In Test cricket the fate of innings, sessions, days, matches and series can depend on a single, fleeting moment. For as long as they live, the England tourists of 2010 will be tempted to claim that this extreme sequence of events occurred yesterday. For want of a gizmo a chance was lost; for want of a chance the rest happened.
They would do well to resist such a highfalutin claim. If the reprieve of South Africa's captain, Graeme Smith, 15 minutes into the second day of the fourth Test was both critical and controversial – and England made clear their bitterness and annoyance – it could not entirely account for the manner in which the tourists were so comprehensively outplayed.
Smith took full advantage of his apparent escape when everybody around (except the only two people who mattered) thought he was out and demonstrated yet again why he is among the most fearsome players of his generation, of any generation come to that. Had torrential rain not intervened to reduce the proceedings by 47.2 overs, South Africa might have been out of sight. As it is, they are only 35 runs ahead.
The key incident, which dominated the day, revolved around the third ball of the fourth over of the morning, bowled by Ryan Sidebottom. By the time the day was out it was not only the contentious Umpire Decision Review System which was being criticised once more, but the ability of one of the International Cricket Council's elite umpires, Daryl Harper, to carry it out properly.
The ball was wide and going wider and Smith rather foolhardily threw his bat in its general direction, attempting a cut. The ball zipped through to wicketkeeper, Matt Prior and England went up in unison.
Had they been practising orchestrated appeals, it could not have been more convincing and the conclusion must be that they sincerely thought Smith had edged it. The reaction of Smith himself was that of a smart old pro. He did not bother glancing round and shaped as if to prepare for the next ball. "Hit it, guvnor? Never." The torturers of Guantanamo Bay would not have dragged a confession of guilt, if guilt there was. Indeed, Smith gamely insisted later that although there was a noise he did not think he had hit the ball.
There was definitely a sound. Or, at least, there was definitely a sound in some places. However, the umpire Tony Hill immediately rebuffed the appeal as he is entitled to do. Before the days of reviews that might have been that with England cursing their luck but getting on with it.
But reviews there are and England sought one. The third umpire, Harper, had heard nothing, he said, and the decision stood. The game carried on and Smith started bludgeoning as only he can.
Off the field, claim, counterclaim and mischief were afoot. A distinct noise was picked up from the stump microphone in the Sky commentary box. But in Harper's eyrie, noise came there none. It was to turn out that Harper, for some reason known so far only to himself, had failed to turn up his volume because he had seen no need to do so. Yet a noise, and more than a suspicion of an edge, was obvious to all others.
Something undoubtedly went amiss in that second but it should perhaps always be remembered, one man's snick is often another man's waft at fresh air. The ball did not discernibly deviate after passing Smith's bat, though the noise that was heard could surely only have come from his bat.
What happened for much of the rest of the morning were repeated, extremely discernible deviations off Smith's bat.
His 20th Test century, his sixth against England, his second of the series was inevitable.
He was not always secure against the off-spin of Graeme Swann but he dealt with this by clubbing him over the leg side. England's three-pronged seam attack had their moments but too few of them. They failed to bowl an appropriate length and Anderson, when compared with his direct counterpart, Dale Steyn, was particularly disappointing.
There remained something in the pitch to encourage bowlers; England were not locating it with any regularity. Smith found a steady partner in Hashim Amla who has had a quietly successful series, and played some deft, punchy shots through the off side.
Early in the afternoon, South Africa took the lead when Smith squeezed a boundary off Anderson down to third man. His hundred arrived seven minutes after that with his 16th four. It was a surprise only when he nicked one – definitely this time – to second slip.
A thunderstorm arrived soon after, play, almost unfeasibly given its strength, resumed three hours later but only for 23 balls when bad light brought an end to the day. England will need much more of both.
Key moments: How the second day unfolded
10.15am England muted by review
The controversial moment that could prove to be the turning point of the session, day, match and series, not to put too fine a point on it: the Graeme Smith review.
11.21am Anderson given treatment
The fifty partnership is raised between Smith and Hashim Amla with Amla's second successive cover-driven four off Jimmy Anderson.
11.30am Half-century for Smith
Smith reaches his fifty with his eighth four, clipped off his legs.
12.18am Swann put to the sword
The partnership for the second wicket reaches 100 when Smith slogs a four off Graeme Swann.
12.23pm Amla piles on the agony
Amla reaches 50 for the third time in the series, from 75 balls.
1.43pm South Africa in front
A steered four by Smith wide of third slip puts the home side ahead.
1.50pm Ton up for the escapee
Smith reaches his 20th Test hundred in 243 minutes with a four through point, his eighth of the innings.
1.59pm Sidebottom gets his man
Smith out to Ryan Sidebottom for 105, 90 runs after England consider he should have been.
2.10pm Weather rescues tourists
A thunderstorm stops play with South Africa on 208 for 2.
5.27pm Darkness descends
Players come out after lengthy rain break. Only three and a bit overs are possible before bad light stops play.
Fourth Test Johannesburg (Second day of five) South Africa lead England by 28 runs with eight first-innings wickets remaining
England won toss
England First Innings: 180 (Collingwood 47; Steyn 5-51; Morkel 3-39)
South Africa First Innings Overnight: 29-0
*G C Smith c Strauss b Sidebottom:105
187 balls 16 fours
A G Prince c Swann b Broad:19
48 balls 3 fours
H M Amla not out: 73
132 balls 8 fours
J H Kallis not out: 7
Extras (b 1, lb 4, w 5, nb 1):11
Total (2 wkts, 63.2 overs): 215
Fall: 1-36 (Prince), 2-201 (Smith).
To bat: A B de Villiers, J P Duminy, †M V Boucher, R McLaren, M Morkel, D W Steyn, W D Parnell.
Bowling: Anderson 17-3-65-0 (nb1) (6-2-14-0, 5-0-22-0, 6-1-29-0), Sidebottom 17.2-4-49-1 (10-4-24-0, 3-0-8-0, 4.2-0-17-1), Broad 16-3-52-1 (w1) (6-0-16-1, 4-1-22-0, 4-1-12-0, 2-1-2-0), Swann 9-0-35-0 (7-0-30-0, 2-0-5-0), Collingwood 4-1-9-0 (one spell).
Second day progress: 50: 18.4 overs, 100: in 32.0 overs, 150: in 44.1 overs, Lunch: 160-1 (Smith 84, Amla 52) 47.0 overs, 200: in 56.3 overs, Tea: 208-2 (Amla 71, Kallis 2) 59.3 overs.
Smith 50: 105 balls, 8 fours; 100: 182 balls, 16 four; Amla 50: 75 balls, 6 fours.
Umpires: S J Davis (Aus) & A L Hill (NZ).
TV replay umpire: D J Harper. Match referee: R S Mahanama.Reuse content