LONDON (AFP) – England great Geoffrey Boycott accused Alastair Cook's men of "poor cricket" as the over-rate slowed to a crawl on the second day of the fifth and final Ashes Test against Australia at The Oval on Thursday.
Hosts England may have already won the series at 3-0 up but they have so far been on the ropes in this match.
That was apparent after tea on Thursday's second day when England captain Cook set excessively defensive fields even when Australia's tailenders, rather than century-maker Steven Smith, were on strike.
England bowled just 11.5 overs in 64 minutes after tea, but still conceded 95 runs in the process, before Australia captain Michael Clarke declared on 492 for nine with Smith, whose hundred was his maiden Test century, 138 not out.
Teams are meant to bowl 15 overs an hour under International Cricket Council (ICC) regulations governing Test cricket.
If not, they can be fined and, ultimately, see their captain banned from matches for repeat offences, although the rules do give scope for officials to apply 'allowances' for third umpire referrals and injuries.
But Boycott said the ICC all too rarely clamped down on slow over-rates, insisting most leading teams were serial offenders when it suited them, and urged them to take stronger action
"The field placing was disappointing, England knew Australia were going to declare, but it's poor cricket when a team is bowling five overs in half an hour," Boycott said while commentating for BBC Radio's Test Match Special.
"The ICC don't try to defuse it, and the umpires are at fault for not enforcing it.
"And I'm not just blaming England -- teams in England's position are allowed to carry on like that, next time it'll be Australia, South Africa, West Indies or whoever," the former opening batsman added.
"A deliberate slow over-rate is not good for the game."
England's Australian bowling coach, David Saker, insisted the slow over-rate was not a cynical tactical ploy but due to a wet outfield, with rain delaying Thursday's start by three-and-a-half hours.
However, Saker risked angering spectators -- some of whom had paid more than ??100 ($156) for a ticket for the day -- by saying "educated" members of the crowd would understand what had happened.
"The main issue was the ball was very wet," Saker told reporters after stumps. "We couldn't deliver the ball until it was dry. It was extremely wet. That was the main crux of it."
As for accusations England had sold fans short on a day when seven overs had still to be bowled when bad light ended play shortly before the scheduled close, Saker said: "If the ball is wet there's only one team who can win and that's the batting team.
"You need to know when the bowler has a ball that is wet, he can't deliver anything like what he wants to. All you can do is dry the ball," the former Victoria and Tasmania paceman added.
"Most of the educated crowd would have known that and some of them wouldn't."
England were 32 without loss at stumps, a deficit of 460 runs and still needing a further 261 to avoid the follow-on.
Cook was 17 not out and Joe Root 13 not out.