England's Alec Stewart joined the South African captain, Graeme Smith in questioning the quality of the Trent Bridge pitch after nine wickets fell for 233 runs in increasingly difficult conditions yesterday.
Stewart made 72 but was the only batsman to thrive as England lost their last seven wickets while adding only 149 to their overnight 296 for 3, the ball going through lower and slower as the day progressed as a surface that was widely cracked at the start steadily grew more hazardous.
Smith, the scorer of double hundreds at both Edgbaston and Lord's in the first two Tests, perished for 35 yesterday, although the mode of his dismissal - hit wicket - owed more to his own carelessness than the state of the pitch as he stepped on his stumps playing back to Andrew Flintoff.
"You expect a wicket to start producing variable bounce by the fourth or fifth day but for it to be going up and down on day two is disappointing," the South African captain said. "For a Test match wicket, it seems a little bit unprepared." Stewart admitted that keeping wicket had been "a nightmare" but expressed sympathy for the groundsman, Steve Birks. "The wicket played a few too many tricks but the wickets have been good here in the past and I understand the groundsman has had some problems with root growth this summer.
"From our point of view to have scored 445 on that surface was a good effort and to have seen the back of Graeme Smith is a big plus, although I can't say that hit wicket was one of the methods of getting him out that we discussed at our team meeting."
Smith had no excuses for his unusual departure. "I like to give myself a bit more time by standing a little further back against the quicker bowlers but I think I've only ever been out once before that way," he said. Smith praised his bowlers for conceding less than 150 in removing England's remaining wickets. "They showed a lot of discipline and character to keep us in the game."
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