Board reaps whirlwind for lax discipline

South Africa 451-9dec & 94-3 Australia 359
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The Independent Online

Madness has been rife. Tempers have been frayed, umpires have been weak and indecisive, a cheap shot from an idiot in the stands has been turned into a cause célèbre, a statement about the nation no less, play has been absurdly delayed, a coach has been punished for telling the truth and the match referee has seemingly lost his grip.

Where to start? The delay in resuming play after lunch was incomprehensible. Forty-five minutes were wasted as umpires twiddled their thumbs. Already an hour had been lost to morning drizzle. Every entertainment worth a fig knows that the show must go on. Umpires and match referee had an obligation to get play under way at the earliest opportunity.

The match officials made matters worse with culpable errors on an abbreviated fourth day. In 20 overs of testy cricket, they managed to give yet another stinker, call a premature wide as Shane Warne directed his first ball down the leg-side and become involved in several long and unproductive conversations with the home captain.

Nor can Chris Broad escape censure. In a belated attempt to improve discipline, he eventually reprimanded Brett Lee for some minor indiscretion. Lee was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

On a fourth day under glowering skies, Broad intervened again, reprimanding Glenn McGrath. The paceman was reported by the umpires for "using language that is obscene, offensive or insulting and/or the making of an obscene gesture" following an outburst in the 13th over of South Africa's second innings. He was charged with a level one offence which carried a maximum penalty of being fined half his match fee. The reprimand he received was the minimum penalty.

The Board also summoned South Africa coach Mickey Arthur to explain his mild remarks about the injustices suffered by his side. Arthur wanted to express the immense frustration felt in the rooms and doubtless took the penalty into account. Graeme Smith limited himself to storming into the umpires' room at the first opportunity after his dismissal. He returned with thunder on his face.

Had the South Africans been obligingly tame the Australians might have been able to ride roughshod over them. Instead they copied their hosts. And that is when the trouble started.

Hitherto Ricky Ponting could argue that the conduct of his players had passed muster. No complaints had been made. He had a point. Weak umpiring and refereeing lies behind this débâcle. About the only sensible remark to emerge was the ICC's demand that the competing cricket communities hold their tongues. Overall it has been a bad match for all concerned.

* Hampshire have approached the Australia batsman Matthew Hayden about signing him as an overseas player. Hayden had a spell with them in 1997, when he scored 1,446 runs at an average of 53.55. Simon Katich will not be returning because he is due to get married this year, and Shane Watson will not be returning because of injury.