August 22nd 1999, The Oval. Alan Mullally is facing Chris Cairns with England 161-9 chasing a total of 246 to win the match, and the series. Dion Nash had put a dent in England’s hope of success with four wickets, including two in two balls as he claimed Stewart and Ramprakash. New Zealand were on a roll having lost the First Test of this four match series but coming back to win at Lord’s and would’ve won at Old Trafford but for the rain.
Mullally’s partner at the other end was Ed Giddins, who was making his debut and was part of one of the longest tails in test history, Caddick, Mullally Tufnell, and Giddins. Caddick apart, these weren’t even good enough batsmen to be considered ‘bunnies’ and England’s hopes were long gone. At lunch England were 157-7 but then two wickets fell in Vettori’s first over after the break including Tufnel who had just run himself out in bizarre, and embarrassing fashion. Cairns, beginning his second over of the afternoon, his sixteenth of a wicket-less innings and first ball Mullally hit it hard and high and straight to mid-on.
England trudged off beaten by 83 runs and 143-3 had ended as 162 all out. The team was booed off. New captain, Nasser Hussain, was booed during his post-match interview as the news broke England were now officially the worst team in the world, as they replaced New Zealand at the bottom of the test rankings.
The summer had been one to forget for England as their pitiful World Cup performance had seen the end for coach David Lloyd and the end of the captaincy for Alec Stewart. To compound things further the new coach would not join up with the team until they toured South Africa in November. That coach was Duncan Fletcher, a former Zimbabwean player who had gained success as a coach with Glamorgan in the County Championship and for the first time, England had chosen a foreigner to coach the national side.
After the end to an ignominious summer, England’s tour party had a definite ‘new broom’ feel about it with new caps, Michael Vaughan, Chris Adams and Gavin Hamilton receiving call-ups. Vaughan, an elegant batsman from Yorkshire had long been touted for a test cap but unimpressive performance on A Tours had seemed to stifle his progress. Chris Adams was captain of Sussex and was a nuggety batsman who appeared to have some fight about him, and judging by the recent New Zealand series, a quality England badly needed. Gavin Hamilton was born in West Lothian in Scotland and had represented his country in the recent World Cup. But England came calling and so he packed his bags for the flight to Johannesburg. A young and raw, and by his own admission unprepared, Graeme Swann also made the trip
This promised to be a tough tour with the home side boasting the fearsome new-ball partnership of Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock and a batting line-up of Gary Kirsten, Herschelle Gibbs, Jacques Kallis, Daryl Cullinan, Hansie Cronje and Jonty Rhodes with Lance Klusener coming in at number seven to give the innings some impetuous if required. They had also won their last nine tests at home and proved one of the toughest opponents in world cricket.
England’s warm-up games for the First Test in Johannesburg had seen them win three and lose two of a mixture of first-class and limited overs matches, but none of the batsmen had scored a century and none of the bowlers had gone through a side. Adams had scored well and was rewarded with his first cap in the opening match of the series along with Vaughan and Hamilton. Butcher and Atherton were back together at the top of the order with captain, Hussain, coming in first wicket down and Vaughan and Adams separated by Alec Stewart, who also donned the gloves. Andrew Flintoff was back in the team, having made his debut against South Africa when they toured England in 1998. The First Test of this series was to be only his third test cap.
So England went into the Johannesburg test match very inexperienced. What greeted them on 25th November was a green pitch with damp conditions and Cronje had no hesitation in putting the tourists in once he won the toss. The series had been built up as Atherton v Donald part two after their legendary battle back in England in 1998. Donald had shrugged off a rib injury to be passed fit for this match as 8,500 people took their seats for a keenly anticipated series. Butcher took guard to get ready to face the first ball from Donald.
0.1 Donald to Butcher : Donald starts with a welcome to South Africa bouncer which climbs over the batsman’s shoulder
0.2 Donald to Butcher : outside off-stump, moving away and Butcher pulls his bat inside the line
0.3 Donald to Butcher : Another bouncer and Butcher ducks under it.
0.4 Donald to Butcher : leg-bye. Butcher tries to turn it to leg but it hits the thigh pad and runs away allowing the batsmen to take a run and England are off the mark. 1-0
0.5 Donald to Atherton : outside off and left alone
0.6 Donald to Atherton : OUT pitched outside off and swung back to take out the leg stump. 1-1
MA Atherton b Donald 0 (2), 1-1
Donald had tried to play down the battle between him and Atherton but ‘white lightening’ had produced a beauty to take out Atherton’s leg stump on just the second ball the former England captain had faced. At the end of the first over England had made a dreadful start on 1-1.
Shaun Pollock took the ball from the other end to bowl the second over of the innings to Mark Butcher with new batsman, Nasser Hussain, yet to face a ball.
1.1 Pollock to Butcher : Outside off, left alone, no run
1.2 Pollock to Butcher : this one went across the left-handed Butcher and was left alone
1.3 Pollock to Butcher : Pollock gets this one to lift and hits Butcher’s gloves and squirts away past Adams at short-leg. One run, 2-1
1.4 Pollock to Hussain : Captain faces his first ball and comes forward to a full ball to defend.
1.5 Pollock to Hussain : leaves this one alone as it moves away down leg-side.
1.6 Pollock to Hussain : OUT From close to the stumps, Pollock got one to lift and Hussain gloved it to gully, 2-2
N Hussain c Klusener b Pollock 0 (3), 2-2 (2 overs)
England were in trouble, with two of their most experienced batsmen back in the pavilion. Out walked Michael Vaughan for his first knock in test cricket.
2.1 Donald to Butcher : Pitched on off-stump, moves away slightly and Butcher is beaten
2.2 Donald to Butcher : Outside off, moves away and this time Butcher leaves it alone
2.3 Donald to Butcher : outside off, too wide and Butcher leaves it alone
2.4 Donald to Butcher : OUT slightly shorter, pitched on leg, moves away to off & finds the edge.
MA Butcher c Boucher b Donald 1 (11), 2-3 (2.4 overs)
In came Stewart, who six months earlier was captain of this team, and was now faced with a lively pitch and conditions just about perfect from swing bowling.
2.5 Donald to Stewart : OUT. Full delivery swinging in from outside off to hit Stewart full on the boot.
AJ Stewart lbw b Donald 0 (1), 2-4 (2.5 overs)
Chris Adams walked to the crease for his first innings in test cricket to join another debutant, Michael Vaughan. Both men were still to face their first ball in test cricket.
The situation couldn’t have been more desperate for England. Atherton, Hussain, Butcher and Stewart, all of whom had captained England for various periods, were now back in the pavilion and the great new dawn for English cricket looked as forlorn a prospect as had been three months earlier when Hussain was booed off at The Oval.
Donald and Pollock were bowling superbly and virtually unplayable. At this point Donald’s figures were 1.5-1-0-3, with Pollock, 1-0-1-1.
Vaughan and Adams steadied things a bit to add thirty-two for the fifth wicket, seeing out ten overs, before Adams became Donald’s fourth victim. South Africa’s premier fast bowler then collected his fifth six balls later when England’s third debutant, Gavin Hamilton, was out for a duck. What poor Hamilton didn’t realise at the time was that was to be the end of his test career as England never called on his services again, and he went back to play for Scotland.
Andrew Flintoff then came in, having scored a total of seventeen runs from his three previous test innings. He top scored with 38, with Vaughan making 33. England were eventually all out for 122 inside 42 overs with Donald picking up 6-53 and Pollock, 4-16.
To rub salt into the wounds, South Africa followed this up with 403 as Daryl Cullinan hit an excellent century. Donald and Pollock then helped themselves to a further nine wickets between them as South Africa wrapped things up on the fourth morning to win the First Test by an innings and 21 runs.
Not surprisingly, Donald earned the Man of the Match award for his 11-127 in the match and the home side had every right to believe a whitewash was on the cards.
At Port Elizabeth South Africa rattled up another 450 but Michael Atherton followed his three-ball First Test performance with a hard-fought century. England eventually saw out the match for a draw.
The Third Test in Durban saw England fightback to make the running for the first time in the series as Hussain (145) and Stewart (95) scored heavily. Andy Caddick then followed this up with career-best figures, 7-46 as the home side were skittled out for 156. Following-on Gary Kirsten then played the second longest innings in test history, 275 in 878 minutes facing 642 balls. It was an heroic effort and he moved to the top of the South African century makers table.
South Africa then won by an innings in Cape Town to win the series. Donald picked up another five wicket haul followed by centuries for Kallis and Cullinan.
The Fifth Test is now infamous for what was one of the most exciting finishes to a test match for those who witnessed it. Three days were lost to rain leaving South Africa to finish the first innings of the match on the fifth morning. The story given at the time was that both captains, Cronje and Hussain came to an agreement to set England a hugely gettable 249 in 72 overs. In the end England ran home by two wickets with barely minutes left in the game as Vaughan crowned an impressive first test series with 69 and Alec Stewart top-scoring with 73. As it turned out the arranged target was set with much more murkier reasons in mind, and tainted what had been a fantastic ending to the series in stark contrast to how it began.