Jacques Kallis was well within his rights to complain to umpire Steve Davis after he had been given out lbw to Andrew Flintoff yesterday afternoon. For the second time in the match Kallis had lost his wicket to Flintoff because he had failed to see a full ball coming out of a dark area of seating above the sightscreen at the Pavilion End of the ground. In South Africa's first innings a superb yorker knocked out his off stump; yesterday a high full toss hit him flush on the right thigh in front of the stumps while he was taking evasive action.
The reason for Kallis' ire was that South Africa had asked Michael Vaughan, the England captain, and the match officials to place white sheeting over the blind spot at the end of the first innings. Vaughan, realising that the situation was giving his team an advantage, refused to succumb to the tourists. The officials, those wise old birds who prefer to quote regulations from a book than show the slightest hint of common sense, also refused, saying that they were not allowed to change conditions once a match had started. The bowler in me rarely has much sympathy for those pampered prima donnas who wield the willow but this was a ridiculous response to a reasonable request. Surely it is the role of officials to enable rather than hinder a player seeking to perform to his full potential. What the hell are sightscreens for if they do not assist the batsman in seeing the ball? When a bowler moves from over the wicket to round, the sightscreen moves with him. What is the difference between this and whitening an area where the batsman is struggling to see the ball?
Examples of what the South Africans were asking for have already taken place in this Test. At each end of the ground the groundstaff have covered red advertising boards in front of a sightscreen for fear of them acting as a distraction.
There was a famous delay in a Test at Old Trafford in 1995 when the sun was shining on a greenhouse at the DIY centre to the side of the sightscreen, causing a blinding glare. The problem was resolved, after a half an hour, when sheets were put over the offending glass. What is the difference between that incident and the one that took place yesterday?
No doubt the International Cricket Council, the game's governing body, will amend their regulations at the end of this Test. That will bring no consolation to South Africa, as it failed to for New Zealand, who were penalised by another contentious regulation here at Edgbaston earlier in the season. Then, in a rain-interrupted one-day international, the umpires kept the interval between innings at 30 minutes rather than reduce it to 10, only to see the game end with no result when one more over needed to be bowled for a positive conclusion to be achieved.
England supporters will accuse the South Africans of whinging, saying that it was only Flintoff who was causing problems and that was because they could not cope with big Freddie's hostility. There is an element of truth in that, but one bowler can cause a unique set of circumstances.
It is all about where Flintoff releases the ball from and the trajectory of it as it comes down the pitch towards the batsman. Morne Morkel is a taller bowler with a higher action and he probably releases the ball from above the blind spot, causing it to spend very little time in it. James Anderson is shorter and the ball probably never enters it. Flintoff's height and his positioning on the crease obviously result in the ball spending a greater time in this area at the moment when a batsman is judging line and length.
Kallis' reaction, like that of Neil McKenzie, who was dismissed in similar fashion yesterday, was understandable but it would not have helped the mood of his team-mates. When a leading player reacts in such a way it transmits negativity through the team. "If Jacques, with 30 Test hundreds and an average of 57, can't cope, then what chance have I," the batsmen to come might say.
Kallis' hostile, bat-swinging, four-letter reaction to his dismissal will undoubtedly result in a visit to Ranjan Madugalle, the match referee. It is hoped common sense will prevail. Kallis has an impeccable record and we all want to see sport at this level played by humans who show emotion, not robots incapable of thinking for themselves.