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Any analysis of England's defeat in the third Test against South Africa by 196 runs on Thursday has to include questions about two star performers who have failed to deliver in this series, which now stands at 1-1 with two to play, writes Ted Corbett in Cape Town. Michael Vaughan, the England captain, has scored only 84 runs in the series and not exceeded 20, a poor return for a batsman with 3,861 Test runs.
Geoff Boycott, one of the greatest England and Yorkshire batsmen, has a simple explanation. "Footwork," he insisted as England were all out for 304 in their second innings and suffered their first defeat since December 2003, courtesy of the whirling spin of Muttiah Muralitharan in Colombo. "He's getting neither forward nor back, he's being caught on his crease. He's been doing it for some time. You can't afford to do that."
Duncan Fletcher has a high reputation as a one-to-one teacher - helping Alec Stewart cope with spin late in his career and developing a young Jacques Kallis at Western Province - but he has been the only England coach while Vaughan has been in the Test side. Fletcher can take some credit for Vaughan's three centuries in the last Ashes series in Australia but can he repair the damage now that the run flow has stopped?
England will be bringing out another coach, Mike Watkinson of Lancashire, for the fourth Test in a planned replacement of Troy Cooley, a bowling specialist. But Cooley is going home just as strike bowler Steve Harmison has gone cold. He had only one wicket in the third Test, following his 65 wickets last year, and only seven in the series at an average of 61.71. "He's got no rhythm," says former South African captain Kepler Wessels, now coach at Northampton. "Perhaps it is lack of match play."
Harmison has now slipped to fifth place in the world rankings while Kallis, the man of the match for the second Test in a row, now leads the batting ratings. One consolation for Harmison was that he hit 42 on Thursday, only the seventh number 11 to top-score in a Test, and with Matthew Hoggard put on 50 for the last wicket as England succumbed.
The only good news for the tourists was that Andrew Flintoff will play in the fourth Test in Johannesburg next Thursday. A scan showed he had a damaged minor oblique muscle in his side, but not an intercostal muscle which might have ended his tour. Mark Butcher's damaged wrist is not improving, however, and he is almost certain to miss the Johannesburg match.
* Headingley, long the home of rugby league legends, will host its first union one next season following the signing of All Black scrum-half Justin Marshall by Leeds Tykes, writes Huw Richards. The two-year deal will end a remarkable Test career. Marshall, 31, is the most-capped New Zealand back with 77 caps and the country's highest scoring scrum-half with 24 tries. If selected, his Test career will end with the British Lions series this summer.
Marshall will hope his Leeds experience is pleasanter than his previous trip to northern England - the 1997 Old Trafford Test against England, one of seven as All Black captain, during which he was struck on the jaw from behind by former England skipper Martin Johnson. The Tykes have secured a charismatic crowd-puller who also offers leadership and supreme skill in a crucial position. The club's problem is that they could do with him now, having dropped into the relegation battle after five consecutive Premiership defeats. While the possibility of relegation has not been discussed with Marshall, its financial and playing implications would probably lead both player and club to seek a review.
* Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has opened his sizeable wallet again to secure the services of Czech midfielder Jiri Jarosik for a fee of £5.5m from CSKA Moscow. Jarosik has signed a two-and-a-half year contract and goes straight into the squad for the FA Cup third-round tie against League Two side Scunthorpe on Saturday. He will not be able to take part in the Champions League, however, having already played in the competition for CSKA. Other Chelsea fringe midfielders such as Joe Cole and Scott Parker will now be wondering even more where they stand in the Stamford Bridge pecking order.
Blackburn Rovers have further increased their contingent of national captains by signing Ryan Nelsen, the New Zealand skipper and defender, from US club DC United on a free transfer. This follows Rovers' capture of South Africa captain Aaron Mokoena four days ago.
Meanwhile, Peter Reid has left Coventry City by mutual consent after four straight defeats left them 20th in the Championship. His former assistant manager Adrian Heath will take charge for Saturday's FA Cup tie against Crewe. The former Manchester City, Sunderland and Leeds boss won 10 of his 31 games in charge at Coventry, losing 13 and drawing eight.
* Yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur has established a lead of three days, 17 hours and 23 minutes as she attempts to break the record for sailing single- handedly round the world. This is despite badly burning an arm while changing a generator on her trimaran. MacArthur, 28, was on Thursday halfway between New Zealand and Cape Horn on day 40 of her attempt to beat the record held by Frenchman Francis Joyon of 72 days, 22 hours, 54 minutes and 22 seconds for the 27,000 mile trip.