Wednesday, 6 January 2010

England battle against the inevitable as Broad puts his foot in it

ENGLAND refused to accept the inevitable in Cape Town today, getting rid of two major South African obstacles on the fourth morning of the crucial third Test.

But Andrew Strauss's weary men are still staring defeat in the face as the hosts, despite the loss of Graeme Smith (183) and Jacques Kallis (46) moved on to 397-4 at lunch, a crushing lead of 415.

Though it may be impossible to rule out anything after Australia's unbelievable victory over Pakistan in Sydney this morning, England need something pretty spectacular to escape a series-levelling defeat here.

The highest winning fourth innings score at this ground on the slopes of Table Mountain is 334-6, made when Australia beat South Africa in 2002... though the West Indies managed 354-5 when they held on for a draw at Newlands in 2004.

Still, considering their hopeless position, England's seamers - pilloried on the front page of the local Cape Times for causing a "BALL TAMPERING FURORE" this morning - plugged away.

The morning session saw just 85 runs off 24 overs as South Africa failed to produce the expected pre-declaration acceleration.

England's first success came with the departure of captain Graeme Smith for a magnificent 183. And his final denouement came courtesy of what was later revealed to be a Graham Onions no ball.

Smith chose the perfect time to produce his best of the series so far, hitting 25 fours in a six-and-a-half hour match-turning knock which lasted from 11.14am yesterday to 11.13am today before he skied one to the reliable Paul Collingwood at fine leg. Of course, if he'd risked a review, the Onions over-step would have been spotted, and he would probably have batted all day.

But such slices of good fortune were rare for England, who had to wait a further ten overs before removing the obdurate first innings centurion Kallis for 46. This time it was Anderson who claimed the scalp, caught behind by Matt Prior to make it 376-4, a lead of nearly 400.

AB De Villiers and Ashwell Prince stuck together until lunch without the expected fireworks. Clearly the South Africans think they will only need four sessions to get rid of England and level the series at 1-1 before the final Test at the Wanderers in Johannesburg next Sunday.

You can't blame the batsman formerly known as Prince for his reticence. He had been scuppered for golden ducks in his last two innings against England and scrambled to lunch with a tip-toed five off 11 balls while De Villiers did the job with more aplomb, scoring 32 off 45.

The only England seamer without a wicket so far is Stuart Broad. Ironic really. It was his foot (see above) which caused the so-called furore this morning.

He chose to stop a drive with his studded boot just after lunch yesterday, saying afterwards he was too tired to bend over and retrieve it in temperatures approaching 40 degrees.
The South Africans saw it differently. They replayed footage of the incident on television again and again, added a bit of Jimmy Anderson ball-picking and came up with screaming allegations of ball tampering, which they referred to match referee Roshan Mahanama.

South African coach Mickey Arthur said after the last Test - which England won by an innings and 98 runs - he couldn't work out how Broad had produced the reverse swing which saw his side capitulate. He clearly thinks he knows now, and as I speak, the South African Broadcasting Association are apparently searching for footage from Kingsmead to prove further tampering.

But as England boss Andy Flower said when told of the allegations: "This amazing amount of reverse swing gained from Broadie standing on the ball clearly hasn't worked."

The ICC are set to release a statement saying they will not take any action over South Africa's concerns and Geoff Boycott's exclusive assessment in the loo downstairs? "Ball tampering? There's nothing going on at all. The umpires looked at the ball and found nothing. It's just a media thing."

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