West Indies, depleted and lacklustre in the field over the first two days, assembled determined resistance on the third morning in Centurion only to lose two wickets on an extended morning as they fell foul of a debatable third umpire decision.
Devon Smith would have been aggrieved at the manner of his departure – adjudged to be caught at the wicket after South Africa called for an umpiring review – and, after breaking the opening stand of 72, South Africa followed up with the wicket of Kraigg Brathwaite a run later to ensure that West Indies’ resilience was not fully rewarded.
Vernon Philander was the successful bowler on each occasion and he was the most impressive member of the South Africa attack as he maintained a fullish length on a slow surface which had become much calmer than on the opening day.
Smith’s exit, for 35, will provide more fodder for DRS sceptics, but the decision was not as off-beam as some immediately suggested. The umpire Billy Bowden had rejected Philander’s appeal after the ball passed between Smith’s bat and hip as he sought to work it through square leg. Snicko, unhelpfully, showed a spike when the ball was between bat and trouser pocket. Superficially, there was no evidence to overturn Bowden’s decision but Paul Reiffel, the TV umpire, did just that.
Further replays, long after the decision had been made, muddied the waters. A zoom-in camera, not available to Reiffel, did not support his view. In contrast, the fact that there were two spikes – the first perhaps from the bat – did give some credence to his conclusion that the ball had touched both bat and hip on the way through to the stand-in wicketkeeper AB de Villiers. The ICC, too, has advised, that sound spikes can potentially appear in the next frame, just after contact has been made.
But, all in all, there were too many presumptions for an on-field decision to be properly overturned: DRS is not about educated guesses but clear proof that provides the basis for widespread agreement. Rieffel’s decision possessed logic, but Smith would count himself unfortunate.
Brathwaite then followed in Philander’s next over. Earlier, Brathwaite had edged him just short of second slip. This time a thinner edge flew to Hashim Amla at first. Leon Johnson and Marlon Samuels stabilised West Indies until lunch in a session extended to two-and-a-half hours because of the rain that washed out the final session on the second day.
Smith had survived a South Africa review when he had made only a single. On this occasion, Philander was adamant he had got his man lbw, but the decision stayed with the on-field umpire.
South Africa were depleted in the field, although unlike West Indies the mishaps had not affected their bowling attack. Quinton de Kock, the wicketkeeper, had twisted an ankle and Faf du Plessis’ virus had been bad enough for him to visit hospital.
The pace attack, though, was in rude health and Smith and Brathwaite combated them determinedly as the Test possessed an intensity that had been sorely lacking on the previous day. West Indies progressed most assuredly against Kyle Abbott. Smith helped himself to two fours in Abbott’s first over and later when he hammered him through midwicket for four the pitch’s easy pace was evident.
The opening pair was almost split, however, by what would have been an unfortunate run out. After Smith pushed Morne Morkel to midwicket for a quick single, Brathwaite lost his footing approaching the crease, dropped his bat and was still short of his ground when Dalke Steyn’s underarm throw narrowly missed the stumps.