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Jonathan Agnew column

Jonathan Agnew
By Jonathan Agnew
BBC cricket correspondent

Had it not been for some brave and calculated hitting from Graeme Swann, who received excellent support from James Anderson, England would have been in grave danger of losing the match at Centurion by a distance.

Swann made a belligerent 85 from only 81 balls as South Africa watched their lead dwindle away from possibly as much as 150 to merely 62.

When Anderson then bowled Ashwell Prince for a duck, it completed a remarkable transformation in fortunes.

The controversial Umpire's Decision Review System played its part in denting England's humour as they floundered on the third afternoon, but more at fault was the approach of their batsmen - and some pressurised slow bowling from Paul Harris.

Graeme Swann
Swann's 85 has given England hope of getting something from the first Test

Stuart Broad and Swann both argued with the umpires as a not out lbw verdict against Broad was overturned following a review, the issue being that South Africa took a full 35 seconds to decide whether or not to challenge umpire Aleem Dar's decision.

The regulations state that no more than a "few seconds" shall be taken by the players to make up their minds.

It was an unedifying spectacle - and, again, the sort of flash point this system is supposed to prevent.

It is also worth noting - again - that while Mr Dar really should have dispatched Broad in the first place, it was not the sort of glaring error that the DRS is designed to eliminate.

To add to England's misery over the system, replays showed sometime after the event that the delivery that bowled Kevin Pietersen for 40 was, in fact a no ball.

It seems only common sense, since we are experimenting with the technology, that while a dismissed batsman is leaving the field, that an immediate check as to the legality of the delivery is made. If it was a no ball, the batsman resumes his innings.

606: DEBATE
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But Harris's bowling made much more of a damaging impact on England's batting than the DRS.

From the sidelines, he looks thoroughly innocuous but he is deadly accurate and difficult to score off.

Jonathan Trott was frustrated for three hours, scoring only 28, before he charged down the pitch and was bowled, while Matt Prior faced 34 balls for four before being caught at deep square leg playing the sweep shot.

And as for Ian Bell. He made a dreadful misjudgement, and played no shot to a ball that simply drifted on to hit middle stump.

Paul Collingwood battled away for a very good 50, before receiving probably the only ball from Harris that did spin, and the only batsman who is utterly absolved of blame is Andrew Strauss, who was bowled for 46 by a ball that barely got off the ground.

And that is the worry for England.

Everything depends on how South Africa bat on the fourth day - with Swann again having a pivotal role with the ball - and whether they can build a lead large enough to make batting last on this pitch very awkward.

Only one of the grubbers has been straight so far, but that appears to be more through luck than anything else.



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see also
Michael Vaughan Q&A
21 Dec 09 |  Cricket
Swann inspires England fightback
18 Dec 09 |  England
England have the momentum - Swann
18 Dec 09 |  England
Harris aiming to put England in a spin
11 Dec 09 |  South Africa
Swann keeps England in contention
17 Dec 09 |  England
Ntini reaches 100-Test milestone
15 Dec 09 |  South Africa
Live cricket on the BBC
26 Oct 11 |  Cricket
England in South Africa 2009-10
17 Jan 10 |  England


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