The day Bill Lawry backed SA

Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
Sport24 chief writer Rob Houwing (File)
It ranks among my most memorable moments in television sports commentary ... the “Mark Waugh incident” at Adelaide Oval in 1997/98 which possibly tilted a tense Australia v South Africa Test series the home way.

Suddenly in unusual, rival corners were Channel 9 stalwarts Richie Benaud and Bill Lawry, the former believing justice was served and the latter, normally a pretty dyed-in-the-wool Australian, sticking firmly to a belief that the tourists had been diddled.

To recap: South Africa, 1-0 down in the three-match series, were pressing desperately hard for victory on the tense last day of the final encounter in the scenic South Australian capital.

The Aussies, understandably in the context of the series situation, had made no concerted attempt to go after the target of 361 they’d been set by now-deceased Proteas captain Hansie Cronje, and Waugh, on 107 when the flashpoint came, was very much leading the stone-walling initiative as the tourists made some inroads into the Aussie tail.

In the lengthening shadows, the batsman fended off a nasty Shaun Pollock short delivery with his shoulder, and wobbled backwards, disturbing the stumps with his bat very shortly afterwards.

Naturally the South Africans appealed for a “hit wicket” verdict, believing they had finally got the prize scalp of the day and were back in with a good chance of mopping up the remains of the order.

“I think you’ll find that’s out,” quickly said former Aussie skipper Lawry, as admirably clear-cut an assertion as you could wish for from an on-air commentator. “He’s stood on his stumps; he was reeling away.”

But his companion behind the mike at the time - doyen of all the Channel Niners, Richie Benaud - offered a dissenting view.

“No, he’s not still in the stroke ... he’s just walked away and casually knocked the bails off. And I didn’t think he was reeling.”

Still Lawry stood his ground: “He wasn’t looking at the stumps, Richie ... wasn’t in control.”

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the eventual decision (after review, and a right old on-field kerfuffle) not to give Waugh out, Benaud sounded less than convincing when he also maintained that you could not adjudge out a batsman who had disturbed the bails “30 seconds afterwards”.

Lawry even had the audacity to correct the much-loved senior statesman of Aussie cricket commentary, making the quite valid point that the time that had elapsed wasn’t nearly 30 seconds (it was more like two or three!).

It is history now that the Australians held out to seal the series, seven wickets down, and later Cronje angrily put a stump through the umpires’ changing room door.

Incidentally, for those wondering why the formerly ever-present, legendarily excitable Lawry isn’t quite as prominent in the Channel 9 booth these days, the 75-year-old is apparently voluntarily “slowing down a little” these days - though he is back at the mike in the current Test.

Rob’s Awesome Foursome

1. England v South Africa, rugby Test
London, Saturday 16:30, M-Net, SS1 & SHD

It’s the reasonably traditional, merciful season-ender for the Boks, and a game that will determine whether this tour can be branded a success – playing-style warts and all – or relative failure for them. Fatigue issues notwithstanding, I have an upbeat feeling (famous last words) about Jean de Villiers and company doing the business against a much-changed England side who will do well to gel properly at short notice. Why, I even believe the Springboks will get a try or three of the non-maul, non-intercept variety. Don’t forget the later All Blacks match (19:15 SA time) against a Welsh side in some sense of disarray ... but likely to breathe fire for a fair while on this occasion?

2. Australia v South Africa, second cricket Test
Adelaide, to Monday 02:00, SS2, CSN & SH2

Day one was unedifying viewing for many bleary-eyed South African telly watchers; there have been a few post-isolation shockers for the Proteas in Australia – especially in the heyday of the Steve Waugh-led home side – but that was right up there in the misery stakes, wasn’t it? By the time you read this, the fightback should be at a well advanced stage. Or, um, not. Despite their home-town slant, I still find myself alternating fairly routinely between the Channel 9 commentary option and the SuperSport team, for whom the likes of HD Ackerman and Mike Haysman have been in pretty good nick thus far.

3. Chelsea v Manchester City, English Premiership soccer
London, Sunday 18:00, SS3, Maximo & SHD3

They change managers at Stamford Bridge more often than some of us open a fridge. And what a first-up game for Rafa Benitez as interim boss – the visit to London of champions City, presently a comfortable four points clear of their out-of-touch hosts. Chelsea could certainly do with the considerable tonic of a win, and a defeat would really see them slip out of touch in the title chase. With City confirmed as goners in the Champions League, they can focus more resolutely on the Premiership now, though a draw seems the sensible, conservative pick for this Sunday sundowner in South African couch terms.

4. F1 Brazilian Grand Prix motorsport
Sao Paulo, Sunday 18:00, SS2, CSN & SH2

Petrol-heads are assured of a lively Sunday evening in front of the telly as the 2012 F1 drivers’ championship comes down to the Interlagos wire: Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel holds the aces with his 273 points, a lead of 13 over lone remaining challenger Fernando Alonso of Ferrari (260). It is amazing to think that at the August break, 40 points separated these men ... and it was the Spaniard ahead! Still, Brazilians deserve a gripping climax because last year’s season-ender was pretty mundane with the crown already decided – for the record, Mark Webber won, with Vettel second and Alonso fourth on that occasion.
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