DARYL HARPER, the controversial Australian umpire, could be in hot water with the ICC after he failed to hear an edge from South Africa captain Graeme Smith which echoed around the world on the second day of the final Test at the Wanderers today.
Afterwards Smith himself admitted: “There was a noise. Definitely. But it could have been my thumb against the bat. It doesn’t take the gloss off my century.”
Harper, no stranger to technological blunders – he once claimed he couldn’t see the ball on a replay screen in the West Indies and just yesterday failed to spot a potential no-ball when Alastair Cook was given out LBW – apparently failed to turn his audio feed up and couldn’t hear the obvious snick which saw Smith let off on 15.
Smith went on to score a superb 105 and was out shortly after lunch before a huge storm stopped play with South Africa 208-2, 28 ahead of England’s 108 with eight wickets in hand. Smith finally fellow to birthday boy Sidebottom, 32 today, and Prior but by then the damage had been done.
SABC spokesman Neil Manthorpe, a British-born commentator, said: “Unfortunately Daryl had his feed volume turned down to four out of ten.
“We all get the same feed, ESPN, SABC and Sky. We all heard it. He just didn’t realise. And it’s been like that for the whole Test match. It was all about twiddling a knob in the umpire’s room.”
The question nobody dared asked England boss Andy Flower afterwards was: Do England blame the knob in the umpire’s room or Daryl Harper? Flower said: “It’s disappointing. If this wasn’t such an important Test match it would have been amusing.
“We spoke to the match referee several times today. The first time he said Harper had a separate audio feed to Sky and SABC. We then established they all share the same feed. And when we went back, they told us about the volume level.
“Apparently they thought four out of 10 was sufficient. It’s obviously a problem”
With the ICC set to release a statement and the SABC taking two hours over their press release, an employee from Octagon, who provide the technical expertise for coverage the Wanderers, said: “Harper should have realised. They say he couldn’t hear the thunder when the storm broke over the ground later in the day.”
Ryan Sidebottom, who bowled the fourth over of the day, had no doubts. Nor did England wicketkeeper Matt Prior, who took the catch. But after New Zealand umpire Tony Hill failed to react to a universal appeal, England skipper Andrew Strauss called for an immediate review.
England’s players were clearly shocked when Harper, high in the stands in the umpire’s room, said he had heard nothing. The 58-year-old has to rely on the audio feed from the wicket microphone as South Africa does not have hot-spot technology in place for a suspected edge.
But former England seamer Matthew Hoggard said: “We all heard it You just had to twiddle with the volume control. Nobody can understand what happened, but it is difficult without hotspot technology.”
And Pommie Mbangwa, the former South African player in the commentary box said: “It was out, everybody knew it was out. We all heard the noise. Except Harper.”
While text messages flooded in from around the world claiming they had heard the snick, Harper chose not to make an appearance, preferring to wait for the ICC statement.
Meanwhile out on the flooded pitch, miracles were being worked by men with brooms (above) and two mechanised Super Squeegies. The flooded ground was miraculously dried and three hours and 18 minutes after that huge cloudburst drove us into the back of the stands seeking cover from the deluge and crashing thunder. If only Harper's mike was as efficient.
Resuming on 208-2 at 5.30 local time (which is when play is scheduled to close on an ordinary day here), Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis were put under pressure by Ryan Sidebottom and Stuart Broad. But the rain soon returned and South Africa went off at 215-2.
Afterwards Flower, amid the accusations and counter-accusations over Harper’s knob, said: “The key to getting back in this match is to take early wickets tomorrow.”
In reality of course, the rain dance will take place in the Sandton Sun tonight. Attendance compulsory. It’s England’s only hope.