully as he tried to drive me," Gough remembered.

Gerhardus Liebenberg was done in by a fullish, straight delivery, trapped plumb in front of the wicket - the fourth time Gough had got him in the series. Jacques Kallis did not come forward and was trapped lbw by Fraser. Daryll Cullinan was leg-before to Gough soon after. At 27 for 5, it would have been ridiculous not to bet on an England victory.

But Rhodes, with his impish smile and jaunty stride, proved an irritant, as he had before in the series. For support, he had the man-mountain Brian McMillan.

Rhodes settled down easily, thanks to the frequent full-tosses on offer from the legspinner Ian Salisbury - a selection that was thoroughly exposed. Salisbury went wicketless, bowling just 11 overs in the match.

At the other end McMillan proved equally stubborn. "I did not like bowling at McMillan," Gough said. "He was a big, strong bloke. I would skid on to his bat but he would come out of the crease and play straight. I did not like that. He was very hard to bowl at."

The situation grew desperate and both Gough and Fraser began to grow weary. Gough was fighting a stomach bug that had also laid Atherton and others in the side low, while Fraser had taken an injection for chronic back spasms. Rhodes and McMillan reduced the target from 192 to just 75 runs.

In Dominic Cork, England had a fighter, a man who could get under the skin of McMillan. Cork persisted in testing "Big Mac" with the short-pitched delivery, which eventually succeeded when a hook was top-edged to the wicketkeeper. "Them two did not like each other. McMillan even threatened to kill Corkie when he came looking for him after the match," Gough said with a laugh. But the 117-run partnership for the sixth wicket kept South Africa in the hunt.

England hunted as a pack to get rid of the dangerous Rhodes. The ball was beginning to reverse, to Gough's liking. "He tried to drive it, the ball reverse-swung in and I had a man positioned at short midwicket. Rhodes played straight into his hands," Gough said. It was a fitting 100th Test wicket. And Mark Boucher's followed in quick succession.

As soon as the extra half hour was offered by the umpires, Stewart asked his men to walk off. Eight overs were possible, South Africa needed 34 runs to win the series, and they had two wickets in hand, with Donald and Pollock at the crease.

The series would now be decided on the morning of the final day. Tim de Lisle, in his editorial for Wisden Cricket Monthly magazine, summed the series up aptly: "It ebbed and flowed the way Test matches do and series usually don't."

The next day Gough turned up at the ground still feeling a little light in the head from the stomach bug. Stewart asked the 12th man, Mathew Wood, to make a speech first thing in the morning. Gough knew Wood, who played for the Yorkshire 2nd XI, a typical Yorkshire boy, short and well built. "He was always good around the dressing room - a bubbly character, very funny bloke. He said, 'Come on, lads. You are playing for the three lions. You have got an opportunity to be legends. Look out there, so many thousands out there in the ground - all come to see England win, not England lose. Come on, go out there and do your country proud,''' Gough recalled.

The match was almost over but the crowds had flooded in, the atmosphere was young and festive, and the vast majority of those who were present had turned up to sing the praises of Gough, the local hero. "When I saw all these fans, singing my name, I was like 'Wow.' I was ready."

But England were nervous. They bore the scar of a similar situation from the 1996-97 tour of New Zealand, when Danny Morrison came up with an admirable rearguard to stop England from winning the first Test in Auckland.

They had to wait six overs. Then Fraser got Donald, and Gough got the ball to once again reverse wildly into the pads of Makhaya Ntini, the last man. Javed Akhtar, the Pakistani umpire, raised his finger even before Gough appealed. A dubious decision, South Africa were convinced. Gough admitted the DRS would have denied him the wicket. "As soon as it hit him, I thought it was dead out. Hitting middle and leg. But when I watch it now, I feel it might have missed leg."

The fans ran onto the ground. Gough fell over before making it back safely to the dressing room. "There is only one Darren Gough," the fans sang loudly from downstairs as his team-mates poured champagne over his head. Yorkshire's favourite son stood with arms raised, fists clenched, triumphant.

He can never forget the significance of that series victory. "It was a massive moment for English cricket to beat South Africa in a five-match series. We started believing that we could take on Australia. England players' mentality and their training started changing after that victory. England just went on improving."

Darren Gough played 58 Tests and 159 ODIs for England. He is the brand ambassador for Colliers Cheese.

*July 16, 0614 GMT: Corrected to state that Gough made his Test debut in 1994

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments