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February 28, 2009
Referring to what?
There was widespread confusion at the Wanderers when Ricky Ponting made a quick decision to refer Steve Bucknor's not-out call for an appeal for a leg-side catch off JP Duminy. The players and umpires stood around waiting for a decision but the TV coverage didn't cut to the replays. After a couple of minutes, the players started making their way back to their positions to resume the over while Ponting and Bucknor had an animated chat. There was uncertainty over whether Ponting had withdrawn the referral but it turned out the relevant TV camera had broken down and the third umpire couldn't see any footage. When the replays were finally found after play resumed there was no evidence that Duminy had hit the ball.
Not a single decision has been overturned as a result of the referral system in this Test. Billy Bowden gave Bucknor a pat on the back when his decision to send Neil McKenzie on his way lbw was backed up by Asad Rauf on referral. Then came a couple of occasions when Bowden's line-ball calls were upheld. Mark Boucher was adjudged caught-behind and was clearly convinced he hadn't hit it, although Rauf couldn't see any hard evidence to disagree with Bowden. Then Andrew McDonald was certain he had AB de Villiers lbw. Bowden said no and though it could easily have been given out, again there was no firm proof for Rauf to overturn the call.
Take my advice …
McKenzie's lbw looked out to most observers and it was a surprise when he asked for a referral. Perhaps the fact that Bucknor took so long to adjudicate placed some doubt in McKenzie's mind. His partner at the time, de Villiers, wasn't in any such doubt. "He asked me and I said it looked out," de Villiers said. "He said we'll take a chance and it's worth taking a chance, it could be outside the line it could have run down [leg side] but it looked pretty plumb from where I was standing and that's what I told him but he was adamant he should use the referral."
The one that got away
Ironically, the one decision that would have been overturned came at a time when South Africa declined to use their referral. Morne Morkel bounced Phillip Hughes and there was a big appeal as he tried to fend the ball down and it sailed through to Boucher. Graeme Smith didn't ask for a referral and it was a shame for South Africa - the replays showed there was some glove and Hughes would have been out for 21.
A fillip for Phillip
After his ugly duck in the first innings of his debut, Hughes was again desperate to get off the mark in the second innings. However, he took a more cautious approach. A clip off the legs for a single in the first over could have been the moment he was waiting for, except that Bucknor called it a leg-bye. But in the next over a cracking four through cover off Makhaya Ntini gave South African fans their first look at Hughes' skill.
Ponting doesn't like to enforce the follow-on - he has done it only twice in his time as Test captain - and despite taking a first-innings advantage of 246 and despite the potential for rain in the next couple of days, he again declined to send South Africa in a second time. It meant he faced the tough call of how long to bat to allow his bowlers time to dismiss South Africa a second time, which in turn made it even stranger that he accepted the umpires' offer to go off for bad light with an hour and a half of play still remaining.
Tackling a hard Steyn
As a crocodile and several Australian batsmen have discovered in the past few months, Steyn is not a man you want to antagonise. Peter Siddle clearly hasn't learnt that lesson. While Steyn tried to help South Africa push past the follow-on mark, Siddle peppered him with a barrage of bouncers. It was brave but also the kind of tactic that will come back to haunt Australia's No. 10. Siddle wasn't worried. "It's part of Test cricket isn't it?" he said. "Everyone is going to cop it one day. It's going to happen to me. There's plenty more times I'm going to get bounced out there so I don't think I have to worry about just him."