Hoggard full of praise for perfect partner in crime

"It was nice to be able to bowl in tandem with him," Hoggard said. "Overhead conditions suited us. The ball was swinging. They had been offered the light but they had to plough on and get runs on the board." But they did not.

However, the Australia coach, John Buchanan, last night said he was still backing his side to win. "It's never mission impossible. We're still in there with a big chance," Buchanan said.

"Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Brett Lee and Shaun Tait still present a very good bowling attack which could do the work on this wicket.

"Hopefully, there will be 98 overs to go, and you always give yourself an opportunity when you have a guy like Warne in your side."

The issue of bad light is a serious one. This series has been historic for many reasons, including going on more deeply into September than any other Test series staged in this country.

So the laws governing light were always going to be invoked. When the England batsmen went off for the first time at 2.22pm the umpires were cheered to the tubular steel rafters of the new stand at the Oval - suddenly spectators were glad to pay good money to see no play, knowing that a draw is all that is needed to secure the Ashes.

The umpire Billy Bowden said: "It's the first time I have been cheered off by the fans for bad light." The fact it was when the leg-spinner Shane Warne bowling was immaterial. Bowden's fellow umpire, Rudi Koertzen, explained: "With the fast bowlers there is an acceptable level and, as soon as it dips below that, you offer the light to the batsmen.

"With spin bowlers on, we give them a bit more leeway but, once we think it's unfair, we offer the light, and we won't go back on until the reading improves.

"As a batsmen you can lose the ball through the air when it's bowled slowly in bad light. It makes it difficult for the batsmen to pick it up when the light is poor." Koertzen, in any case, was merely following the latest guidelines issued by the International Cricket Council.

Australia had been offered the light and Bowden said: "When we offered the light to the Australians the reading was 6.5 - the higher the reading the better the light - but it was not taken. But for us that became the benchmark."

Early in the England innings the light levels reached that benchmark. "I informed Ricky Ponting that the light was at 6.5," said Bowden. "We told him if he continued with the fast bowlers we'd offer it, so he put the spinners on."

But conditions deteriorated still further, dropping below 5.0 and Bowden added: "The light was at 4.8 when we came off and we felt we had to be consistent and give the England batsmen the option of coming off. Of course, they took it."

Light laws

Law 3.9 (b) (ii) states: If at any time the umpires agree the condition of ground, weather or light is not suitable for play, they shall inform the captains and immediately suspend play.

And the reasons for suspending play are embraced by Law 3.9 (d): If at any time the umpires together agree that the conditions of ground, weather or light are so bad that there is obvious and foreseeable risk to the safety of any player or umpire, so that it would be unreasonable or dangerous for play to take place, then notwithstanding the provisions of (b) (ii) they shall suspend play.

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