England capitalise on short sightscreen

A short sightscreen at the Pavilion End here at Edgbaston nearly helped England enough to win the extraordinarily exciting third Test match. As has happened before at this ground, a number of full-length deliveries from that end arrived at the batsman entirely unsighted.

The problem, which is not a completely new one at the Birmingham ground, arises specifically for yorkers and full tosses as the ball that is delivered from above the angle covered by the sightscreen stays above the white background and in the line of the members’ dark jackets for longer as a result of their flatter trajectory.

On day one of this match the six-feet-and-five-inches Morne Morkel sent down a ball from his delivery height of nine feet which the left-handed Alastair Cook knew nothing about. When I say he knew nothing about it, I mean he didn’t even react to it. Fortunately for Cook, the ball was outside the off stump.

Jacques Kallis was not as fortunate in either of his two innings when he was dismissed by the fiery six-feet-and-four-inches Andrew Flintoff. Kallis’s second dismissal (which really was his third as a plumb LBW to a full-length Flintoff delivery was turned down on day two) was the most unusual of Flintoff’s sightscreen related scalps – a full toss which Kallis ducked as he thought it was a short ball. The ball hit him on the top of the pad, trapped LBW and swung the match in England’s favour. Kallis was furious.

Earlier when Neil Mckenzie was out LBW to a full Flintoff ball from the Pavilion End, South African coach Mickey Arthur went running to the match referee to complain. But nothing could be done as the sightscreen flaw had been the same for both sides.

It does seem strange that all of this helped Flintoff on many occasions while only one Morkel ball appeared to go unsighted. Flintoff is marginally shorter than Morkel but I think the difference can be explained by the fact that his unusual wrist-on action makes it difficult to pick the length of his deliveries. Indeed most readers will remember his success with the yorker against Australia during the incredible Ashes series for England in 2005.

Is it bad sportsmanship to exploit such an apparent advantage? Should Vaughan have bowled Flintoff from the other end? Is it dangerous to do so for an accidental beamer could cause injury? Test match cricket is a highly competitive beast. It is ruthless and unforgiving and it can only be expected that a team will use any advantage within the rules to the maximum, especially if they are one Test down in the series with only two results outstanding.

I do however believe that when Flintoff bowled a bodyline full toss, which fractionally missed AB de Villiers’s back and his leg stump as he narrowly evaded the hard red leather, he should have apologised to the batsman.

I can see only two ways in which the Warwickshire County Cricket Club can solve this problem. One would be to do away the club’s best members seats. The other would be to instruct the ten or so members behind the bowler’s arm to don cream Richie Benaud style jackets.

This article appeared on Cricket365 in July 2008 during the third Test between England and South Africa.

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