Toss: England. Test debut: P. C. Strydom.
History was made on the final day when a match apparently reduced to the deadliest of finishes, following three consecutive playless days, was brought back to life by the captains. For the first time in Test cricket, innings were forfeited and this produced a memorable, entertaining climax. When play resumed, with South Africa still in the first innings, the many hundreds of travelling English supporters and a few hundred hardy locals had every reason to expect the worst. What they were treated to was a gripping finale that saw England win with five balls and two wickets remaining.
Five months after the match, however, came the bitterness of deceit when Cronje, South Africa's captain, admitted receiving 53,000 rand (around £5,000) and a leather jacket from a bookmaker, who had urged him to initiate a positive result, rather than let the match peter out as a draw. At the King Commission inquiry into match-fixing, which opened in Cape Town in June, he insisted that his motives were "for the good of cricket", but the fact that financial reward formed a part of his motivation tainted the match for ever. History would also record that it was the first Test in which "fixing" was proven.
South Africa, who had been inserted on a fresh pitch under overcast skies, were a precarious 155 for six when play was halted after 45 overs on the first day. In truth, England should have done even better, but Gough, Caddick, Mullally and Silverwood, encouraged by the bounce, all bowled too many short, and so wasted, deliveries.
The unseasonal rain made the next three days deeply depressing for the local Cricket Union, Northerns. They were not insured - the cost had been prohibitive, president Richard Harrison announced - and the estimated loss was more than two million rand.
Some 30 minutes into play on the final day, the first rumour of what was about to happen reached the media. Cronje had approached his opposite number, Hussain, half an hour before the start and offered to "make a game of it". His offer was a target of 255 runs in 73 overs, based on the premise that South Africa could score another 100 runs in 30 overs on the extended final morning, followed by a double forfeiture of innings - England's first and South Africa's second. Hussain declined. "The wicket might have been sweating under those covers for three days. It might have been unplayable. I couldn't take that chance," he said later. Ten overs into the session, however, having seen how well the pitch was playing under sunny skies, he left the field and sought out Cronje. "Is the offer still open?" he enquired. The answer was "Yes."
There was never any suggestion that scoring runs would be made easy. Indeed, Hussain's magnificent direct hit from mid-on to run out Pollock for 30 might have derailed the initiative. Klusener, though, batted smoothly to reach an unbeaten 61 from 95 balls. Yet when the declaration came, Cronje's original offer had become even more generous, particularly as Donald, the series' leading wicket-taker, had dropped out before the game with gout. To win, and so limit their series defeat to 2-1, England had to score 249 in 76 overs.
When Paul Adams broke a finger on his bowling hand early on, crashing into an advertising hoarding, Cronje's only spin option was the slow left-arm of debutant Pieter Strydom, a 30-year-old all-rounder called up because Rhodes had a hamstring injury. Donald's replacement, Hayward, had had to fly from Port Elizabeth on the first morning, arriving in time for the delayed start after lunch. For England, Maddy had come in for the injured Flintoff, and Mullally returned instead of Tufnell. Between innings, the chairman of the England Management Advisory Committee, Brian Bolus, pointed out that no provision existed in the Laws for the forfeiture of a first innings, although domestic playing conditions had sanctioned it in first-class cricket for some years. As it happened, a new code of the Laws, already in draft form and to take effect later in the year, would allow first-innings forfeitures, so Cronje and Hussain were simply months ahead of time. Like almost everyone at the ground, however, Bolus was effusive in his praise for the captains' ingenuity and insisted that "sanity had prevailed". The scorers were officially instructed to record England's first innings as nought for no wicket declared, even though they never took the field.
By the 38th over, with England 102 for four, Hussain could have been forgiven if he was regretting the whole business. Atherton had edged Pollock to the keeper, Butcher was lbw to Klusener's slower ball, the captain himself had chipped another slower ball, from Pollock, to cover, and Chris Adams had just fended a Hayward bouncer rather lamely to Boucher. Vaughan, criticised earlier in the tour for batting too slowly and now demoted two places, walked out to salvage the draw. Or so it was thought. During an innings rich in cover drives, he added 126 with Stewart. When Stewart was caught behind, England were 21 runs from victory with five wickets still in hand.
Nerves now played a part. Maddy was run out from the cover boundary attempting a second run, Caddick was caught behind two balls later, and then Vaughan, backing away to hit Hayward through the covers, was bowled for 69 from 108 balls with nine fine boundaries. England needed nine runs from the final 13 balls. Silverwood took a single, chipped the first ball of the penultimate over agonisingly close to extra cover but scrambled two, then failed to score from the next four. The sixth delivery, however, he drove towards the cover boundary where Strydom, staring straight into the setting sun, failed to see the ball until the last moment. What should have been two became four. Gough then pulled the first ball of Hayward's final over triumphantly for the winning boundary.
Inevitably, some wondered whether Test cricket had been compromised, even belittled, by the contrived result. Cronje was adamant that, should the game's administrators at the ICC be among those showing disapproval, he "wouldn't want to be a part of cricket any more. What is wrong with trying to make a game of it?" he said afterwards. But his previous dealings with bookmakers, as revealed at the King Commission, had forced him into that position. It was the first, albeit oblique, evidence of what had become a sadly corrupted outlook on the game and his responsibilities. "Test cricket needs to do everything it can to advertise itself and be competitive in a busy sporting market," he went on. "It hurts to lose - we lost a 14-match unbeaten run because of this - but it was a fabulous game in the end and people deserve to be entertained."
Hussain, understandably delighted, paid special tribute to Cronje at the time. "It was a very special thing that Hansie did and I hope he gets the credit he deserves. It certainly was a great finish to be a part of." But later, when it emerged that corruption had played its regrettable part in the shaping of the final day, he would write in his newspaper column that England's win had been ruined. "We can't get away from that," he said. "It will always be remembered as a Test that was fixed."
Yet the cricket was played as hard as both teams were able, and that is some consolation. Cronje's goal was to achieve a positive result and, while a captain without thought of personal gain might have opted for defence and the safety of a draw when the match was slipping away, South Africa did almost pull off a remarkable win.
Man of the Match: M. P. Vaughan. Man of the Series: D. J. Cullinan.