GREAT TEST MATCHES: ENGLAND vs SOUTH AFRICA LONDON (The Oval) 2003 #1659
South Africa were re-admitted to international cricket in 1991 after a 21 year isolation for their government's Apartheid policies. They continued to produce fine cricketers in spite of their isolation. Many cricketers were in high demand in the county circuit. Barry Richards was a stalwart for Hampshire forming a fine partnership with one Gordon Greenidge. Clive Rice and Richard Hadlee were Northamptonshire's deadly (all-rounder) duo. Jimmy Cook, Peter Kirsten, Garth Le Roux, Vince van der Bijl, Allan Lamb, Kepler Wessels were some of the cricketers of note who would have been at their peaks in the 80s and challenging the mighty West Indies for hegemony.
The strong system in place ensured that the Proteas didn't miss a beat when they returned to cricket after their self-inflicted exile. They gave the West Indies a mighty scare in Barbados. They went toe to toe with Allan Border's Australia. They won a test against India in just their second attempt. Their win/loss ratio of nearly 2 (120/62) since readmission is second only to Australia (171/70). Their 120 test wins is also second only to Australia's mind-boggling 171 wins in the last 26 years. Despite their consistent choking in World Cups, South Africa have a stunningly consistent record in white ball cricket as well. The win/loss ratio is again second only to Australia. In the 1992 World Cup that took place merely weeks after their return, they comfortably qualified for the final four and needed 22 runs off 13 ball to reach the final before the ridiculous rain rule for the tournament eliminated them.
Overall they have been, comfortably, at least the second best team for the best part of 3 decades in international cricket. In this period, England have been poor, average, good, great at various points in time but strangely enough the England-South Africa rivalry has been extremely even. Of the 11 series they have played so far, each side has won 4 times with 3 series where the honours were even. Of the 47 tests, it's a deadlock again: 15 wins each, 17 draws. Even in England's worst periods that were the 1990s, they managed to defeat South Africa, with juuuuust a little help from Javed Akhtar, 2-1 in 1998, their only series win in a series of 5 or more tests between 1987 and 2000.
South Africa toured England for a 5 test series in 2003. Graeme "Biff" Smith was captaining the Proteas for the first time. He was made captain after South Africa emotionally collapsed under the strain of expectations in the 2003 World Cup they hosted. Shaun Pollock was the man he replaced. England were a seasoned side under Hussain & Fletcher though Hussain was nearing the end of his great career. Great not because of his numbers but because he inspired England from its nadir in 1999 when they were officially named the worst test team in the world. I don't remember what the expectations were at the beginning of the series were but my personal prediction was the England would comfortably win the series.
South Africa were low on confidence having failed to make even the Super Sixes in their home World Cup. They had a very young (22) skipper in a veteran side. It's very difficult for a youngster to gain the respect of his elder teammates. England, as I said before, were seasoned. Boy was I wrong! Biff started his captaincy with scores of 277, 85 & 259. South Africa ended the 1st day of the series at 398/1! England held on to a draw in the rain affected 1st test. South Africa won the 2nd test comfortably by a innings. England scored a smash & grab win in the 3rd test defending a 4th innings total of 201. South Africa put the disappointment away and crushed England by 191 runs in the 4th test. With this win they also ensured the trophy would remain with them as they were winners at home in 2000.
South Africa made two changes and England three for the final test. Hall and Adams for Zondeki & Pretorius for South Africa, Thorpe, Bicknell & Harmison for Hussain, Kabir Ali & Kirtley for England. On a classic Oval featherbed, Smith called correctly and decided to bat.
Smith was a completely different player after the 2nd test. He had failed to cross 20 after scoring 35 in the 1st innings of the 3rd test. He was first to go after scoring 18 in a partnership of 63. Gibbs & Kirsten went on the rate of knots. They added 227 runs in just 54 overs before Kirsten fell 10 short of 3 figures. The scoring rate never flagged as Gibbs & Kallis added a run a ball 55. South Africa were sitting pretty at 345 for 2 with the new ball due in 11 balls. With two settled batsmen it was time to make hay with the hard ball. Giles breached Gibbs' defence with him on 183 and England had a lucky break. McKenzie and Kallis plodded through the rest of the day. Jimmy Anderson got McKenzie to nick one to the keeper off the penultimate ball of the day. South Africa had added just 17 runs in 11.3 overs to end the day on 362/4. England made a bit of a comeback in the last hour but it was a strong day for South Africa nonetheless.
England built on the good work in the post-tea session of the first day and removed 5 more batsmen for the addition of just 70 runs in the 1st session. The returning Bicknell picking 2 wickets, 2 run outs and Freddie Flintoff picking the remaining wicket. Shaun Pollock biffed around and added 52 runs for the last wicket with Paul Adams. Frog-in-a-blender's contribution to the stand was 11. From 345/2, South Africa added just 139 runs. Michael Vaughan blazed away at the start of England's innings scoring 23 off 26 but was dismissed by Pollock with the score in 28. Trescothick & Butcher added 50 runs for the 2nd wicket. Butcher was also playing as if it was the first 15 overs of an ODI and fell to Hall adding 32 off 33. The king of counterattacks, Graham Thorpe saw the rest of the day through without damage. England finished at 165/2, still 120 runs adrift of the follow on.
Trescothick and Thorpe batted through the entirety of the 1st session and nearly the whole of the post-lunch session to take England to 346/2. Both players completed their 100s during their superb 268 run partnership. Kallis castled Thorpe on 124 with minutes left for tea. Ed Smith was dismissed for 16 and brought Alec Stewart to the crease, playing his final test. The Proteas provided England's loyal servant a guard of honour. He batted for an hour and a half to add 101 runs with Trescothick who completed a magnificent double hundred during the partnership's course. When Stewart's total test runs was on 8463, the man born on 8/4/63 fell leg before to Shaun Pollock. Trescothick followed him soon for a well made 219 and so did Giles. England finished the day at 502/7, 18 runs ahead with Flintoff at the crease.
Bicknell fell on the 3rd ball of day four with no addition to his overnight score of 2. England were in serious trouble of losing the series with just 18 runs ahead and 2 wickets in hand. Freddie had scored a breezy 142 in the Lord's test in a lost cause earlier in the series. He had also scored twin 50s in the previous test that ended in a loss. He was in great knick. Having ended day 3 at 10 off 32, he went medieval on a tiring South African attack. With Harmison playing Michael Holding to Freddie's Viv Richards, Flintoff carted the bowling all around the Oval scoring 79 off just 70 balls in the 1st session of day 4. He tried to pull a Viru at MCG (which was still 3 months away) and hit Paul Adams for successive 6s to bring up his 100 but was bowled off the 2nd ball. He was out for 95 off 104. Harmison's contribution to a stand of 99 was a lion's share of 3. Vaughan declared with England ahead by 120 runs.
With their tails up, England went at South Africa. Harmison played the enforcer and kept playing the proverbial chin music. Wickets kept falling at regular intervals as South Africa ended the penultimate day on 185/6, effectively 65/6. Harmison and Bicknell picking up 2 wickets each, Freddie & Jimmy sharing the remnants equally. A superb remontada by the English on top drawer batting strip.
The famed deep South African batting lineup (AJ Hall batted at number 9) managed to add just 44 runs in the first session of the final day with Harmison & Bicknell sharing the 4 remaining wickets equally. The duo had helped themselves to a 4fer each. England finished the innings after just 12.2 overs on the 5th day meaning they had eons to score the meagre 110 runs to square the series. Trescothick and Vaughan added 47 runs before lunch was taken. The skipper fell immediately after lunch but that the was South Africa's sole success in the session. Trescothick & Butcher knocked off the remaining 63 runs in just 10 overs and England ended the series on high despite the visitors keeping the trophy.
England had a very successful summer overall. They defeated Zimbabwe 2-0 in the 1st test series of the summer. They followed it by defeating Pakistan 2-1, after going down 0-1, in a 3 match ODI series. A tri-series between England, South Africa & Zimbabwe succeeded the Pakistan ODI series which England won comfortably, losing just 1 match in all and crushing South Africa in the final by dismissing them for just 107.
South Africa would rue their misfortune and their inability to win critical moments in the test series. They were comfortably placed to win the first test but a whole day was washed off. The home side hustled to victories in the 3rd and the 5th test which were well within the Proteas' grasp. They failed to chase 202 in the 3rd test and had England on the mat at 502/8. Even after letting Freddie run riot, all South Africa needed was a session and a half of good batting on a solid pitch but they failed to do so. Unacceptable from a team full of veterans like Pollock, Kirsten, Gibbs, Ntini, Boucher. With a bit of luck and calm, South Africa could have won the series 4-0 but had to wait 5 more years to win their first series in England since 1965 when Biff's 154* with a bad back and tennis elbow gave them an unassailable 2-0 lead with 1 to play.