England in South Africa 2004–05

With the absence of cricket during the lockdown, I have delved into the archives and

reviewed the thrilling Basil D'Oliveira Trophy match-up between South Africa and England

in 2004/05.

The story of the England cricket team in the noughties is dominated by two series. Victory in

the 2005 Ashes ended years of defeat at the hands of the Australians and showed English

cricket at it's exhilarating best. The subsequent tour down under, eighteen months later,

concluded with a humiliating defeat. A 5-0 whitewash was an emphatic riposte from a

legendary Australian team seeking retribution. Careers were ended and reputations tarnished. 

But that English team, many of whom had become household names, deserve to have their

achievements away from the Ashes arena celebrated. I will be exploring another great rivalry

in English cricket. The Basil D'Oliveira Trophy against South Africa, specifically, the seismic

clash between the two teams in 2004/05. This series is a modern classic. It was a collision

between two teams full of legendary players and emerging stars. 

England arrived full of confidence and desperate to gain their first victory in South Africa

since their re-admission in 1992. England had crushed both the West Indies and New Zealand in their summer and had won 10 of their last 11 Test matches. Perhaps more significantly, captain Michael Vaughan had cultivated a team with a positive style of play. Aggressive batting and hostile bowling was the hallmark of Vaughan's team, a departure from the attritional style of play under previous captain Hussain. 

They were to face a South African side in a state of flux. Despite an unbeaten home record

stretching back to 2002, retirements and inconsistent form had proved a challenge for young

captain Graeme Smith. He was desperate for his young, emerging team to taste victory after

recent defeats on tour in India and Sri Lanka. 

1st Test, 17-21 December 2004, St George's Park, Port Elizabeth. England win by 7 wickets

The stately ground of St George's Park was the scene of the first test of the series. An

England XI had suffered a surprise defeat the week before to a youthful South Africa A side

but named a familiar line-up that had been previously so successful. Graeme Smith

announced two exciting debutants, opener AB de Villiers and young pace bowler Dale


After electing to bat, South Africa immediately lost Smith to the swing of Hoggard after only

two balls. England were ecstatic, as Smith had been their nemesis during the last meeting in

2003. Despite this early setback, a combination of Jacques Rudolph's 93 and Boeta

Dippenar's gritty century resisted England's menacing pace quartet to reach a score of 337.

England's reply began impressively. Strauss and Trescothick reached 152 during an opening

partnership full of characteristic cut shots and cover drives. They ended day two on 227-1,

with high hopes of a big first-innings lead. Day Three saw South Africa fight back admirably.

Strauss scored a fluent 126 before falling to Pollock, and Mark Butcher's stubborn 79

marshalled a faltering batting line-up to 425, a lead of 88. England had been aided by South

Africa bowling 35 no-balls, as they strived to break back into the game. 

The lead of 88 was to prove crucial. South Africa crumbled to 239 all out in just 69 overs.

Simon Jones proved too hot to handle with four wickets, including that of Jacques Kallis,

when he and Smith were building South Africa’s lead. The much-maligned left-arm spin of

Ashley Giles proved crucial too, taking two wickets and allowing Vaughan to keep his pace

bowlers fresh. A target of 142 would not be straight forward against a wounded Proteas

bowling line-up, and English nerves were jangling when Steyn obliterated Vaughan's off

stump to leave England 50-3. However, the irresistible Strauss guided his team home with a

magnificent 94 early on Day Five. Despite debuting just six months earlier, Strauss cut and

pulled the South African fast bowlers with the authority of a veteran. 

The seven-wicket win was hugely satisfying, their eighth in a row. The bowling had proved

effective and the batting showed their metal against a sustained assault, led by Pollock and

Ntini. They had appeared sharper in the field too, matching South Africa's aggressive out-

fielding, most notably with Graham Thorpe orchestrating a superb run out of Andrew Hall in

the second innings. England needed to keep up the pressure on South Africa, as the two teams travelled to Durban for the second Test, beginning on Boxing day.

2nd Test, 26-30 December 2004, Kingsmead, Durban. Match drawn

The Proteas response was emphatic. On a pitch promising seam movement, Ntini and Steyn

removed Trescothick and Butcher in the first hour. England crumbled once Strauss lamely

chipped spinner Nicky Boje to mid-on, and eventually folded for 139 in just 57 overs. The

hard work of the first test was at risk of being squandered. England's bowlers fought back manfully, led by Stephen Harmison, who became the highest wicket-taker for England in a calendar year after dismissing Rudolph. When AB de Villiers, now batting at seven, was

dismissed early on day two, the innings teetered precariously at 118-6. 

Jacques Kallis was to wrestle the initiative firmly back in South Africa's favour. He found

support from the lower order and made an imperious 162 to take them to 332. England had

spent over 100 overs in the scorching heat, and now faced a deficit of nearly 200. Strauss and

Trescothick, becoming as a formidable opening pair, dragged England out of trouble and

silenced the boisterous home crowd. Pollock, so effective in the first innings with four

wickets, was rendered impotent. After negotiating a tricky last hour on day two, England lost

only one wicket during day three, with both openers scoring impressive centuries. This

fighting spirit with the bat had occasionally been called into question by critics, but a brilliant

team effort boosted the score to 570-7 declared. Graham Thorpe ground out another ton to

show his value in the middle order once again. 

South Africa, firmly on the front foot on day two, now found themselves set a daunting target

of 378, but more realistically, needing to bat for over 90 overs to escape with a draw. When

Harmison dismissed Kallis for just 10, England sniffed victory. However, a combination of

Rudolph, de Villiers and Pollock defied England. With the pressure building to unbearable

levels, Pollock was run out to leave the score at 290-8, with 15 overs remaining. Surely

England would now secure a dramatic win. But a ninth victory in a row was denied when the

umpires offered de Villiers and Ntini a stoppage due to bad light. The two batsmen gleefully

accepted, and Vaughan was left ashen faced as he questioned the umpire's decision. Had a huge opportunity to pull away in the series been lost?

3rd Test, 2-6 January 2005, Newlands, Cape Town. South Africa win by 196 runs.

The answer was yes. A jubilant Newlands celebrated yet another Kallis century, as the

Proteas racked up 441, their highest score in the series, after winning the toss. For the first

time, England's bowlers looked ineffective, as they were ground down by Kallis's obdurate

defence and clinical stroke play. Graeme Smith too found some form with a fortuitous 76.

England were once again indebted to the tireless work of Flintoff. Delivering 31 overs in the

sapping Cape Town heat, he, alongside Giles exerted some pressure and limited the damage on a batsman-friendly pitch. Newlands ground is often a fortress to the Proteas and buoyed by vociferous support, they crushed an England batting line-up once again showing signs of instability. Strauss stood tall with 45 while others crumbled around him, including Rob Key, a replacement for the struggling Butcher, falling for a five-ball duck. A fired-up Ntini and the medium pace of Charl Langeveldt, replacing the erratic Steyn, wreaked havoc on England and secured a huge lead.

Choosing not to enforce the follow-on, South Africa reached 222-8 before declaring.

England's bowlers had fought hard, now it was down to the batsman. The near-

insurmountable target of 501 proved too much. Pollock and spinner Boje this time took the

wickets, and England fell for 304 after some last-wicket slogging by Harmison. England had

been comprehensively outplayed from the first ball to the last, and South Africa had regained their confidence and swagger. Could England fightback in the crucial fourth Test at


4th Test, 13-17 January 2005, Wanderers, Johannesburg. England win by 77 runs. 

Matthew Hoggard is often the forgotten man of England's celebrated pace quartet during themid-2000s. The steepling bounce of Harmison, the aggression of Flintoff and reverse swing of Jones are rightly lauded as the key to England’s impressive results in this period. But at Johannesburg, with the series on the line, the tireless swing bowling of Hoggard was to have the final word.

Vaughan finally won a toss and elected to bat on a Wanderers pitch offering its usual pace

and bounce. Once again, Strauss was magnificent, registering his third century of the series

with 147. Rob Key struck a classy 83, and Vaughan impressed with an unbeaten 82.

England's progress was disrupted by rain interruptions on day two, alongside an unrelenting performance from Ntini, who blitzed England's middle order to gain four wickets. 

Vaughan took the positive option on the third morning and declared on 411-8. Two of South

Africa's most experienced players would bring the scores level. Herschelle Gibbs, so far

unable to score consistently in the series, hit a powerful 161 full of his trademark cover

drives. Wicketkeeper Mark Boucher supported Gibbs with 64. England were resting the

injured Jones, and his replacement, James Anderson struggled in the face of Gibbs’ assault.

Extra pressure was heaped on the bowlers, when Harmison left the field, struggling with an

injury. Anderson ended with two wickets, and the consistent Hoggard took five wickets in 34

spirited overs as South Africa dragged themselves to 419, thanks to some lower-order


England teams of the past may have batted for a draw, but once again Vaughan's men took the aggressive option. The game was halfway through day four, balancing on a knife-edge. A bad session for either team could have cost them the match. Trescothick targeted South Africa's spearhead, Pollock, as he and Vaughan scored at 5 runs an over for much of their124-run partnership and had wrestled back the initiative. Earlier, Strauss had been caught behind for zero, a rare failure in a stellar series, and Key followed for 19, both dismissed by Ntini. With the game moving England's way, Pollock, and a tireless Kallis with the ball in hand triggered a collapse of three wickets for eleven runs. Vaughan fell for 54, Thorpe for a single, and Flintoff, unable to make an impression with the bat, left England on 197-5 with one day remaining. Could they set a defendable total?

Despite the pressure of the situation, and a pitch starting to show signs of uneven bounce,

Trescothick pressed on with his masterpiece. The ball flew to the boundary in all directions.

Smith had lost control, and England's constant attacking stroke play unsettled South Africa's

experienced bowlers. Trescothick finally fell for 180, with the score on 332-9. Vaughan

promptly declared, leaving a difficult but tantalising target of 325 in 68 overs.

Smith had picked up a small injury whilst fielding and could bat no higher than number seven due to ICC regulations. De Villiers, once again shunted to the top of the order, fell to

Hoggard for just 3 and was followed by Rudolph for 2, and to England's jubilation, Kallis for a golden duck, edging to first slip. Hoggard, charging in, shaggy hair flowing, was carving

through one of the world's best top orders. The score had crept over 100 when Boje was

caught and bowled by Hoggard, the sixth wicket to fall. England smelt blood, and victory. An embattled Smith joined Gibbs in the middle, so far, the only confident batsman at the crease. 

Despite the prevalence of pace during the series, Giles, bowling a consistent line, span the

ball into the pads of Gibbs, on 98, to gain the vital wicket. Smith battled on, his innings

lasting over two hours. He could only watch as first Flintoff, then, fittingly, Hoggard,

removed the final three wickets of the innings to spark joyous celebrations. The last wicket

was taken with just 8 overs remaining. England had their series lead back. Hoggard, with

second-innings figures of 7-61, took the applause from the English fans. Both teams left the

field, covered in dirt, and sweat, having participated in one of the 21 st centuries great matches.

5th Test, 21-25 January 2005, SuperSport Park, Centurion. Match Drawn

The first day of the final Test was lost due to persistent rain, meaning urgency was required

of South Africa if they were to draw the series. Vaughan won the toss and elected to bowl.

That appeared to be a mistake, as South Africa progressed to 114-1, with England's bowlers

not quite at their brilliant best. Harmison was particularly unlucky, with two catches going

down off of his bowling. Hoggard's dismissal of Rudolph turned the match, and a returning

Jones and menacing Flintoff wrapped the innings up for 247. The battle between the two

great all-rounders, Kallis and Flintoff, was Test match cricket at its best, with Flintoff

splattering Kallis' stumps with a searing yorker. This was a good response from England, as

de Villiers had made 92, falling just short of a first Test match hundred on his home ground.

South Africa's collapse had made their challenge all the more difficult.

England replied with a hard-fought innings of 359 in 123 overs. They knew that establishing

a lead and taking time out of the game was critical. Thorpe's 86 and wicketkeeper GeraintJones’ quick-fire 50 were the highlights. England had at one point been 29-3, with the dangerous Andre Nel picking up six wickets. Selected ahead of Steyn. Nel, who was never short of a sledge or two, ensured the series was heated and competitive to the last ball. He raised eyebrows when he barged into Giles, after bowling him. However, the skill and ability from both sides was the overriding memory of the series, and not of bad behaviour from the players.

England had a lead of over a hundred, but the game was not safe. South Africa would need to bat with urgency. Bad light and heavy rain had interrupted the match on several occasions. Beginning after tea on day four, England kept South Africa's second innings run rate in check. On day five, both de Villiers and Kallis completed centuries. Declaring on 296-6, it appeared they had not batted with enough urgency to have the time to bowl out England. Wobbling once again on 20-3, Vaughan and Thorpe dug in to ensure there would be no more twists in this dramatic series. 12.4 overs remained when Thorpe edged Ntini to third slip, but England held on, four wickets down for the draw, and a memorable series win. 

It had been a superb series. An arm wrestle that went to the final hour of the final test. The

balance between bat and ball was perfect. The star men for England were Strauss,

Trescothick and the bowlers, who worked tirelessly to give their team an advantage. As had

Pollock, Ntini and company for South Africa, though they relied too much on Kallis for vital

runs. These two nations had once again produced hard-fought, close matches, and the return series in England in 2008 was also to be a classic. As Michael Vaughan was presented with

the series trophy, his focus turned to that era-defining summer of 2005. But without this win

in South Africa, that great achievement would not have been possible.


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