Saturday, 16 January 2010

Mother Nature helps out, but England's reign is nearly at an end in this series

AND so Mother Nature steps in where umpire Daryl Harper won't, with another merciful downpour for England, halting South Africa's rush to victory in the final Test at the Wanderers.
Twelve minutes earlier than yesterday, at 2.01pm local time, noon in England, the rain came down, the lightning flashed (right), this huge 30,000 crowd scurried for cover.
But unlike yesterday, the worst of it moved slowly around the ground. Instead of a flooded outfield and desperate workers with squeegees, we have a far less dramatic show of drying going on in front of us.
The covers are off and soon they will be back, these South Africans, eager to push on and get England back at the crease.
At the moment, South Africa are 382-6, 202 ahead of England's modest first innings total of 180.
Just when South African captain Graeme Smith will declare, we aren't sure. But he did say to us last night: "We'll be looking to push the lead to around 200. That's a good score if the pitch is doing things and the weather continues."
He's right. This game is over if the rain stays away. England have been easily cowed in this final showdown. Earlier in this absorbing series, they showed that iron resistance, the stiff-upper-lip we Brits love to see.
But Johannesburg has been different. England went into this Test 1-0 up in the series, but only after hanging on by a wicket to draw in Centurion and Cape Town. In between, we had the best of the conditions in Durban and won by an innings and 98 runs.
But in truth, as Smith and his men have pointed out so many times, most of the sessions have been won by South Africa in this series. They deserve to draw 1-1 and retain the Basil D'Oliviera trophy they won in England last time they visited our shores.
And they will. England made a couple of early breakthroughs this morning but they failed to capitalise, allowing Mark Boucher and AB De Villiers to shove England off the rails again.
But they needed a fair bit of luck to put on 120 in 30 overs for the sixth wicket at a rate of just over four an over.
Twice Harper, the television umpire who failed to hear Graeme Smith's snick yesterday (he was on 15 at the time, he went on to get 105, have a look at earlier posts), allowed De Villiers to bat on after being given out by New Zealander Tony Smith.
Harper also turned down Graeme Swann's plea for the wicket of Mark Boucher, LBW. Harper was right each time. But he seems to be England's bogeyman right now, with every decision going South Africa's way.
England made a good start this morning. First Hashim Amla, looking set for his second century of the series on 75, was out on the tenth ball of the day, caught behind by Matt Prior off a superb ball from Stuart Broad.
Six balls later, Jacques Kallis was gone, brilliantly taken by Jimmy Anderson on the dive off Ryan Sidebottom. Getting Kallis for 7 was a big bonus for England and at 217-4 the tails were up.
After a brief lull, Andrew Strauss turned to Swann, as he has all series, for the breakthrough. And with his first ball - it's becoming a habit - he had JP "Crash Test" Duminy caught by Collingwood and it was 235-5.
Swann then had De Villiers given out twice - on 11 and 24 - by umpire Hill. But De Villiers called for a review both times. The close catch on 11 may or may not have brushed the bat, the lbw on 24 was not out.
But given that shocker yesterday - Harper failed to hear the Smith snick which echoed around the cricket-speaking world - you might expect a bit of help from the man!
De Villiers also survived having the ball come to rest against his stumps without removing a bail (much to Paul Collingwood's chagrin) and a further clear glove behind, made it through to lunch with 43 off 99 balls, the always-dangerous Mark Boucher went to his fifty just before lunch after surviving Swann's LBW review.
At 324-5 at the break, South Africa were 144 ahead. De Villiers' luck finally ran out on 58, caught by Collingwood, and Broad had his third wicket of the innings. But Boucher carried on and passed his best-ever Test score at the "Bull Ring" - 78 - with debutant Ryan McLaren in support.
But just as the huge gathering here were really getting going, the rain came down. But now the covers are off and the final session can begin. It won't be long, I suspect, before Graeme Smith gets England out there to face their fury under heavy skies.
Meanwhile Harper - backed by the ICC this morning - has turned to Facebook to justify his position.
After yesterday's knob-twiddling sensation he posted these quotes on his site: "The truth about Smith's decision may come out eventually. The host broadcaster didn't provide the appropriate sound to match the picture. The commentator, Matthew Hoggard, told the viewers that there was no sound - so Smith would be given not out.
"Sadly when the technology fails... and that means that some engineer has failed to do his job... they must find a scapegoat, and the umpire is an easy target because we can't fight back... usually.
"Five minutes later, they found a sound and blamed me! Other networks found the sound immediately, but we didn't get their sound feed."
Good defence Daryl, but how about coming to speak to us in the press box. Just a gentle chat. If you can comment on Facebook, surely you can talk to the journalists?
England, without any reviews left, have asked the ICC to reinstate the one wasted during the Smith controversy yesterday.

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