On the Front Foot: Under-fire Harper's Facebook friends are music to his ears

The dispute surrounding Daryl Harper's contentious use of the Decision Review System – colloquially known as referrals – took a delightful new turn yesterday. Harper appeared robustly to defend his actions as third umpire in the Fourth Test in a series of postings on the Facebook website. Meanwhile England continued to be enraged and refused to let the matter drop, as reported elsewhere. Harper had provoked their ire by declining to overturn the verdict of the on-field umpire Tony Hill, who gave Graeme Smith not out caught behind on 15 in South Africa's first innings. That Smith went on to make 105 in characteristically belligerent style merely exacerbated their feelings. Representations were made by the England coach, Andy Flower, to the match referee, Roshan Mahanama, about Harper, and yesterday England formally requested that their review be reinstated, claiming Harper did not have the volume on his stump microphone turned up sufficiently to hear Smith's alleged edge. Although Harper denied that the postings on his site actually came from him, he conceded they sounded like him and they were rather fun. Among other things the site said: "Thanks, Suhail... but the truth about Smith's decision may come out eventually. The host broadcaster didn't provide the appropriate sound to match the picture. The commentator, Matthew Hoggard, told the viewers that there was no sound so Smith would be given not out. Five minutes later they found a sound and blamed me!" Or: "Thanks for that, Mike. I always get stick from English commentators... it's the Aust.-Eng. thing. They can't help themselves. But I get to make my decision as a truly neutral. Thanks for the feedback." The ICC also supported Harper. Amid all this claim and counterclaim, it is being forgotten, not least by Flower, that Smith may have hit the ball but he may not have done. The technology, whatever its volume, was not conclusive. What larks, what larks.

Flintoff off, then on again

When Andrew Flintoff's people issued a statement the other day that he intended to play all forms of cricket for Lancashire next season this was bizarrely interpreted in some quarters. Flintoff, according to one national newspaper at least, would never play again. There seemed some discrepancy between the two versions, especially as the only source for the "never play again" line was the "play all forms" intention. Spin was to blame. In portraying such optimism, Flintoff's agents had tried to bury the salient fact that he had undergone yet another knee operation, delaying his return to playing by another six months. Hence the ill-researched scepticism. For what it's worth, the smart money should be on Fred playing again for Lancashire and in franchised Twenty20 tournaments around the world but never for England.

When 180 hits the bullseye

Not all hope should have been abandoned when England were bowled out for 180 in their first innings of the final Test. They have won 17 of their matches when scoring 180 or fewer in the first innings of a match. The last time was in 1997, when they made 180 against Australia at The Oval. They have six times done so against South Africa, twice in the 1955 series alone, and once, in 1887 in Sydney, they were bowled out for just 45 and still went on to win by 13 runs.

KP not at home in South Africa

Kevin Pietersen's poor series – though it is only four innings since he made a fifty – seems to confirm that he is not quite the batsman he was. He is also not the player abroad, where he averages 42.66 in 50 innings, that he is in England, where he averages 54.90 in 52.


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