England’s vise-like grip on the Ashes urn has tightened to an almost unrelenting point, at least for this series anyway. If we manage to play on Day Five, then the first ball bowled has to be delivered by an Australian to an Englishman, and it will probably need to be a wicket taker.
Australia will surely declare overnight, but with the benefit of hindsight one may argue that Michael Clarke should have pulled the pin already.
With rain pencilled in for Day Five causing the likely loss of many overs, and with a lead approaching 300, the case for declaration mounted last night. I rocked back and forth steadily going round the twist from sleep deprivation, and at one o’clock this morning I pleading for a declaration. This feeling was emboldened when rain did arrive, the players departed and Tea was taken. The rain subsided, tea and scones were had, but Australia batted on.
On cue, as if realising they hadn’t interfered and shaped the game for a couple of hours, the umpires imposed themselves.
Tony Hill, of New Zealand, and Marais Erasmus of South Africa, dragged the players off the field at 1625 local time, enforcing the ICC’s bad light ruling. Michael Clarke was furious. The umpires had asked the England captain, Alistair Cook, to bowl spin from both ends, he understandably declined. No more play occurred and 36 overs were lost forever.
The bad light ruling drives me nuts and it didn’t please the parochial English crowd at Old Trafford, who booed and expressed visual discontent. There are England fans out there undisturbed at the loss of play, pointing to the contribution it makes to their Ashes campaign. I’d rather see the players resolve the contest, not the umpires or the weather.
Bad light is a safety ruling designed to protect players and officials, but it seems immensely subjective. Context and local expectations seem to shape the standard.
I’ve sat at Queens Park Oval in Trinidad – a rainy, forested island adjacent to Venezuela – and monsoonal gloom dominated. I sensed that if this light were experienced in sunny Perth the umpires would be off, but that light is par for the course in the southern Caribbean. I’ve also been at Lords, freezing cold in a gale, clad in a thick jacket with the day far too dark to consider sun glasses, yet play continued without any issue with the light. Again, if that light were experienced at Newlands in the bright beaming South African city of Cape Town, it would have seemed like night. I know the umpires utilise light metres, but it does seem subjective.
The weather factor
The premise of bad light is usually to protect batsmen and to a much lesser extent, fielders. But, when the batting team is currently going at 6 runs per over (4.77 for the innings) it’s hard to argue that their vision is impeded and safety threatened. The lights were on at Old Trafford and things seemed tenable.
If I were an England fan I’d be disappointed with the prospect of rain too as I’d be backing my team to fight and withstand Australia’s desire for rapid wickets. England certainly has the quality and it would be a scintillating contest. That’s what it’s all about for cricketing purists, high stakes last day cricket.
I can understand praying for rain when your side is six or seven wickets down late in the day trying to save a Test, but I can’t fathom the welcoming of weather interruption on Day Four when both sides are still fighting it out. That’s just not cricket.
The play that did go ahead
England’s batsmen Matt Prior and Stuart Broad did very well in the opening exchanges. The latter frustrated Australia with a succession of boundaries interspersed by defiance. England consumed time and picked off Australia’s lead, surpassing the follow-on indicator, before finally succumbing for 368 about 150-odd behind.
Australia shuffled the batting and sent out David Warner, a move that will generate topical debate. One logic offered for the reshuffle is that the left handers struggle against Graeme Swann so having three of them at the top of the order would provide them time against the seamers, before facing the Nottingham spinner. From hazy recollection, Swann was on after 4-5 overs. His ball to bowl Usman Khawaja around his legs was phenomenal. A real peach and he went straight for Broad to celebrate, as if it were Broad who suggested the ploy.
The fragile Aussie top order managed a collection of starts as the imperative for reasonably quick scoring brought about risky shots.
With the lead now 331, if somebody could kindly erect a roof at Old Trafford so we can get in a full day’s play watching England attempt to resist Australia’s attack, I’d be very grateful.
If not, then the Urn remains in England and we go to Chester Le-Street in Durham on Friday for the Fourth Test, England 2 up.