Third Test

England v South Africa

Paul Weaver

At Nottingham, August 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. England won by 70 runs.
Toss: England. Test debuts: R. J. Kirtley, E. T. Smith.

Having been roundly outplayed in the opening two Tests, losing a captain in the process, England travelled to Trent Bridge in the midst of a not unfamiliar crisis. Once again, the entire structure of English cricket, as well as the make-up of the Test team, was the subject of heated debate, so when four champions of the shires were selected it looked as though the county game, as well as the England side, was on trial.

Darren Gough had retired from Tests after Lord's, McGrath was dropped and four uncapped players - Gareth Batty, Glen Chapple, James Kirtley and Ed Smith - joined the nine survivors in a squad of 13. Batty and Chapple (whose seasonal bowling average of 37 made him a puzzling choice, anyway) missed out, so Kirtley, after several near misses, and Smith won their first caps. For South Africa, Kallis, after his father's funeral, returned instead of Pretorius, but Kirsten, having injured his arm at Canterbury, had to be replaced by McKenzie. Their captain Graeme Smith, having scored 621 runs in his first three innings of the series, had planned to relax before the match with a break in the Kent countryside. But at 22 he discovered he was too young to get insurance for a hire car.

He was thwarted at the toss too, when Vaughan called right. It was an important slice of luck, given a crazy-paving pitch that started poor and got worse, and Butcher and Hussain showed impressive application to put England on top. Butcher's 106 was the joy of the day, though he was fortunate to survive a convincing lbw appeal from Pollock before he had scored. He took 160 balls to reach his third century in six Tests and the timing of his driving was remarkable on a pitch showing early signs of treachery. But it was Hussain's cathartic hundred - a riposte to those who claimed he should have been dropped for his introverted moping at Lord's - that received the more moving ovation from the packed stands. Bashfully, he raised his bat time and again before the cheers subsided from those anxious to recognise the combative qualities of the former captain.

Ed Smith also batted fluently, though both he and Hussain fell quickly on the second day before Stewart stopped the rot, driving powerfully off his legs and through the covers on his way to 72. England were finally bowled out for 445.

Their satisfaction was soon blended with the enormous relief that washed around Trent Bridge when Graeme Smith went back to a good-length ball from Flintoff, trod on his stumps and was on his way for 35. This relative failure sliced his series average to 164. It was a cameo by Smith's previous standards but he had spent enough time on the pitch to call it, at close of play on the second day, the worst Test wicket he had seen. Those with more experience might have thought that overdramatic but even Stewart, with 130 Tests behind him, admitted to having a "nightmare" knowing how far back to stand while keeping.

The ball continued to seam and occasionally scuttle on day three, when South Africa were bowled out for 362, a first-innings deficit of 83 which might have been more if England had bowled straighter. Kirtley started the morning with a spring in his step, sprinting in to take wickets with the fifth and sixth deliveries of the day, Rudolph caught behind, then Dippenaar lbw. But England's momentum stalled. Kirtley should have had three wickets in five balls when Kallis offered a straightforward catch to Stewart; South Africa would have been 89 for five with the follow-on beckoning. Although Kallis made only 12 more runs, England had failed to thrust home the advantage. McKenzie, supported by the scampering Boucher, and Pollock, rescued the innings. Among the bowlers, Anderson recovered from a poor start to take five for 102.

At 44 for five on the fourth morning, England were losing the match. With the pitch misbehaving more frequently, no one was quite sure how big a lead they would need to avoid defeat, but this looked nowhere near enough. However, Hussain again proved his skill on dodgy pitches and a violent cameo from Flintoff helped stretch the advantage to 201. Hall, with swing and seam movement, proved a handful but it was Pollock's accuracy that provided most problems. He finished with six for 39.

As South Africa began their pursuit of 202 on the fourth evening, the match was delicately and dramatically poised. That soon changed. Once again it was Kirtley who gave England the impetus of winners: first Smith tried to work an in-swinger into the leg side, getting more bat on it than umpire Harper suspected when he upheld the lbw appeal, and then Rudolph went to Kirtley's next ball but one. When Gibbs spooned a pull to mid-on and was soon followed back by two colleagues, the close, and a chance to regroup, could not come quickly enough for South Africa.

But any doubts that the break would cost England the initiative evaporated in the morning sunshine. The 139 South Africa still needed was always going to be difficult with five wickets standing, and Kirtley made it impossible. Swinging the ball both ways and bowling the odd shooter, he wrapped things up before lunch and ended the innings with six for 34 and a beaming smile. He and Ed Smith had played well in a thrilling match to level the series at 1-1: this was a good Test for county cricket, as well as for England.

Man of the Match: R. J. Kirtley. Attendance: 57,829; receipts £1,176,601.
Close of play: First day, England 296-3 (Hussain 108, Smith 40); Second day, South Africa 84-2 (Rudolph 11, Kallis 11); Third day, England 0-1 (Vaughan 0); Fourth day, South Africa 63-5 (McKenzie 6, Boucher 9).

© John Wisden & Co