Third Test (second day) at Edgbaston: England 231 (A N Cook 76, I R Bell 50) v South Africa 256-6 (N D McKenzie 72, J H Kallis 64, A Flintoff 4-68)
Few personal battles rival the famous one between Allan Donald and Michael Atherton at Trent Bridge in 1998. That stemmed from an umpiring error and, after 45 minutes of riveting naked aggression, was won by the batsman.
In the drama-filled final hour of an otherwise poor day for England, Andrew Flintoff also suffered from an umpiring howler which provoked an open show of dissent at Aleem Dar’s lbw decision in favour of Jacques Kallis but his indignation next over produced a magnificent yorker to reduce Kallis’ three stumps to two.
Whether or not Flintoff’s verbals land him in trouble with the match referee, the celebrations of his 201st Test wicket provided the perfect climax to a single-handed performance of red-blooded fast bowling that stirred the crowd to near-hysteria.
He alone has kept England in a match they can still contest if they limit South Africa’s present lead of 25 to no more than 60 or 70.
But for the all-rounder’s monumental effort, South Africa would have a vice-like grip on the match but, as Ian Botham proved in 1981 against Australia, once or twice in a lifetime a great cricketer takes centre stage and shows that an hour of Test cricket can offer more than the crash-bang-wallop stuff of the limited-overs format.
Rain and bad light limited the day to 65 overs, and for most of them South Africa profited from some wayward bowling, with the first 11 overs from the home pace trio offering 25 balls out of 66 that could be left, and 19 leg byes were conceded, mostly off nightwatchman Paul Harris’s pads from deliveries slanted across his leg stump.
He hung about for 17 precious overs before Ryan Sidebottom found the edge and Alastair Cook took a neat slip catch just before lunch. Neil McKenzie rarely misses a loose ball, and his 72 apparently laid the foundations for a big lead. He lost Hashim Amla to a brilliant one-handed caught and bowled by James Anderson diving to his left to take a bat-pad deflection that, unusually, popped up off side and not to leg.
Whatever the state of Paul Collingwood’s batting and now bowling – two overs for 12 – it shouldn’t affect the world class quality of his fielding, but he dropped McKenzie on 60 in the slips, and his second innings in this match offers him a rapidly closing escape hatch from the chop.
The afternoon session brought an improvement from the pacemen who Michael Vaughan felt he had to permutate for 51 overs before Monty Panesar was given his first bowl.
He came on after Flintoff started his march to glory with his 200th Test wicket when he had McKenzie plumb lbw to a full-length ball bowled from the Pavilion end.
There was a sightscreen problem that must be remedied for the remainder of the match because yorkers were released from over the top of the too-low screen and appeared out of a window.
This led to much chuntering in the final half-hour when Mark Boucher and Ashwell Prince exchanged pleasantries with Anderson and one or two others but, as Kallis said later when asked if his bowlers would try to exploit the low screen: “I just hope an extra sheet is put up. We don’t want yorkers bowled for the rest of the match.”
Kallis had eased his way ominously to 50 – the 78th time he has reached that mark, with 30 of them converted to hundreds – and England were looking down both barrels when play resumed with the score 205 for four, and his partnership with Prince worth 70.
It was then that Flintoff thundered in and, with his pace and rhythm in perfect synch, he immediately made both batsmen hop about. Dar lit his blue touch paper with that decision, before Flintoff’s fireworks did for Kallis and he soon followed up with the important wicket of AB de Villiers who he bounced out.
The massive contribution made by the Lancashire man is shown by his bowling figures of 24-7-64-3, compared with the combined analysis of the others - 41-9-154-3.
As with Botham in his pomp, he bestrode the game on day two magnificently, and the fortunate crowd will never forget that final hour