But weather could spoil party
THE two forces that will have the greatest impact on the outcome of this match met yesterday, and when stumps were drawn honours were even between Graeme Smith and Mother Nature – with the former getting a little help from the International Cricket Council’s referral system and Daryl Harper’s apparent disliking for too much noise.
Two more commanding entities one would have difficulty finding. Mother Nature turned the Wanderers into a lake at 3pm, Smith had made it his house an hour earlier.
The South African captain has a kind of overwhelming presence at the crease that casts a shadow which consumes every part of the match – especially when he plays like he did yesterday.
So everything Andrew Strauss’s bowlers threw at him, Smith dealt with oppressively, and impressively. Other aspects of his innings yesterday were dealt with phlegmatically and with a fair degree of acting skill that flummoxed the umpires both on the field and off it.
So did he nick it? Television replays subsequent to those shown to the third umpire, Daryl Harper, when he was called on to make a decision, suggested a “snicky” sound. And rumours surfaced that Harper didn’t have the volume knob at the requisite level to enable him to hear a noise.
Whatever Harper’s issues were with his use of the technology the magnificence of Smith’s approach after the “let-off ” can’t be ignored. Smith was typically manly and belligerent afterwards in a manner that galvanises teammates and enthrals the crowd.
Graeme Swann who has so unsettled South Africa throughout this series, had perhaps one over where he tied Smith in knots – his first. And even then Smith was looking to assert his authority as he came down the wicket to Swann’s fourth ball and very nearly scooped it to mid-off.
Two balls later Swann ripped one that spun and bounced past the outside edge of Smith’s bat.
Thereafter though, as well as Swann bowled – and he continued to extract turn and bounce – England weren’t able to control South Africa’s scoring. The run rate which had been in the region of 2.5 per over for much of the first hour, when Stuart Broad impressed and was deservedly rewarded with the wicket of Ashwell Prince, rose quickly before lunch as Smith asserted his dominance.
He brutishly drove Swann through mid-on for four and followed it up with another, lashed through cover to signal his intent.
His partner through most of that session, Hashim Amla also displayed excellent control and patience.
In fact, Amla has displayed a steadiness and surety throughout this series that has been vital, given South Africa’s problems with the opening combination.
He was quickly off the mark here, providing the South African innings with the necessary impetus as they sought to create time in the match. Together he and Smith put on 165 for the second wicket, with Smith bringing up a 20th Test century – a remarkable statistic given that he has now gone past fifty 46 times. It was also his sixth against England and his second in a row in this series.
Given that Mother Nature wants to limit Smith’s impact by taking time out of the game, Smith and Amla’s positive approach yesterday, involving plenty of risks, was justified.
South Africa are 35 runs ahead and theoretically there are three days left to play.
The kind of weather being experienced around these parts lately and the forecast for the remainder of the match means the full total of that time won’t be seen in this match.
So South Africa have to create time, and that means an even more positive approach today.
Strategically they may only want to bat once, but there’ll have to be some calculated thinking about a declaration – if it gets to that stage – and especially how much time they leave themselves to bowl England out a second time.