Darkness - and de Villiers - thwart England at Durban

England 139 and 570 for 7 dec drew with South Africa 332 and 290 for 8 (Rudolph 61, de Villiers 52*)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

A classic Test match was denied a positive finish by the darkness which enfolded Durban on the final afternoon. England, armed with the new ball, had just taken their eighth wicket when the umpires took the players off. Michael Vaughan sat, frustrated, on the outfield - but he could console himself with the thought that his side narrowly missed out on an astonishing victory after being outplayed for the first two days.

It was two adhesive partnerships that really spoiled Vaughan's day. First Jacques Rudolph and Martin van Jaarsveld survived for an hour after lunch, following what had looked like the crucial dismissal of Jacques Kallis just before the interval. And then, after a clatter of three wickets in 20 balls seemed to have decided the match in England's favour, AB de Villiers and Shaun Pollock dug in. They put on 85 for the eighth wicket, and crucially used up 27 overs.

Pollock eventually fell, run out by Simon Jones's pinpoint throw from mid-on two balls after taking two painful blows on the hands from Steve Harmison, but by then the light was closing in. Makhaya Ntini entertained the crowd by collecting four successive boundaries in Harmison's next over - but then out came the lightmeters, and the batsmen shot off like ferrets up a drainpipe.

Half-an-hour later, with no improvement to the light, the umpires called the game off. After two days, England would have bitten off the hand of the man offering them a draw - but by the end of this seesawing match it will be a major disappointment to Vaughan that he isn't going to Cape Town with a 2-0 lead.

The pitch played few tricks on the final day, despite some worrying-looking cracks, and England's bowlers toiled throughout. The first batsman to go was the nightwatchman, Nicky Boje, who was surprised by some extra bounce in Andrew Flintoff's first over. He could only fend the ball to short leg, where Graham Thorpe plunged to take a good catch, his 100th in Tests (33 for 2). Then Herschelle Gibbs, after grafting to 36 off 104 balls, took the bait of another short, wide one from Harmison, guiding it to Ashley Giles, the squarer of two gullies posted exactly for that (87 for 3).

Just before lunch Kallis, perhaps jaded by that long first-innings vigil, got a healthy outside edge to Harmison. With no first slip posted, Geraint Jones dived across and took it safely, to banish memories of his dropped catch off Gibbs last night (103 for 4).

England scented victory when Kallis went, but then came the first of those saving stands. Rudolph and van Jaarsveld put on 69 for the fifth wicket, and were only separated, after an hour, in controversial circumstances. Rudolph had just carved Giles for four to third man, and caressed him through the covers for another boundary, when he propped forward. The ball lobbed to Andrew Strauss at short leg off a combination of pad and some part of his arm. Rudolph, who made 61, may have been unlucky, as close-up replays suggested the ball missed the glove (172 for 5).

In the next over Hashim Amla's unhappy home debut came to a rapid end. His technique includes some worrisome wandering around in the crease, and while he was doing it he was pinned in front for a duck in Simon Jones's first over back (173 for 6). And Vaughan then pulled another bowling-change rabbit out of the hat, recalling Matthew Hoggard, and his first ball accounted for van Jaarsveld, one short of what would have been a defiant fifty. After a series of clunking cuts he tamely steered a short one straight to Marcus Trescothick at a wide first slip (183 for 7).

By tea South Africa had limped to 219 for 7 - 159 behind, but only three wickets left and 35 overs to go if the light lasted. But de Villiers and Pollock played sensibly, frustrating the bowlers and not neglecting the scoring opportunities either. de Villiers, who is still only 20, was particularly impressive, flashing Flintoff through the covers for the four that posted the fifty partnership.

Gradually the tension rose, as the clouds rolled in and the new ball neared. Hoggard grabbed it greedily, but two fours in the first over brought up de Villiers's maiden Test half-century. In the fourth over, bowled by Harmison, came those two nasty raps on the fingers for Pollock - which necessitated repeat visits to the middle for South Africa's physio, and some pantomime eye-rolling at the umpires. Pollock, whose fitness for the third Test is now in some doubt, wasn't keen to get back on strike - and when de Villiers called for a quick single to the first ball of Hoggard's next over some momentary hesitation proved fatal (268 for 8).

But Pollock had done enough. The umpires conferred at the end of the next over, and off the players went, never to return.

England thus went through 2004 undefeated in Tests. There will be disappointment at not making it nine wins in a row - and 12 out of 13 - but since a South African victory was odds-on after two days' play there will be a modicum of relief too. Emotions in the home dressing-room were reversed: seemingly certain winners after two days, dead and buried after four and a bit, but mighty relieved at hanging on in the end.

For the neutrals, though, this Durban draw stymies all those fascinating debates about where this might have stood in the pantheon of alltime England comebacks. If the light had held, would Headingley '81 have had to move over at last?

Steven Lynch is the editor of Cricinfo.