England 604 for 9 dec and 110 for 1 (Trescothick 69*) beat South Africa 484 and 225 (Pollock 43, Harmison 4-33, Bicknell 4-84) by nine wickets
For a few hours it was possible to suspend belief and fantasise that all was right out there, that England were on top of the world, and that the football season has been forgotten. A packed fifth-day crowd crammed into The Oval to see England blow away the South African tail inside an hour and then knocked off the 110 runs needed to win the match - and square the series - 41 minutes into the afternoon. The spectators, in a party mood from the fourth over of the day when Martin Bicknell struck twice in as many balls to dissipate South Africa's hopes of mounting a rearguard, celebrated as if the Ashes had been regained.
The hard work was done early on when England took the last four South African wickets to leave themselves plenty of time to chase a small target. The heroes were Bicknell, who was written off by some after the first day, and Stephen Harmison, who shared eight wickets in the innings, and all four on final day. Bicknell prised open the door in the fourth over with the wickets of Mark Boucher and Andrew Hall with successive balls. Bicknell toyed with Boucher, bowling him two inswingers and then the outswinger which Boucher was drawn into playing, and Alec Stewart held the thinnest of inside-edges. Boucher made 25 (193 for 7). The next delivery was one of Bicknell's worst, almost a long-hop, but a slightly surprised Andrew Hall fended it away with hard hands and it dollied to Ed Smith at short midwicket (193 for 8).
Those two quick strikes forced Shaun Pollock onto the attack. He launched into Bicknell, smacking him back over his head and then carving him twice to the third-man boundary for three fours. But in the next over he tried to steer a short, wide one from Harmison to third man, but it flew straight to Graham Thorpe at backward point instead (215 for 9). Pollock had made 43, South Africa's lead was still under 100, and the crowd was in raptures.
Paul Adams went for broke, cracking the tiring Bicknell for three fours to take South Africa's lead past 100, but Harmison ended the innings with a brute of a ball which climbed on Makhaya Ntini, and Smith leapt to hold a diving, one-handed catch at short leg. Ntini had scored 1. Fifty-five minutes after he had led England onto the field to thunderous applause, Alec Stewart led them off it to an even greater reception.
As South Africa struggled to raise themselves one last time to save a series they appeared to have in the bag long ago, they needed the luck to go their way. It didn't. In the second over Ntini produced a peach with turned Trescothick square, found the edge, and flew between second and third slip where Hall completed a wretched morning by spilling a waist-high chance. Heads visibly dropped as those flickering hopes of a dramatic finale disappeared.
England had been largely cautious before lunch, but some looming, darkening clouds injected more urgency afterwards. Michael Vaughan fell straight after the re-start, but Butcher and Trescothick gorged themselves on some weary bowling, unleashing a string of boundaries to the delight of the crowd.
The only thing that would have completed the fairytale end to the summer would have been for Stewart to have hit the winning runs. As it was, he had to be content with cheers every time the big screen showed him sitting on the players' balcony. It was more fitting, perhaps, that the winning runs were hit by Trescothick, a man who is key to the future of the England team and one whose 288 runs were instrumental in this success. Only Don Bradman, with 244 and 77 in 1934, had previously scored a double-century and a fifty in the same Oval Test.
Man of the Match Marcus Trescothick
England Man of the Series Andrew Flintoff
South Africa Man of the Series Graeme Smith
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