But weather could spoil party

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - STU­ART HESS

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.

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