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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
Fans capture Oval spirit
By Martin Gough
BBC Sport at The Oval

In their search to cure the perceived ills of English cricket, the authorities can now be sure of a simple solution - a fifth day at The Oval.

A cumbersome county structure, endless injury crises and a paucity of talent ready to step up to Test level all seem trivial issues when the sun is shining across the gas holders.

A champagne moment, but not quite Test Match Special-style
A champagne moment, but not quite Test Match Special-style

This ground has seen great celebrations, most recently three years ago with the first series victory over West Indies for 32 years and Nasser Hussain's first as captain.

But it can also double as the venue for a soothing tonic after a difficult summer, as with an Ashes victory in 1997, when a dim summer was made bright.

Just as the long-term planning of the England team brought little but disappointment for the whole of this series, those who booked their tickets long in advance have had little to cheer.

But on a day when the hospitality boxes were locked and the turnstiles clicked with the simple production of a 10 note, England were at their best.

In all, 12,500 fans paid a tenner to see the final day, but shortly before lunch the gates were thrown open.

As they celebrated hauling back a 2-1 deficit in a match they appeared to have lost on the opening day, few in the stands will have been worried by the rest of the series.

Realistically we should have won the series because we should have won at Headingley
Michael Vaughan

They cheered every stop in the field early on, they cheered Michael Vaughan and Marcus Trescothick out twice, and Vaughan back again two balls after lunch.

They even cheered Alec Stewart's wave to a television camera, broadcast on the big screen backing the Harleyford Road.

In fact the only thing that did not go down with some of the crowd was Stewart's pledge to put away his bat and gloves and put on his Chelsea shirt.

Things have not gone entirely to plan for England this summer, however.

Steve Harmison put a poor series behind him, and Martin Bicknell did exactly the job required of him on his home ground, but in general England have simply been unable to take wickets.

There were some glum faces in the South African camp
There were some glum faces in the South African camp

Fortunately their winter schedule - with nine Tests the busiest ever - offers time to build on the momentum gained from this victory.

Bangladesh are building up for their first Test victory but should not pose a challenge to an experienced batting line-up.

Sri Lanka are re-building, although they could still push the tourists as hard as they did in the famous series victory two years ago.

And the West Indies boast a pace attack more green than England's, with pitches worse than those seen at Headingley and Trent Bridge.

There is a perfect opportunity for Vaughan's side to accomplish something no England team has ever done: a series victory in the Caribbean.

But sweeping generalisations are easily disproven - this South Africa side were written off as inexperienced and ripe for the taking.

It will take much more than a celebratory day in the sun to make England into world-beaters, but at least they ended the summer in fantastic, crowd-pleasing style.

Links to more Eng v SA 2003 stories


England captain Michael Vaughan
"We've shown we can stay in games on good Test wickets"

Man-of-the-match Marcus Trescothick
"It shows great character the way we've bounced back"



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