Fourth Test

England v South Africa

At Leeds, August 21, 22, 23, 24, 25. South Africa won by 191 runs.
Toss: South Africa. Test debuts: Kabir Ali; M. Zondeki.

Seldom, if ever, can an England team have contrived to lose after seeing their opponents sagging so sorrowfully: South Africa were cut and bloodied, and most sides in England's position would have won in three and a half days. Or less. In the immediate aftermath of the defeat, Vaughan launched a scathing attack on the county system, saying it produced too many players who were soft and bored and lacked the killer instinct. This match certainly lent weight to his argument. Not that South Africa's remarkable and rousing fightback should be diminished for that.

At 21 for four in the 15th over, the South Africans were in disarray. Their captain Graeme Smith, who later admitted he had hoped to avoid having to choose, finally opted to bat, backing his top six to battle through the morning against England's five seamers until the tricky conditions eased. But Smith himself started the collapse with a nasty swat at the fourth ball of the game, and Martin Bicknell, playing his third Test ten years (and a record 115 matches) after his second, bowled a metronomic line and length to snare two early victims. Even a fifth-wicket stand of 95 between the most composed batsman of the match, Kirsten, and the stylish left-hander, Rudolph, seemed insufficient when South Africa slumped again, this time to 142 for seven.

But England then exposed their embarrassing inability to land the killer punch for the first of three times in the match. Monde Zondeki, on his Test debut and with no batting record to speak of in 16 previous first-class games, made a heroic 59, while Kirsten chiselled his way to an 18th Test century. By playing the line down which the ball was first released, Zondeki survived where others had edged: Headingley's typically awkward pitch and the cloudy skies meant the ball was doing too much for him and Zondeki played and missed an extraordinary 33 times. Yet he remained calm and determined, and there was a steady supply of poor balls which he drove straight or through the covers. Early on the second day, he and Kirsten equalled South Africa's record eighth-wicket stand of 150 (set by Neil McKenzie and Shaun Pollock against Sri Lanka at Centurion in 2000-01), before Ntini - who really isn't supposed to be able to bat - compounded England's frustration by crashing a brisk 32. South Africa reached a very healthy 342, of which the last three wickets had contributed 200.

England's second faux pas was even greater than their first. Not having the nous to dismiss a tailender was one thing; deliberately surrendering an advantage for fear of losing it naturally was quite another. After adding 83 together before tea on the second day, Butcher, and to a lesser degree Trescothick, were so dominant as they looted 54 in ten brutal overs after the break, that South Africa's bowlers - already minus the injured Zondeki - were left shell shocked. England were 164 for one and flying.

If the decision by umpires Billy Bowden and Simon Taufel to offer the light was surprising, the decision of the rampant batsmen to accept it was incredible. Trescothick was the man who said yes and he justified his choice by claiming that a new batsman might struggle in light that was barely below bright sunshine. But there was no new batsman. It was negative thinking at its English worst.

During the unscheduled 30-minute break, Smith spoke "a few harsh words" and regrouped his wayward bowlers, and with an air of grim predictability both batsmen were dismissed by Kallis within eight overs of the restart, Trescothick to a breathtaking one-handed return catch, Butcher to a thin edge.

On the third day, the South African bowlers were discipline personified but the key to unlocking the innings was provided by a man who had never bowled in a Test before. While waiting for the second new ball, Smith turned to the exciting but rarely seen legspin of Rudolph. His second delivery was a beauty, dipping late and teasing Hussain into a premature drive and a critical return catch. The tail then folded quickly, with the last five wickets adding just 68, despite Flintoff 's aggressive and entertaining 55.

The pitch had been moody and unpredictable from the very beginning and it became no easier, so South Africa's lead of 35 was always likely to be important. Kirsten battled harder than ever to boost it with a courageous 60 that was comfortably as valuable as his century. He simply smiled when a good-length ball flew past his nose, never allowing his even temperament to be unsettled, and Kallis and McKenzie took the cue from their patient team-mate, batting with visible determination. But the game could still have twisted either way on the fourth morning, when the tourists resumed on 164 for five, a lead of 199.

However, Boucher batted with flair and aggression to disrupt England's fragile attack, before Hall ripped into them like a ravenous lion. He cut and pulled the barrage of long-hops that came his way and in barely an hour had dragged the match well beyond England's grasp. When the last man, Pretorius, was bowled by a shooter, Hall became only the fifth man to score an unbeaten 99 in Tests. He had faced just 87 deliveries.

England's target was of academic interest. They could not score 401, they knew it and they batted like they knew it. Butcher showed class, again, but failed to push on when well set, and Flintoff bashed a second half-century of the match. But Kallis completed a crushing victory with classic, fast away-swingers that earned him career-best figures for both an innings (six for 54) and a match (nine for 92). And the South Africans did it all without Shaun Pollock, who had returned home to Durban for the birth of his first child. Here was good news, even for England: given the Test record of the Pollock dynasty, their own heirs might be pleased to know that he had a daughter, Jemma.

Man of the Match: G. Kirsten. Attendance: 57,996; receipts £1,104,973.(br> Close of play: First day, South Africa 260-7 (Kirsten 109, Zondeki 50);
Second day, England 197-3 (Hussain 14, Smith 0); Third day, South Africa 164-5 (McKenzie 17, Boucher 2); Fourth day, England 165-5 (Butcher 57, Flintoff 45).

© John Wisden & Co