South Africa Take Series 4-1

South Africa duly won the final game of the series by three wickets to finish 4-1 winners. England’s total of 240 was almost entirely due to a quite extraordinary innings of 116 from Kevin Pietersen, who rescued his side when they had looked in danger of folding for less than 100. In reply, South Africa regularly lost wickets to keep England in the hunt, but an unbeaten 62 from Ashwell Prince saw them home with an over to spare. Once again, the eventual margin of victory was narrow. Once again, in all honesty, South Africa were much the better side.

It would be nice to be able write that the start of England’s innings was a principled stand against meaningless ODI’s at the end of a ludicrously extended tournament. In truth, it just bore all the hallmarks of a side in a hurry to go home. Trescothick, again fading badly overseas, swatted the second ball of the innings to Gibbs at cover without scoring: an embarrassingly half-hearted effort even by his recent standards. Vaughan didn’t fare much longer, having his wicket demolished by Ntini’s first delivery with only a single to his name. Strauss and Jones effected a mini-revival, but, after adding 30, both perished to edged pull shots. First Strauss under-edged Nel to Boucher to complete a wretched series, and then Jones top-edged the same bowler to give Kemp a simple catch at fine leg. Shortly afterwards Solanki aimed a limp sweep at Boje to give Smith catching practice and, when Collingwood gave the same fielder the chance to throw down his wicket with a daft piece of running, England had subsided to 68 for 6.

At this point, a lunchtime finish was a distinct possibility. Where there is Pietersen there is hope, but it was going to take something spectacular to even make a game of this one. In fact, what followed was not only spectacular but also as intelligent and impressive an innings as you could wish to see. At first, he and Giles were intent on survival. They didn’t take the total past 100 until the 35th over, but thereafter they began to accelerate. Giles started things moving with a couple of boundaries from one Pollock over, and that was the cue for Pietersen to cut lose, once again courtesy of Boje in particular. The pair added 104 before Ntini returned to york Giles for 41, but that was not the end of the fun. Ably supported by Kabir Ali, England’s new hero went quietly berserk and raced to his third hundred of the series with a flurry of extravagant boundaries. 82 runs came from the last 37 balls that he faced and this time even the locals were impressed, greeting his eventual departure for 116 with a standing ovation. To be frank, you would have to have been brain dead not to be impressed with what, to this observer, was one of the most stupendous one day innings ever played for England. A further flurry from Ali took England to 240, approximately 140 more than had looked likely at one stage.

On another day, it would have looked a competitive total. However, with Gough missing through illness, seasoned England watchers were struggling to remember them fielding a weaker attack. Surely SA would coast home with time to spare. Gough had been replaced by Harmison, who actually started rather batter than last time out and produced some of his best bowling of the tour. However, he and Wharf posed little real threat, and it came as a surprise when Hall (Smith’s fourth opening partner in the series) fell to Wharf for 23, courtesy of a fine catch by Harmison at fine leg. Still, 46 for 1 was hardly a crisis, and by the time Smith and Kallis had take the score to 106, SA looked to be in complete control. Not for the first time in the series, they contrived to make things interesting. Smith astounded everyone by chipping Giles to Solanki mid-on and Harmison returned to trap Gibbs leg before without scoring. Prince and Kallis seemed to have shut the door on England, but the latter gave them a glimpse of hope by launching Vaughan’s first delivery to Trescothick at long on.

At 148 for 4, SA’s innings had slowed down alarmingly, but it was only ever going to take one of their middle order big hitters to put them back on course. This time, it was Boucher’s turn, and his nerveless 44 from 40 balls all but did it as he and Prince took the hosts within 23 runs of victory. There was still time for a scare or three, as the keeper was needlessly run out, and first Kemp and then Pollock unsuccessfully tried to take the aerial route home. But Prince was still there, batting intelligently and increasingly fluently, and justice was done when he dispatched the final ball of the 49th over to seal the win.

England 240
Pietersen 116, Giles 41

South Africa 241 for 7
Prince 62*, Smith 47, Boucher 44

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