Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo
England's ultimately comfortable passage to the semi-finals of the ICC Champions Trophy was marred by a moment of controversy towards the end of the night at Centurion, when Andrew Strauss refused Graeme Smith a runner. Smith, who batted 216 minutes in all after having spent a session in the field, was clearly unhappy when AB de Villiers was asked to head back to the pavilion, and Mickey Arthur, the South African coach, was seen swearing in frustration. Smith was dismissed soon after for 141, and South Africa eventually fell 12 runs short of the 313 that would have given them a mathematical chance of survival in the competition.
"I was cramping quite badly and I requested a runner," said Smith later. "Andrew spoke with the umpires and turned it down. He felt that if you score a hundred, you're going to be tired. From my perspective, it felt a touch inconsistent. Guys have got runners for cramps in the past, so there needs to be a degree of consistency there. This is the frustration that we have."
Strauss's take was obviously very different. "He asked me for a runner because he was cramping," he said. "The umpires were not particularly keen to give him one. I felt that at the end of a long game, after a long innings, you're going to be tired. Cramping to a certain extent is a preparation thing. To a certain extent, it's a conditioning thing. I didn't feel that he merited having a runner at that stage."
Smith insinuated that the Strauss decision may have had something to do with the suggestions of softness that resulted in him recalling Angelo Mathews during England's victory over Sri Lanka on Friday night. "I'm not going to sit here and slag Andrew and say that he should have done this or that," he said. "The decision rests with the umpires as well. From my perspective, it's just about putting it behind me now. The thing I've learned from this game is that the world's round. It's going to come back somewhere in the game, at some period of time in his captaincy. It'll be interesting to see how he handles it again."
Strauss was of the view that the refusal of a runner had nothing at all to do with the run out-obstruction incident. "You just go with each situation as it comes," he said. "I think the umpires were very uncomfortable with it as well. My personal view is that you shouldn't get a runner for cramps, full stop."
When it was pointed out that batsmen had been allowed runners in the past while suffering from cramps, he said: "That's something for the ICC to look at. I didn't feel he was cramping that badly either. He was still able to run. That was my view."
Despite the disappointment of defeat, Smith still found time to smile when he was reminded of the fact that Arjuna Ranatunga, the former Sri Lankan captain, frequently asked for and was given runners. "I don't know if I want to be likened to Arjuna," he said. "I think I've worked quite hard in the winter [laughs]. From our perspective, it was a crucial period of the game. I was on the field for 95 overs and just felt it was inconsistent, that's all."