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England looks confident

By Ted Corbett

CENTURION, JAN. 20. Michael Vaughan, the England captain, starts the fifth Test against South Africa on Friday fourth in the list of most successful captains judged on a percentage basis. Brian Close, another Yorkshire skipper, tops the list although he reigned only seven matches; Arthur Shrewsbury, another professional, is third, and C.B. Fry, the multi-talented amateur who also ran in the Olympic Games fourth.

If, however, you were to set a level of ten matches Vaughan would go to the top of the list. He is, in my judgement, as good a captain as England has ever had, although he had the good fortune to inherit a side on the ascent from Nasser Hussain and a coach in Duncan

Fletcher who had had time to find his feet; even if he has never been able to persuade Marcus Trescothick to use his feet. Sadly neither Vaughan nor Fletcher understand the value of a good public image.

Graeme Smith, the South African captain, and a blissfully talkative player described himself as a "go for broke" sort of leader today and tomorrow he will have to prove that if he is to level the series 2-2 as England did at the Oval in 2003. I thought it was a good occasion to ask Vaughan to give a self-assessment but the best he could come up with was to murmur "I'll leave that to you."

After 23 Tests in charge he has a percentage of 65.22 from 15 wins, four draws and four defeats and if he wins the fifth Test he will have a percentage of 66.66, still a tiny fraction behind Fry at 66.67.

Vaughan will also need a miracle at the home of rain. It began to pour down as soon as we arrived at the ground which lies in a bowl, among hills that seem incomplete without dark clouds even in a year when South Africa faces a heavy drought, bush fires and burnt crops.

Contrived win

The weather forecast is appalling; rain, rain and more rain. But we had that same scenario the last time England was here but contrived to find a victory. Oh, I forgot, it was Hansie Cronje who contrived the result with the backing of a bookmaker and a declaration which fooled even those taking part in the game.

Injury problems

Meanwhile, both sides are so confused by their own injury problems that they will hold meetings all day until they come up with compromises. South Africa has called in Andre Nel, its strong and aggressive fast bowler who has had a back injury but taken 14 wicket in three innings since his recovery and may well be the fresh pair of legs South Africa needs.

England has brought in Jon Lewis, a tall and rangy fast bowler but it is likely they will simply replace James Anderson with Simon Jones who had back spasms at the start of the fourth Test.

England will not mess with its batting line-up but South Africa wants to bring back the vocally assertive Andrew Hall and Boeta Dippenaar, a century maker in the first Test, is the probable sacrifice.

It should not matter to England if it loses the final Test although Vaughan promises he will go into the match looking for a victory. England proved its point with the superb win in Johannesburg, one of the finest in its history. Whatever Vaughan said at his post match press conference, there were only two results at the start of the fifth day — a South Africa win and a draw. A 180 by Trescothick which proved that moving your feet is not absolutely necessary set the scene and Matthew Hoggard's great swing bowling did the rest.

Hoggard has spent the last few days revealing every aspect of his life to a media gang who cannot get enough of it. He wanted to be a vet, loves taking his two dogs for a walk on the moors and does not mind how much he bowls because he is living his childhood dream of playing for England.

The teams: South Africa (from): Graeme Smith (captain), Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Rudolph, Jacques Kallis, Boeta Dippenaar, AB de Villiers, Andrew Hall, Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock, Nicky Boje, Makhaya Ntini, Andre Nel.

England: Michael Vaughan (captain), Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Robert Key, Graham Thorpe, Andrew Flintoff, Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles, Matthew Hoggard, Simon Jones, James Anderson, Steve Harmison, Jon Lewis.

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