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July 14, 2009
Andy Flower, the England coach, has defended his team's reputation for fair play, while accusing Australia's captain Ricky Ponting of "making a meal" of the controversy involving the 12th man, Bilal Shafayat, and the physio, Steve McCaig, in the closing minutes of a thrilling first Test in Cardiff on Sunday.
With Australia pressing for victory, England's last-wicket pair of James Anderson and Monty Panesar blocked out the remaining 69 balls of the Test match to secure a draw against all odds. However, their achievement has since been overshadowed by an incident in the 103rd over, in which both Shafayat and McCaig appeared on the pitch for no obvious reason, but ate up vital minutes with the match cut-off time of 6.50pm looming.
In the aftermath of the draw, Ponting denounced England's tactics as "ordinary" and called for the match officials to step in and ensure such tactics could not be used again. Flower, however, admitted he was surprised at all the "hullaballo", and suggested Ponting had seized on the incident as an excuse for Australia's failure to close out the match.
"We need to keep this in perspective and not deflect from a very good rearguard action," Flower said. "That was a good battle out there, and the sort of attention that's been paid to this, I don't like it. Ricky has his own opinion, and I respect his opinion - he's a very good cricketer and a very good ambassador for Australia. But in this instance I think he's made a meal of it."
The mere fact that Australia managed to fit more overs than the required minimum was, in Flower's opinion, evidence of England's adherence to the spirit of the game. "We have a very good record as a side, and we play the right way," he said. "In last five years, we've won ICC Fair Play Award twice, which is more than other sides.
"In that last hour or two of the game, there was no time-wasting by us," he said. "Look at the footage, and you'll see that never did we consciously try to waste time. Most teams in those situations, you have batsmen talking a little for extended periods, or knocking down the pitch, or changing gloves and getting drinks. At no stage in those last couple of hours did we do that."
The reason for the appearances of the 12th man and physio were due, in Flower's explanation, to a "perceived confusion" over the amount of time remaining in the match, and in terms of passing messages from the dressing-room to the middle, he cited the experience of West Indies' coach, John Dyson, in the Caribbean in March, who accidentally handed England an ODI victory after misreading the team's Duckworth-Lewis charts during a tight run-chase.
"We needed to get messages out to them to make sure they were clear," said Flower. "In the West Indies, confusion over something technical led to an international loss, and we didn't want that to happen. There are no walkie-talkies to communicate with the guys in the middle, so we had to send someone out there, and we did that right at the end.
"There was some confusion towards the end there, about which message had got to whom," he added. "But the batsmen weren't wasting time at all. I can tell you right now, those guys were in such a focussed state - and [Andrew] Strauss and I spoke about it - there was no way we were we going to try to distract them from their job."
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