Did Graeme Smith edge the ball on 15 before going on to score a brilliant 105? Yes. Was he dismissed for 183 at Newlands off a clear no-ball from Graham Onions? Yes.
The only ‘blame’ that may be apportioned to the South African captain was that, not only did he stand his ground after edging a wide long hop from Ryan Sidebottom to ‘keeper Matt Prior, but he looked in the direction of the umpire and shook his head. Allowing the umpire to make his decision is one thing, you might argue, but attempting to influence him (even instinctively or subconsciously) is another.
Smith, however, while admitting that “there was undoubtedly a noise,” said that he had not felt anything and “genuinely believed” that he had not hit the ball. Like every other great player, Smith has received his share of bad decisions and was perfectly entitled to stand his ground and hope for a bit of luck this time.
He would not have enjoyed any luck if the third umpire, Daryl Harper, had decided to turn the volume up on his audio feed from the stump microphone. Like the television commentators from Supersport, SABC and Skye, the third umpire listens to the match with the volume from the stump mic set at a reasonable level of about four (out of ten.) In certain instances, however, it becomes necessary – vital, even – to turn the level up to its maximum level.
When England coach Andy Flower visited the match referee to enquire about how television viewers in the comfort of their own homes had been able to hear the nick but the third umpire had not, he was told by Roshan Mahanama that the third umpire received “a different sound feed” from the broadcasters. That information was incorrect, a fact that Flower was subsequently able to establish. So he returned once again to Mahanama’s office to make the same enquiry.
“On the second visit he told me that the third umpire had not turned the volume up,” said a staggered Flower at the close of play on Friday. When Flower asked why the third umpire had not turned the volume up, Mahanama told him “…because he did not deem it necessary.”
Sadly, the ICC were making all the old moves to gather around the discredited Harper instead of owning up to an undeniable error on behalf of their man. People can only learn from mistakes if there are acknowledged.
Flower, at least, retained his dignity in the face of a decision which might yet cost England a famous series win: “If it wasn’t such an important game for us I would have said it was funny. You never know what might have happened but it was early in the day and we needed early wickets, and Graeme is one of the biggest. If I can’t hear something then I generally turn the volume up.”
Smith, said Flower, should be exonerated completely: “I have the utmost respect for him as a cricketer, a leader and a person and he did absolutely nothing wrong or contrary to the spirit of the game. Nothing.”
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