Close South Africa 484 and 185 for 6 (Pollock 19*, Boucher 22*) lead England 604 for 9 decl. by 65 runs
What a difference a few days can make. On Thursday, England appeared to have been batted out of the match, and the series, but they have since roared right back into the final npower Test with a remarkable victory in their sights. In the whole of the first day, England had only managed to get four wickets. Today, however, they grabbed six in under two sessions, as they assumed control at The Oval. A power-packed 95 from Andrew Flintoff in the morning set the tone for England, who, egged on by an excitable crowd, then put together a dominant bowling display led by Steve Harmison. Tellingly, South Africa accepted the offer for bad light only too readily. Nine overs remained, but they needed to regroup after sinking to 185 for 6, only 65 ahead.
England took the honours for the second successive day and Martin Bicknell and James Anderson were on the mark straight away. Anderson charged in and tempted Herschelle Gibbs with a wide, full awayswinger which he should have left well alone. But Gibbs couldn't resist a swish, and Alec Stewart took the catch (24 for 1). Then Graeme Smith's lucky charm, which has gradually lost its power after his explosive start to the series, finally ran out when he was undone by a Bicknell inswinger. Smith thrust his pad well forward, but hid his bat as the ball curved back into him. Up went Bicknell and the slips, and Simon Taufel had no hesitation (34 for 2).
It was the ideal start for England, but Gary Kirsten, ever the man for a crisis, got stuck in. He and Jacques Kallis carefully rode out the storm - and just as importantly - dampened the crowd's boisterous enthusiasm as South Africa edged towards parity. Kirsten was proving to be as thorny as ever with his gritty concentration, but, after Kirsten and Kallis had carefully put on 58, Harmison came up trumps to put South Africa back on the ropes. Mixing up his angles and length to Kirsten, Harmison got his man for 35 with an awaycutter from over the wicket. Kirsten drove loosely and was snapped up by Marcus Trescothick at waist-height at first slip (92 for 3).
And Harmison wasn't finished there. In his next over he got the other crucial wicket of Kallis, lbw for 35. Pitching outside off, the ball cut back and caught Kallis on the crease. It was touch-and-go whether it hit him in line with off stump, but Venkat had his finger up quicker than a Flintoff four. Jacques Rudolph then nervously scratched around for 24 balls and was put out of his misery playing an embarrassing leave to Bicknell, who did him like a kipper. After he curved two away from Rudolph, Bicknell then arced one back in and clipped the top of off to leave Rudolph with a very red face (118 for 5).
Neil McKenzie and Mark Boucher then added a stodgy 32 until Flintoff got some luck - for once - when Venkat surprisingly adjudged McKenzie lbw. McKenzie clearly got an inside edge, and it was too high as well, but maybe Venkat's glasses had steamed up in all the excitement, as he sent McKenzie on his way for a gutsy 38 (150 for 6).
Boucher and Shaun Pollock held firm till the end, even though Boucher was more concerned about the light rather than South Africa's plight. After toying with their meters for several overs, the umpires finally relented and gave the batsmen the chance to retreat to the dressing-room with England in the box seat, thanks mainly to a sell-out firework display from Flintoff. By the time England declared on 604 for 9, two overs before lunch, Flintoff had cracked 95 of the most tub-thumping runs imaginable.
England made an inauspicious start to the day when Pollock trapped Bicknell lbw for 0 with his third delivery. But Harmison provided stoic support, and after taking a few overs to find his range, Flintoff cut loose in savage fashion. Easing into one-day mode, Flintoff spread the field and belted boundaries almost at will. He had a bit of fortune early on, but there was nothing lucky about the huge sixes he cracked off Kallis and Makhaya Ntini, including a mighty thwack straight back over Ntini's head into the hospitality boxes at the pavilion end.
It was bedlam, pure and simple. Even as he galloped towards his second century of the series, Flintoff refused to check his approach - except to replace his much-abused bat, which developed a large crack near the handle. Another enormous six - the fourth of his innings - took Flintoff to 95, but to the intense disappointment of a pumped-up crowd, he then swung across the line and was comprehensively bowled by Paul Adams. He walked off to a huge ovation, having broken a 111-year-old partnership record against South Africa, in adding 99 for the ninth wicket with Harmison. But never mind the past, Flintoff had given England the advantage right here, right now.
Wisden Day 4 Verdict: South Africa face Groundhog Day
Wisden Day 3 Bulletin: Trescothick and Thorpe restore England's fortunes