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The Electronic Telegraph India v South Africa, Group A
Scyld Berry - 15 May 1999

South Africa make waves

A dramatic match was overshadowed - even the contest which pitted Sachin Tendulkar against Shaun Pollock and Allan Donald - by South Africa's daring, and unethical, introduction of radio contact on to the field of play.

By wiring up their captain, Hansie Cronje, and Donald to their coach, Bob Woolmer, in the pavilion, South Africa broke new ground - and the spirit of the game. They may have had a legal right to try it on as there was nothing in the laws to forbid it, but ICC, in the person of the Match Referee Talat Ali, had every right to ban it in the middle of India's innings.

Cricket's appeal is based on its being a combination of brain and brawn, the mental and physical. Take away that mental side, by allowing a coach to make a player's decisions for him, and the sport is immediately degraded. Even the ICC went so far as to say, in a feeble statement, that ``the World Cup is not the event to experiment with new devices''.

According to Ali Bacher, chief executive of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, two-way radio contact was first used in South Africa in a Masters tournament in Johannesburg which was organised by Clive Rice, largely for the consumption of television.

``About 12 months ago, Bob Woolmer told me about the idea and I said we should think about the ramifications,'' said Bacher.

``The team used it again in the Gary Kirsten benefit match at Newlands just before they came here, and again in their two warm-up matches against the counties. Bob is a forward thinker, very interested in the use of science and technology in sport, and he would be happy if all the teams used it. He's not telling the captain what to do: it's a question of putting options to him and Hansie making up his own mind.''

Other players, however, would be far more susceptible to instruction, and some captains could become robots.

Michael Browning, events manager of this World Cup, revealed that he had heard a rumour before the tournament that a team was planning to use two-way radios in their batting helmets. That possibility was taken care of because the World Cup organisers ordered all the coloured clothing and helmets, and distributed them to each team on their arrival in this country. Earpieces, though, came as a surprise.

Talat Ali, a dashing Pakistani Test batsman of the late Seventies who became an ICC match referee in 1997, acted soon after the first drinks break when he went round the ground from his vantage point to tell Cronje and Donald to remove the earpieces. He had already made contact with the ICC before making his decision. John Carr, one of three members of the ICC technical committee, was at the ground but not consulted, as the committee's brief mainly concerns injured players and their replacements.

Woolmer's own defence was: ``What we are trying to do is give them help or advice, like taking gloves out with the 12th man. It just speeds up the whole game.''

But the umpires are able to limit this kind of advice to occasional intrusions. An unceasing flow would transform the game, raising the standard, perhaps, but robbing it of human interest.

The match itself was staged on a relatively slow Hove surface but everything else was pulsating. Tendulkar led majestically until he edged an unworthy dab, but by then he had steeled Saurav Ganguly to ride the shorter balls and the lefthander batted elegantly until Jonty Rhodes dived at point and threw, on his knees, to the bowler's end. Such innovations as throwing like that, to save time, are a better part of Woolmer's coaching.

It was a bold decision by India to bat first after Sri Lanka's collapse on Friday, but it was the right one for them as the ball did not seam much at all and they don't like chasing. In a stand of 130 with Ganguly, Rahul Dravid batted as handsomely as Tendulkar, and one flowing on-drive was even better than the young master could have done. With some final wristiness from Mohammad Azharuddin to straight-drive Lance Klusener's yorkers, India's total was formidable.

South Africa made as poor a start to their innings as they did in the Test series against England last year. Gary Kirsten failed again, chopping on, and Herschelle Gibbs fell to a marginal leg-before. Mark Boucher gave the favourites some momentum with 34 from 36 balls, until Anil Kumble whipped a top-spinning googly though him, but South Africa still had a lot of work to do against India's lesser bowlers.

The match continued to level-peg as South Africa passed 100 with three wickets down, and near to the required rate of five runs an over. The majority of the crowd seemed to be Indian, or sounded as if they were. But they made less and less noise as Jacques Kallis settled into his innings with some fine driving.

Kallis went smoothly to his 50, and hit more and more boundaries as his innings wore on, unlike Ganguly. Daryll Cullinan sliced a skier to deep point, but Cronje took over as Kallis's partner and didn't need radio instruction from his coach to bat sensibly.

From their last 15 overs South Africa had to score 95 with six wickets in hand, most of them handy all-rounders.

Alas, the Hove ground was utterly unworthy of the occasion. While the new Sussex are to be congratulated on now having the will to update their Victorian heritage, they were not ready for such an attractive fixture. One long side of the ground was able to accommodate 300 people, when the overall number of tickets could have been sold several times over. The first two World Cups to be staged in England were so successful partly because they were staged entirely on Test, not tiny, grounds.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk