| England’s Martin Bicknell celebrates the dismissal of Graeme Smith with teammate Ed Smith (left) at The Oval on Sunday. (Reuters)
London: Andrew Flintoff and Steve Harmison combined to leave England in sight of a series-salvaging win against South Africa in the fifth and final Test on Sunday.
Play had begun nicely poised at The Oval but Flintoff’s heavy bat and Harmison’s pace and steepling bounce left England in sight of victory at the end of a dramatic fourth day.
South Africa, 2-1 up and seeking their first series win in England since 1965, ended on 185 for six in their second innings, 65 ahead, with Mark Boucher and Shaun Pollock at the crease.
Michael Vaughan’s side, however, will be well aware of their opponents’ resilient batting.
The home team had resumed their first innings on 502 for seven, 18 runs ahead, and lost a wicket to Pollock’s third delivery of the day.
Flintoff, however, conjured up perhaps the most important, and certainly most intelligent, innings of his career, hammering 95 runs and putting on 99 for the ninth wicket to take his side to an improbable 604 for nine declared, 120 ahead.
His partner Harmison, contributed three to their stand before Flintoff attempted a second six off Paul Adams’ wrist spin and lost his leg bail after a 104-ball stay.
Flintoff hit 27 off 11 balls on the way to his 50 before falling just short of a third Test century.
His innings, taking his series average past 50 and hugely appreciated by a sell-out crowd, transformed England’s mood.
They had moped about on the way to defeat in the fourth Test but this time there was a spring in the step as South Africa batted again.
Soon Herschelle Gibbs chased a wide James Anderson half-volley and edged behind with 24 on the board and skipper Graeme Smith — 714 runs in the series, average 79.33 — soon followed.
Lucky to escape an early leg-before shout and a millimetre away from stepping into his own stumps as he played back to Anderson, he was trapped in front for 19 by a Martin Bicknell inswinger.
Harmison then made his second major contribution as he took two wickets in four balls without conceding a run.
Gary Kirsten, the innings anchor, snicked him to first slip for 29 and Kallis went leg-before for 35 as he was trapped on the back foot to make it 93 for four.
Harmison, in his best spell of the series, managed at last to find a perfect length that forced his opponents to jump back or play forward fearing for their front teeth. The left-handed Jacques Rudolph followed shortly after tea, completing his wretched series by leaving a Bicknell inswinger that clipped the top of his off stump. Neil McKenzie was last to go, television replays suggesting he had got an inside edge to Flintoff’s delivery. (Reuters)