The light was already fading at SuperSport Park in Centurion on Friday when Jofra Archer’s knuckleball slipped from his grasp, writes Daniel Gallan at Centurion.
The ball arrowed towards Anrich Nortje’s body without bouncing on the pitch.
The South Africa nightwatchman had already cut a frightened figure in the face of fiery English fast bowling but this beamer seemed cruel and unusual. He contorted his body to escape a damaging blow and umpire Paul Reiffel shot his arm out from square of the wicket to call a no-ball.
Archer began his run-up again and steamed towards the crease.
He gathered with intent but rather than a hostile bouncer he gave the knuckleball another go. It didn’t work and for the second delivery in a row, a beamer zeroed in on Nortje’s chest. The batsman evacuated the scene and Reiffel shot his arm out to signal a no-ball.
Except the umpire didn’t keep his arm there. In the wake of English cries of anguish all around him, Reiffel rescinded his decision. After convening with his colleague Chris Gaffaney, the no-ball was cancelled.
Had it stood, Jofra Archer, England’s menacing fast bowler who had sauntered into the series with a reputation as the new bully on the block, would have been evicted from the match, barred from bowling for the rest of the innings.
The English players knew it.
Reiffel and Gaffaney knew it, too, which is perhaps why they chose to give Archer a stern reprimand rather than throw the book at him. Test cricket needs its superstars and there is no question that Archer is a blockbuster name.
But, here’s the thing. One’s station in society should not determine which rules apply. When French captain Zinedine Zidane headbutted Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the chest in the 2006 Fifa World Cup final, he rightly received a straight red card. It didn’t matter that he was the best player of the tournament or that a second title would have underlined his greatness. A blatantly violent act off the ball was given the punishment it deserved.
A dangerous precedent has now been set.
What if Kagiso Rabada commits a similar mistake at some point in the series? Will the umpires show similar leniency?
It is important here to state that what Archer did was a mistake. No fast bowler, even the most aggressive, bouncer-mad among them, would hurl a ball on the full from 22 yards. But the law is the law and intent is irrelevant.
Archer should not be allowed to bowl another ball in the match. The umpires got it wrong.
Photo: Gallo Images