Andrew Flintoff almost single-handedly kept England’s hopes alive at Edgbaston with an evening burst to bring back memories of his golden days. During a gloomy final session the tension levels rose and the crowd got behind the home side. Flintoff removed Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers having earlier claimed his 200th Test wicket by shifting top-scorer Neil McKenzie for 72. South Africa’s lead is 25, but this match is now wide open.
The highlight of the day – reduced to 65 overs by rain and bad light – came in the shortened last session with a duel between Flintoff and Kallis that provided some of most compelling viewing of recent times. Flintoff was at his most fired-up, knowing that England’s series prospects probably rested on how many wickets they could claim before the close. He revived memories of the Donald-Atherton confrontation, at Trent Bridge in 1998, as he rattled Kallis with pace and swing. He should have had him lbw on 55 when a yorker arrowed into his boot in front of middle, but Aleem Dar turned down Flintoff’s pleading to his dismay.
Flintoff had barely calmed down when his next over came around and this time he had his man, a searing yorker going under Kallis’ bat and uprooting off stump. From set-up to execution it was a row of deliveries to match the magical over he sent down to Ricky Ponting in 2005, and for the first time in the match Edgbaston found its voice.
AB de Villiers was given a tough examination – and appeared to get an edge off James Anderson on 1 but no-one appealed – and soon fell into Flintoff’s bouncer trap as he hooked down to Ryan Sidebottom at long-leg. Feelings between the teams began to boil over again with Prince and Mark Boucher clearly unhappy about the viewing from Flintoff’s end, but the England players quickly told them to get back to batting. The pair survived until the light closed in, but England will come hard again in the morning with the new ball four overs away.
The transformation from the England side that wallowed through the first session to the one that energised the closing stages was stark, but it remains to be seen whether they have already given themselves too much ground to make up. Given their current fragility with the bat a lead into three figures will put South Africa well on the way to claiming the series with a match to spare.
England were presented with ideal bowling conditions, but spurned the opportunity during a lackadaisical morning when South Africa only lost the wicket of nightwatchman Paul Harris. Even that was after a stand of 77 with Neil McKenzie, who continued as he has throughout the series, judging what to play and what to leave, drawing the bowlers to attack the stumps and then clipping them through the leg side. For a moment McKenzie feared his innings had ended on 29 when he edged Flintoff low to Andrew Strauss at first slip, but not for the first time in this series there was doubt over the carry. Strauss thought he’d caught it but didn’t look entirely convinced, McKenzie remained and Flintoff stayed on 199 wickets.
McKenzie’s hard work was rewarded when he brought up his fifty off 100 balls shortly before lunch. After the break he received a life on 57 when Collingwood’s miserable match continued with a spurned chance at second slip off Flintoff. However, Anderson gave England a much-needed boost with a brilliant piece of athleticism, sprinting from his follow through to hold Amla’s inside edge that ballooned into the off side. Anderson once again performed manfully for Michael Vaughan, moving the ball late at pace to trouble all the batsmen and could easily have had another wicket.
Anderson’s pumped celebrations were soon followed by Flintoff’s as he trapped McKenzie plumb in front, being the 12th Englishman to reach 200 Test wickets. Another wicket and England were back in contention, but it was only going to be a matter of time before Kallis made a contribution. It wasn’t without fortune, though, as he was twice troubled by yorkers, edging one past second slip and another within inches of his stumps.
Slowly the fluency returned as he picked off consecutive boundaries from Collingwood, although a thick inside edge did rocket into Tim Ambrose’s leg as he was stood up to the stumps. Vaughan eventually turned to Monty Panesar in the 52nd over, but he began poorly with a couple of short balls which were easily put away by Kallis. The half-century came off 93 balls in the first over after an hour’s delay as South Africa approached a lead. England needed something special to stop the series drifting away and Flintoff provided. He has given his country a lifeline, are they good enough to take it?
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Sandesh Kumar Jaggi