Friday, 15 January 2010

Smith's incredible let-off all down to a knob in the umpire's review room!

SOUTH AFRICAN captain Graeme Smith enjoyed an incredible let off as the second day of the final Test at the Wanderers got underway amid controversy this morning- and ended with a flooded pitch.

Smith clearly edged Ryan Sidebottom to Matt Prior when he was on 15 just four overs into the day – but television umpire Daryl Harper was unable to hear the noise on his audio fee.

The Australian apparently hadn’t turned it up to the full volume - and refused to give the decision. Smith went on to score 105 and put South Africa into a virtually unbeatable position.

SABC frontman Neil Manthorpe told the Evening Standard exclusively: “Harper’s volume control ws only on four out of ten. That’s why he didn’t hear the edge.”

Luckless England were all out for a paltry 180 yesterday as their attempt to engineer the draw that would clinch this absorbing series fell flat. They were able to take only two “official” wickets as South Africa moved from their overnight 29-0 to 202-2 as Smith reached his 20th Test ton off 182 balls.

With Hashim Amla (66), he put on 164 in 40 overs – a record second-wicket partnership at this historic ground against England – at a cracking rate of just over four an over. Smith, taken to task for not walking on local television by West Indian commentator Ian Bishop - was finally out to an edge off Ryan Sidebottom, taken by Andrew Strauss at first slip after 187 balls, 252 minutes and 16 fours.

Only rain can save England now, and it’s just started to come down heavily here (see picture above), flooding the outfield and ruling out play for the rest of the day.

As the covers come on, South Africa are 208-2 with Amla on 71 and Jacques Kallis 2 – that’s a lead of 28 with eight wickets in hand. A win for South Africa– which would see this absorbing series drawn 1-1 and the hosts retain the Basil D’Oliviera trophy – now appears to depend purely on the weather.

But with every run Smith made this morning, England’s sense of frustration grew as the realisation dawned that the new-fangled review system cannot ensure Test cricket is free of grinding injustice.

The South African leader, not the most lovable of cricketers, 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 Sidebottom, 32 today

The entire England side went up with Stuart Broad particularly vociferous in his appeal, marching around his his arms up.

While on-field umpire Tony Hill remained curiously unmoved, England captain Andrew Strauss immediately called for a review. And after the initial problems with the new-fangled system, he only does that when he’s sure something’s wrong.

The music played, the replays rolled... and England’s celebrating fielders could hardly believe it when 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.”

Former South African Test player Pommie Mbangwa said: “It was definitely out, although quite a few people couldn’t here the noise in the commentary box until they turned up the sounds.”

Hotspot technology shows an infra-red image of where the ball hits the bat. 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 captain’s luck. In fact, I’ve just been interviewed by SABC television, giving the Evening Standard’s verdict on their conscience-free captain.

Australian television umpire Harper, already under fire for not giving a no ball when Alastair Cook was out LBW yesterday, will come under further scPublish Postrutiny 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.

Another visit may be required after Smith’s let off. The Standard’s Jon Agnew, seething in the Test Match Special box, twittered: “Interesting how Smith deals with this afterwards. Will it be a 'special' innings in light of having stood on 15? There will be replay after replay.”

England’s disappointment was eased an over later when they grabbed their only wicket of the morning. Ashwell Prince prodded forward at 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. But that was as good as it got for England.

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.

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