SOUTH AFRICAN captain Graeme Smith enjoyed an incredible let off as the second day of the final Test at the Wanderers got underway this morning.
Luckless England, all out for a paltry 180 yesterday, were able to take only one wicket as South Africa moved from their overnight 29-0 to 102-1 with Smith looking ominous on 51 off 193 balls and Hashim Amla also unbeaten on 28.
But by then, Smith should have been long gone. After patiently guiding his side through a sticky evening session involving a rain break and floodlights last night, he had a wild slash at birthday boy Ryan Sidebottom after just four overs this morning – when he had scored just 15.
Sidebottom, 32 today, certainly thought Smith had got a touch with his uncharacteristic attempted cut off the final ball of his second over – and the entire England side went up with Stuart Broad particularly vociferous in his appeal.
While on-field umpire Tony Hill remained unmoved, England captain Andrew Strauss immediately called for a review.
England’s celebrating fielders could hardly believe it when television umpire Daryl Harper said he heard nothing on the stump mike and backed New Zealander Hill’s not-out verdict.
Ashes-winner Matthew Hoggard, emerging from the SABC commentary box, told me: “There was a definite noise. I don’t understand why it wasn’t given. Once we’d turned the sound up, it was quite clear.
“Perhaps the television umpire had a problem with the feed from the pitch mike. But without hotspot, it’s so difficult.”
Hotspot technology shows an infra-red image of where the ball hits. Though it is functioning for reviews in Australia’s current series against Pakistan, it is not available here, making catches behind difficult to give.
But since then I’ve even had fans coming up saying they heard the nick – and texts from South African fans in London, watching Sky, laughing at their luck.
Australian television umpire Harper, already under fire for not giving a no ball when Alastair Cook was out LBW yesterday, will come under further scrutiny from the England camp – though Paul Collingwood said last night England were more acceptant of that decision after further review of the tapes.
But he confirmed England coach Andy Flower had made a brief visit to match referee Rohsan Mahanama after that decision.
England’s disappointment was eased an over later when they grabbed their first wicket of the morning. Ashwell Prince prodded forward at Stuart Broad – who looked really fired-up this morning after being told where to go by Jacques Kallis when he got out yesterday – and the thick edge flew to Graeme Swann at slip. No doubt about that one.
The first slip catch of the Test so far left South Africa, 29-0 after those 12 sticky overs last night, 36-1 in the 17th over.
The batsman formerly known as Prince (as they like to call him here) did brilliantly to survive two hostile spells amid the rain break and badlight last night, but all that hard work -19 runs off 48 balls - was in vain and he attempted to fend off a good, rising delivery.
Amla marched out to join his captain and together they survived a difficult early morning session.
With the sun baking the life out of yesterday’s jumpy strip – and limiting the swing for England’s seamers - South Africa’s 50 came up six overs into the morning session.
Broad and Sidebottom were getting movement and finding a good length... but without the constant menace provided by the pace of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel in their devastating opening 12-over spell yesterday, when four England wickets fell for less than 40 runs.
As Steyn said last night: “When you have conditions like this, where the ball is doing things off a track like this, you have to fill you boots. It doesn’t happen that often in Test cricket – but it often happens at the Wanderers.”