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Peter English at Melbourne
December 30, 2005
Graeme Smith has denied Australia's "over-appealing" led to his team's demise in the second Test and has vowed to increase their ruthlessness in Sydney next week. South Africa's coach Mickey Arthur described Ricky Ponting's team as "masters" of putting pressure on umpires with their "histrionics" and Chris Broad, the match referee, said they pushed the boundaries of fair play but not crossed them.
Broad spoke to the Australia coach John Buchanan and Shane Warne before play today and was due to meet Warne tonight after the bowler requested a meeting to talk about incidents in the match. Warne was singled out by Arthur for his appealing and he also had lengthy chats with the umpire Asad Rauf during the second innings. Ponting insisted, however, that it was over a "miscommunication issue".
Ponting did not expand on the details of the discussion or those of a post-match conversation with Smith in the players' tunnel that continued to add fuel to the off-field "war of words" that has surrounded a fascinating series. Australia's appeals were at their longest and loudest on the fourth afternoon, but Ponting said his team had no reason to apologise.
"Opposition coaches might come out and say this about us, but I've never heard it from an umpire or a referee," he said. "It's another little niggly thing they are trying to have a go at us with. We are out there appealing every time we think something is out. We don't think there anything wrong and we don't think there's been any over-appealing in this game."
Smith said his batsmen had not been affected by the pressure and said it was Broad's responsibility to decide whether the Australians were transgressing. "There is a line that they cannot cross," Broad said, "and the umpires feel they haven't crossed that line." When asked how Australia compared to other teams Broad said: "They are the No. 1 side in the world so they seem to be best at most things these days."
The lead-up to the Test was enlivened by Smith's accusations that Warne wanted the captaincy and he achieved his aim of getting the matter discussed in the Australia dressing-room, but he acknowledged Ponting had won the battle with the 184-run victory. "The game is all about pressure and creating pressure on each other," he said. "We had opportunities to do that in this game and didn't take them. We've come here and we mean business; they know that and I think they respect that."
Questions of bad blood between the teams were quashed by both captains and Ponting said his side enjoyed the banter and that it had not got out of control during the match. "When you come out and make big statements it puts you under a bit more pressure yourself," he said. "Every innings this series [Smith] has got off to a start and then got out. We've had the last laugh."
The final match in Sydney starts on Monday and Smith said his team needed to "step up our ruthlessness". Crucial dropped catches early in Ponting's and Michael Hussey's centuries helped Australia build a commanding first-innings total and Smith was disappointed to miss further chances to harass his opponents.
"They are so used to dominating series and dominating key moments, but if we had taken our opportunities the pressure would have been immense," he said. "We need to finish things off. We have discussed it and it's a little bit of inexperience because it's the first time coming to Australia for a lot of our players. We are very close to hitting the mark. Being 1-0 is disappointing but it doesn't hurt us."
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