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A Game Apart

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A Game Apart


London Evening Standard



Paddy Power

Oakwood Estates

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Smith declares 243 in front. England 48-3 and Sidebottom admits: "Rain would be nice!"

SO now we know. England, teetering at 48-3, have to survive for two days with seven wickets standing.
Ryan Sidebottom's solution to their woes at The Wanderers? "Rain would be nice!"
To be fair to the hairy one, what was he supposed to say, having been singled out as the one to talk to the press after day three of the final Test?
He took two wickets but hardly justified his surprise inclusion ahead of the "legend" Graham Onions. Sidebottom, quite rightly, felt: "I maybe deserved a couple more. It would have been nice to get Graeme Smith early but it wasn't to be."
While yesterday's "Knobgate" row goes on, Mark Boucher made the point: "We've been the side that wants it more. And if you play like that the luck tends to go your way."
It sure has. South Africa declared on 423-7, 243 ahead of England's modest first innings total of 180. Pretty shrewd declaration that as England went out, and in... and out again for the light.
Alastair Cook was first back in the pavilion, comfortably caught by Graeme Smith off Morne Morkel for 1. Six balls were all he could manage. And Cook is one of the form batsman.
At the other end Andrew Strauss narrowly avoided being decapitated by Dale Steyn, the world's best Test bowler who took 5-51 in the first innings. An over later he claimed Jonathan Trott with an absolute snorter which flew off the edge to AB De Villiers (diving above) in the cordon.
In the 13th over, after the light meters had intervened, Andrew Strauss joined Trott in the "that's it for this tour" category, lbw to Wayne Parnell despite a review. He managed 22 off 45 balls.
Kevin Pietersen, who came in to perhaps the worst welcome of this tour so far, is on the nervous nine, Paul Collingwood has yet to score after facing three balls and it's 48-3 as play is called off for the day, just as the sun comes out. England need another 199 to make South Africa bat again.
We're down to the last two days of this epic series, with plenty of Highveld storms about. Rain is England's only possible salvation, as Sidebottom sol aptly put it.
He added: "We're disappointed with the way we've performed here but whenever we've been under pressure before on this tour we've come back fighting."
South Africa captain Graeme Smith told 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 went a little further than that, grinding England's fading attack into oblivion with wicketkeeper Boucher producing his top Test score at the Wanderers - a fine 96 off 118 balls.
There were calls to axe Boucher - a 33-year-old veteran of 130 Tests - but this series has put him right back on top. He grinned: "I don't play cricket for the critics. They're always going to be there. But I use it. If somebody says something that gets to me, I use it to motivate me."
Ladbrokes rate England an improbable 33-1 to win this one, you can get 50-1 on Betfair. Former England coach David "Bumble" Lloyd twittered that England need 400 to make South Africa chase 160 at the death. That would have been interesting.
It won't happen now - but the odds on a draw remain reasonable, given the likelihood of rain, the worst of which neatly avoided the Wanderers earlier this afternoon.
That really is our only hope. 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.
Boucher suggested: "I've been on many tours and sometimes you have one foot on the plane by the time you get to the last Test. The pressure does get to you. But England have got a lot of fighters we've still got to get through."
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 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 Daryl 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, even Strauss's LBW, the last decision of another fascinating day.
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 day three, 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 Tony 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 survived having the ball come to rest against his stumps without removing a bail (much to Collingwood's chagrin) and a clear glove behind to make 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.
Just as the huge gathering here were really getting going, the rain came down, but it didn't last long. The South Africans, all 30,000 of them, were in full voice as Boucher tortured England in a 67-run partnership with debutant McLaren. And it was Swann, with the first ball of his spell yet again, who finally got rid of Boucher, who popped one up to Jonathan Trott. The declaration came soon afterward with McLaren 32 not out on his debut and Dale Steyn on 1.
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?

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