Andrew Strauss has described South Africa's behaviour as “malicious”, in the ball-tampering row which erupted in the Newlands Test — and was yesterday still refusing to go away.
After England clung on for another nailbiting draw to retain an unbeatable 1-0 lead with one match remaining in a four-match series, it seemed true cricket drama might have chased the controversy away.
But Strauss remained unhappy with South Africa's decision to go public on the third evening of the match with their concerns over Stuart Broad and James Anderson's management of the ball.
They chose not to make an official complaint the next morning, and the International Cricket Council subsequently declared the matter closed. But Strauss said: “I do think to a certain extent that the South Africans announcing it to the media — without being totally clear in their minds what they were going to do, whether they were going to put in a formal complaint — is a little bit malicious.
“Ball-tampering is a very sensitive subject — and if you're going to make allegations, you've got to be very clear or confident that is exactly what the other team were doing.”
Strauss conceded England must be very careful from now on — after Broad stopped a straight drive with the sole of his studded boot, and Anderson was pictured running his fingers over the ball — but he insists his team have done nothing wrong.
“We're not particularly happy about it, and I strongly refute those allegations,” he added. “I really don't feel there was any concerted effort on anybody's part to alter the state of the ball.
“I appreciate that some of that (television) footage didn't look amazingly good. But I don't think it was anything that was malicious, particularly. If the spotlight is on you, we've got to be very careful that we are beyond suspicion. But what Stuart Broad did there is not something you'd do if you wanted to alter the shape of the ball — because, just as easily, your stud could go in the shiny side and ruin your chances of swinging the ball. At no stage did the umpires feel they had any concerns about the state of the ball.
“I'm very comfortable with our actions. It's always a bit of a shame when these things rear their head, and we'll be making sure that something like this doesn't happen again.”
Strauss is hoping relations between the two teams do not deteriorate.
“We haven't had a lot to do with them,” he reported. “Towards the back end of a series, emotions start running a little bit high. That's understandable. I hope today has gone some way to making sure the game of cricket is the main story.”
His opposite number Graeme Smith said: “The series is competitive and is being played in a hard way, but I have no doubt that when it is finished there will be a beer shared,” he said. “That's the way cricket is played today, and it's the way I like my team to play the game. I don't see any off-field tensions. It's pretty tough on the field, and that's the way people want to have it.”