Smith concussed as captains begin to feel the strain

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For the captains slugging it out in a pulsating Test series a tough job just got tougher. No sooner had Michael Vaughan of England incurred the displeasure of the match referee for stating the bleedin' obvious in rubbishing some pretty poor umpiring than Graeme Smith of South Africa was carted off to hospital with concussion after being struck on the head by a ball hit by his coach.

For the captains slugging it out in a pulsating Test series a tough job just got tougher. No sooner had Michael Vaughan of England incurred the displeasure of the match referee for stating the bleedin' obvious in rubbishing some pretty poor umpiring than Graeme Smith of South Africa was carted off to hospital with concussion after being struck on the head by a ball hit by his coach.

Both men can consider themselves fortunate to be taking part in what should be the decisive match later this week. For a while yesterday, with a gruelling rubber finely poised, the resonant words of Walt Whitman hung in the air.

"O captain, my captain, our fateful trip is done, but heart, heart, heart the bleeding drops of red, where on the deck my captain lies, fallen cold and dead." That was probably less literally the case for Vaughan who was merely relieved of his match fee, some £5,500, after being found guilty of a level two code of conduct offence. This was, specifically, "public criticism of, or an inappropriate comment on a match related incident or match official."

Strictly speaking, Clive Lloyd, the match referee, had Vaughan bang to rights. England's captain had unquestionably, if politely, berated the umpires for their decision to call off play for bad light when England were in charge of the match on Friday evening. "Umpires have a hard job and all we ask for is consistency but they weren't consistent out there today." He was referring to the fact that England had been expected to bat in some pretty dire conditions earlier that day when bad light was not on offer. Vaughan was merely expressing what was obvious, and the umpires had also upset legions of paying fans who wondered why it was not possible to continue in bright sunshine.

However, the umpires had probably had their fill. At every turn in this series, somebody from one or other of the teams has knocked on their door to take issue with this or that - and this from sides who are breaking the most basic regulation by not being bothered to sustain a decent over rate. It would have been harsh, but perhaps Vaughan can consider himself lucky not to have been banned for the final Test.

Smith is definitely lucky. He and his team were practising fielding yesterday with their coach, Ray Jennings, hitting balls. Jennings is known for his eccentric drills to keep players on their toes. He hit a ball towards Smith who was scrambling after it when a ball meant for another player rebounded and hit the captain on the temple. Smith, who had a large bump on his head, was discombobulated for a few minutes but was later said to be talking as much sense as ever, and defied medical advice by taking the field after tea.

For he and Vaughan, of course, until Centurion Park a week tomorrow the fateful trip will not quite be done. Then, one of them will be able further to quote Walt: "The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won."

* Mark Butcher yesterday conceded that he has lost his England No 3 spot to Robert Key, but said he still intends to return for the Ashes. The 32-year-old left-hander, who was replaced by Key when a wrist problem ruled him out of the rest of the tour of South Africa, said: "Of course, I know it's probably the case that Robert Key has probably taken over the No 3 batting spot for England. He is in there; he has scored runs in the current match; he has possession of the place. But I can tell you I am absolutely nowhere near chucking it all in. I believe I'm a Test class player, a Test class batsman."

Comments