Durban: South African openers Graeme Smith and AB De Villiers beat the Indians to the field when play resumed after an unusual power cut-induced break. After seven minutes, the Indians beat them to the dressing room once the umpires decided that the light had become unsuitable!
Captain Smith, in fact, was agitated as it’s generally held that the light is offered to batsmen. However, the slips cordon can also lose sight of the ball. As it turned out, even the umpires (Asad Rauf and South African Ian Howell, standing in for Mark Benson who is under observation in an ICU) had a problem.
Day III of the second Castle Test couldn’t have had a more bizarre end. Actually, througout, there were unusual occurrences. Benson, for example, went off owing to “palpitations.” That was pretty early.
After tea, 40 minutes were lost because there was no back-up when a power cut hit many areas, including Kingsmead. Cricket South Africa must learn from this embarrassing episode.
Having been under pressure for the second day in a row, the Indians didn’t mind any hold-up. They’re, after all, 1-0 up and it’s best to keep that intact instead of heading for Cape Town with a 1-1 scoreline.
Ahead by 88 runs on the first innings, the South Africans will take to Day IV on 64 without loss. “We achieved most of our targets... One was to take a 100-run lead and the other to end 200 in front... With all the interruptions, we’ve got to 152,” remarked coach Mickey Arthur.
If Smith was cheesed off on the field, Arthur was as agitated when he interacted with the Media. “We wanted to push forward... It has been hugely frustrating... One ball change took 20 minutes (!)... Then, there were injuries... It was stop-start cricket and there should be strong control...”
Frankly, that’s an indictment of the on-field umpires and the International Cricket Council may not react too kindly.
Arthur added: “The weather is a concern, but I’m happy with the execution of our plans... We’ve been clinical and professional... Five wickets in the first session really set it up for us... The first hour tomorrow is going to be very crucial... We want to push on and win this Test... The wicket has been fantastic...”
Assuming the South Africans continue to dominate, they will still be wary of what happened at the SCG last year. “Being down in the series, we’d been forced into a declaration and lost the Test... We’re going to look for a positive result here, but I accept much work remains...” he pointed out.
Interacting briefly with The Telegraph, Arthur said: “I know the boys have been upset, but it will soon be a thing of the past... They aren’t going to lose focus and will be fine in the evening...”
Earlier, India’s first innings ended 63 minutes after lunch with vice-captain V.V.S. Laxman unbeaten on exactly 50 (282 minutes, 156 balls, 3x4). If the Sourav Ganguly-Vikram Rajvir Singh and Laxman-Zaheer Khan partnerships played a big role at the Wanderers, the one between Laxman and gutsy Sreesanth took India past 200 on Thursday.
They added 52 for the ninth wicket, with Sreesanth being the ‘senior’ partner — he contributed 28, which included five boundaries. The courage apart, he showed cricket sense in often playing with soft hands.
Sreesanth’s effort put some of the specialists to shame. Sourav Ganguly, for one, fell to a smart short ball from Makhaya Ntini. Having picked it up late, it took the former captain time to realise he’d fallen for a duck.
Before him, it was Sachin Tendulkar’s turn to depart (for 63, his first Test fifty of the year), playing an uncharacteristic shot off Ntini. Till then, he’d been in absolute control and could’ve become Smith’s biggest headache.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, of course, showed character — after getting the benefit on an lbw appeal from Andre Nel — but became the first of three taken by debutant Morne Morkel.
Smith, surprisingly, showed little faith in the most experienced Shaun Pollock. But, then, he almost got what the team had been aiming for — a lead of 100. Conditions were overcast right through and the South African quicks bent their backs. It’s an approach which fetched nice dividends.
Day III, by the way, again saw few overs being sent down — no more than 58.4.
Footnote: Benson, who has been admitted to St Augustine’s Hospital, is “doing well” according to an informal medical bulletin released late in the day. Replacement Howell, incidentally, had been on duty during the controversial Port Elizabeth Test on the 2001-02 tour by Team India. His on-field colleague was Zimbabwe’s Russell Tiffin.
LEAD-UP TO THE CALL-OFF
After tea, umpires Asad Rauf and Ian Howell offer the light to Graeme Smith and AB De Villiers. That’s before the power failure.
• Batsmen decide to carry on.
• Power failure shuts down, among other things, four of the five towers with floodlights.Batsmen then decide to go off.
• After a 40-minute break, Test resumes, but the light has deteriorated.
• Seven minutes later, umpires decide the light is now unfit for play. Indians walk off after the umpires have finished conferring; Smith is agitated.
• Howell explains (to the Media) even the umpires had problems sighting the ball and that the (slips) fielders could also have had a problem.
• South African coach Mickey Arthur says it was “hugely frustrating.”