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Flintoff rattles South African middle order

By Ted Corbett

CENTURION, JAN. 22. On a pitch as green as seasickness England's attack was listless — worn out by its heroic efforts to win the fourth Test — until Andrew Flintoff tore the South African middle order to pieces just after tea on the first day`s play in the fifth Test.

When bad light, the threat of a lightning strike and the promise of prolonged rain stopped play for the day South Africa was 247 for nine from the solid position of 200 for four 16 overs earlier. It was a fine performance from the England pacemen, particularly Flintoff and Simon Jones, back after injury.

By that close the pitch was low and slow; and the scoring the same. Graeme Smith, the captain, batted even though he had failed four of ten Tests to see if his concussion had cleared; and gave his wicket away as he has accused his own middle order batsmen of doing, AB de Villiers was out eight runs short of a first of what will probably be a large number of Test hundreds as an opener.

Vaughan opts to bowl

Two hours before the start the ground which had been soaked by relentless drizzle on what should have been the first day was so dry that mopping up had finished. Michael Vaughan won the toss and, smirking broadly, invited South Africa to bat. I dare say they would have declined if there was a formula for doing so. From that point forward — nothing. Not a rearing ball, only measurable amounts of swing and from England all the signs that its engine was running on empty.

You might think, since the series can still be drawn, that this was not the last match in a dead rubber and therefore exempt from the usual dire warnings but England feels it made its point in the fourth Test by showing it has enough strength in reserve to defeat a tough team. From all sides come rumours of South African rifts, rows and dressing room dissenters because Smith criticised his middle order batsmen after their collapse a week ago while he played courageously. If the Proteas fail to win this Test their trip to West Indies will be perilous.

The South Africans began slowly, Herschelle Gibbs should have been caught in the slips off Steve Harmison before he was out in the ninth over and De Villiers was put down twice by Andrew Strauss. If Harmison had secured Gibbs' wicket — he had his arm raised in triumph when Marcus Trescothick dropped the catch — he might have returned to his best but he lost his rhythm soon afterwards and it was the mighty Flintoff who claimed Gibbs' wicket caught behind and Hoggard who persuaded Jacques Rudolph to sky the ball to square leg at 114.

Age, his big plus

De Villiers went quietly about making his highest Test score but at 92 he was trapped lbw by Ashley Giles who might have expected to be dawdling at gully rather than bowling. The most interesting statistic about De Villiers is his age; at 20 he can only improve and there is plenty of promise already. By tea South Africa was in charge with 197 for four and England, having bowled only 57 overs in four and a half hours was trying to slow down the rate.

Smith was out, flashing at a ball from round the wicket and wide of his off stump, to give Flintoff his third wicket and to show that he was proof of his own complaint — that South Africa's middle order did not hang in long enough. Shaun Pollock dragged the ball on to his stumps two balls later, leaving Flintoff with four for 34 and England on top.

As thunder and lightning began to roll round the hills, Flintoff almost had Andre Nel's stumps down three times in an over, Jones had Hall caught off a no-ball and play ended for the day.

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