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Just five days after defeating South Africa by seven wickets, England were bowled out for 139 in the second Test which began on Sunday in Durban in conditions as different as it is possible only a hour's flight to the north. Afterwards the two sides could not agree about the degree of difficulty in the pitch which caused England to be shot out for their lowest total since Lord's 2000 against West Indies when they made 134.
Duncan Fletcher, the England coach, called the pitch difficult and used as evidence the batting of Andrew Strauss who made scores of 126 and 94 not out at Port Elizabeth and who needed 26 balls in 10 overs to get off the mark on Sunday. "It was difficult for batting," he said.
Shaun Pollock, the experienced South African vice-captain, who took four wickets for 32 as England collapsed in 57.1 overs, put his side's success down to lessons learnt from the first Test and a "good aggressive bowling performance". He added: "There was little sideways movement and only a little variable height. We were very pleased to have bowled them out for that total I can tell you."
He felt the pitch would be harder as the match went on but that there would be more variation in the bounce, which could help England who need to win this game to set a record of 12 wins in a year. No England side since Tests began in 1877 have gone through a year unbeaten; this side have 11 wins and a draw. Naturally that leads to the question of bad luck in their 13th Test and England began the game with Michael Vaughan, their captain, losing the toss when he had already decided he would put South Africa in if he won.
It was clear England were worried about the conditions. Marcus Trescothick made a forceful start with 18 out of the first 21 runs before he was caught behind by wicket keeper AB deVilliers who replaced Thami Tsolekile. I understand that Smith had to put a strong case to get 21-year-old Dale Steyn into the team rather than the 30-year-old swing bowler Charl Langeveldt but his pressure paid off when Steyn bowled Mark Butcher who again finds himself struggling to keep his place.
Only Vaughan, who gave a polished performance for almost 90 minutes, looked able to cope with Pollock who plays his provincial cricket at this ground and whose every wicket was hailed by the 15,000 crowd. He got out Graham Thorpe just after lunch and the dangerous Andrew Flintoff in his next over.
Geraint Jones lived dangerously after Vaughan had fallen lbw to Makhaya Ntini and Ashley Giles took blows to the helmet, the armguard and the heart in a brave attempt to give England a respectable score. England will not know until this morning if he is fit to bowl. But when Pollock bowled Simon Jones, who hit heartily for 21 with two fours and a six and Steve Harmison two balls later England deserved the comments of coach Fletcher that they had to learn to think quickly out in the middle and that their judgment of the conditions was clouded. "It was a 250 wicket," said Fletcher, "and someone should have played a long innings to get us to that target."
South Africa lost three wickets scoring 73. Harmison, who in the first Test failed to regain the pace and direction that brought him 62 wickets this year, produced two bursts at 90mph. The first brought him Smith's wicket for nine and the second got rid of Jacques Rudolph off the final ball of the day. That leaves Harmison ahead of Ian Botham who set a record of 62 wickets in a Test year in 1978.