There’s a fine line between triumph and disaster

2008-08-04 00:00

Those hoary old twin imposters, triumph and disaster, were working hand in hand on that final, dramatic day at Edgbaston, underlining the thin line between sporting glory and failure.

South Africa, and their captain Graeme Smith, secured victory and a place in history; for England, and their captain Michael Vaughan, there was defeat and a tearful resignation.

The roles of victor and vanquished might so easily have been reversed. Smith should have been out twice during his innings and at a time when the winning target of 281 was just a distant dream.

The first slice of good fortune came when, on 74 and padding up, he was struck by a delivery from Monty Panesar which turned viciously out of the bowlers’ footmarks. It would have missed off and leg stumps — and hit middle. But so extravagant and rapid was the turn, that umpire Aleem Dar could not have been certain where the ball was headed, though the slow motion replays left no doubt.

Smith, on 85, had a second let off when a ball from Panesar struck his glove and was caught by wicketkeeper Tim Ambrose down the leg-side. There was only a subdued appeal and, again, Dar turned it down and Smith survived.

In between, and on 79, Smith had a narrow escape when he was well short of his ground in taking an impossible single, but Ambrose’s awkward throw to the stumps was missed by Ian Bell.

But Smith, on painkillers for a sore back, batting on a wearing track, chasing a record winning target at Edgbaston — the previous highest total chased was 208 — and with pressure mounting as wickets fell the other end, deserved all the good fortune that was on offer.

Finally, he saw South Africa home, reaching 154 not out in an innings of 283, with the invaluable 45 not out by streetfighter Mark Boucher the next highest score.

Smith’s century, remarkably, was the first final innings hundred at Edgbaston and, because he scored so quickly — his 154 came off 246 balls — the winning target was reached in 80 overs and before England could take the second new ball.

The South African’s innings not only secured the Test, but also the series. The delightful irony is that Smith’s winning runs came off old nemesis Kevin Pietersen and the victory, one of the greatest in South African cricket history, was achieved at the scene of their biggest nightmare — Edgbaston — where Allan Donald’s run out ended their 1999 World Cup run.

The dream victory set off wild South African celebrations on the field; in contrast, Michael Paul Vaughan OBE will always be haunted by the burly figure of Graeme Smith and those couple of umpiring decisions that ended his career as England captain.

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