DRS

Weather permitting, crackling cricket remains to rivet – Days Two & Three

Grit, grind, graft and trench warfare. This is tough Test Match cricket at Old Trafford and unfortunately, it appears that the Manchester weather will eliminate Australia’s hopes of victory.

I failed to write yesterday as the nip of domestic chores and general life maintenance requirements consumed time. Here I sit on a Sunday morning after a cracking night with friends Jen and Ian, who came to our place for some food, music, drinks and a few yarns. The night before we hosted Chris and Hien for an almost identical set. Two late nights, big on the wine and always with the Test Match close by, which pulled us in with its variety of twists and turns.

Day Two (Friday night) saw Australia continue its prudent first day batting display. Declaration came just after the Tea break. Who would have thought, a declaration? Australia were barely able to string together 200 at Lords, let alone surpassing 500 with Michael Clarke giving it the big wave from the deck of the pavilion.

The Captain had done his bit, with a marvellous knock of 187. His vice, Brad Haddin played an almost surreptitious hand, with an unbeaten 65 off 99 balls. Starc and Smith also get mentions and while the latter fell for 89, his innings assisted Australia in more ways than the cumulative of his runs. He batted time and demanded a great deal of graft from England’s bowlers, which set up the cameo knocks of his colleagues later on. Particularly Starc, who nutted out a 66 not out off 71 balls taking full advantage of a tired bowling group and propelling Australia beyond 500.

At 2/52 overnight England faced a mountainous task to avoid the follow on figure (328). But, on Day Three (Saturday night) England showed plenty of fight and their stoic batting held Australia at bay, who could only manage five wickets. Kevin Pietersen built a score of 113, while Ian Bell again gracefully added vital runs.

Australia are still on top in this game, with England trailing by 233 runs with three wickets in hand, but father time and mother nature are threatening to mate, and produce an ugly offspring for Australia.

Controversy, again

Snicko, hawkeye, hotspot and slow motion replays dominate my sleeping consciousness, such is their prominence in this Ashes series. More DRS controversy and poor umpiring has affected both sides in this match over the last two days and the ICC will come under sustained pressure to justify its systems, processes and human resources. I don’t have the energy to dissect and micro analyse the elements today, but rest assured, this series is generating doctoral research level talking points about the administration and officiating of cricket.

Looking ahead to Day Four

Australia need to fire out England’s remaining three wickets within an hour or two on Day Four. England need 34 runs to avoid the follow on figure, but it’s very unlikely Australia will enforce it. Instead, the scenario would seem that Australia will bat and attempt to nail on an extra 150 to the lead, declare and have another crack at England’s superior batting line up. Two days to go, six sessions of cricket and plenty of surprises remain. I hope there’s a two day drought in Manchester!

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Proper Test Match batting – Day One, Third Test – Old Trafford

Finally Australia have put on a display of proper Test Match batting.

I locked myself in for the evening, along with half of Australia and much of the rest of the cricketing world, in the hope that we would at least make a contest of this match. It’s all at stake in Manchester; careers, legacies, levels of interest and of course, the Ashes urn.

No change to the England side that demolished Australia at Lords. Three changes for Australia with Ashton Agar moving out for Nathan Lyon (don’t worry, Agar is 19 he will feature again) and Phil Hughes making way for David Warner. Mitch Starc got the nod to replace the injured James Pattinson.

The day’s play

Australia won the toss and on a wicket that looked great for batting all day and beyond, it was a vital moment. A solid base was needed and Rogers and Watson began to construct it with Rogers the aggressor and Watson the cautious, watchful one. Unfortunately for the latter he got out again on a start, 19. But, it was a pearler of a delivery from Tim Bresnan. No batsmen in the world could resist that nibbling line and perfect length and Watson prodded to the delight of wicket-keeper Prior.

Rogers persisted and raced beyond fifty exhibiting a fine array of shots. His new partner Usman Khawaja seemed terrified of Graeme Swann at Lords, so it was no surprise that he was quickly set up to face his dreaded phobia. Swann took his wicket in dramatic circumstances and I’ve already reflected on the Usman Khawaja DRS fiasco.

2/92 at lunch, a reasonable start. After a round of ham sandwiches, a packet of crisps and cup of hot water infused with sub-continental tea leaves, it was out for the second session.

Rogers and Clarke pushed on, but the gritty 35 year old opener was distracted by persistent movement up at the pavilion. A few overs passed and with constant interruptions up there, Rogers grew increasingly discontent. It contributed to his downfall, with a cunning full delivery by Swann trapping him LBW, right after another incident of unsuccessful communication with the buffoons up on the deck, one of whom turns out to be club cricket mate of Rogers.

England sensed a blood bath and they circled. But, the methodical and much ameliorated Steve Smith provided precisely the foil that Captain Michael Clarke needed.

In the Lords Preview I talked about the need to bat 120 overs plus in the first innings of a Test Match, and that the ability to leave the ball was a critical component of this. On a bouncy pitch more akin to an Australian wicket both Smith and Clarke executed leave after leave with aplomb. The result was an England bowling attack who began to show signs of irritation and fatigue. As I did at about 0145, trudging off to my own pavilion a little happier than most times this series.

Final Day One observations

Although not in the same galaxy as the Khawaja incident, England had their own brush with DRS dissatisfaction. They thought they had Smith caught behind for 25 before Tea, but the field umpire disagreed, they confidently reviewed and while there was some strange tick noise, there was no other compelling evidence. Mike Atherton said it was justice to Australia – a rubbish statement. Smith consumed both of England’s reviews and remains unbeaten on 75. Here in the southern hemisphere we hope he nails his maiden century tonight.

England will fight back, they’re too good not to. The Old Trafford crowd showed signs of becoming more boisterous and will increase it’s cacophony of support in the coming days. Australia must bat on for as long as possible and not even consider the D word, at all.

The stage is set for David Warner to blast Australia to a big score once Smith and Clarke reassert Australia’s ascendency on Day Two resuming at 3/303. Let’s hope the infamous Manchester weather remains clement.

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Is the DRS rubbish or are some ICC umpires utterly useless?

That is the volcanic inferno inducing question, once again.

After only one session of cricket in the third Test here we sit, not discussing Australia’s reasonable start with the bat (2/92 at lunch). Instead, all across Australia and parts of the world social media fumes over the sheer incompetence and totally unsatisfactory performance of the field umpire, and the third umpire operating the Decision Review System.

I was absolutely ropeable at the outcome of Usman Khawaja’s review. He was clearly not-out, missed it by two inches; no noise, no hotspot, no deviation. Why England appealed I have no idea, but they did and the field umpire obliged. The batsmen reviewed, then in an act of total absurdity, the third umpire concurred and Khawaja was sent packing.

I received about 11 text messages from fellow Australians raging over the inexplicable outcome. I bashed out about as many diatribes to friends and colleagues. Social media burned with hatred and the targets were many; the ICC, the umpires, the DRS, England, technology, you name it.

DRS or Umpire fault?

As the cloud of frothing anger begins to recede (is that possible?) the key point of debate should focus on whether the technology or the umpire is to blame?

There’s no question that the third umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, completely stuffed this one up. He had access to compelling evidence and his job was to overturn the field umpire’s horrendous decision. He failed.

In what circumstances is human error least acceptable?

With or without DRS humans will make mistakes. We can accept that. We have to. We’ve all copped a howler, benefited from one, or witnessed one from the stands or the couch. But, the circumstances of this dismissal are unforgivable. DRS was designed to reduce the instance of howlers, not introduce new ones. Accountability is required and answers are needed.

India refuse to play with DRS, perhaps they’re feeling pretty vindicated right about now.

2nd Test, Day Two – Review

After two days’ play at Lords, Australia need an absolute miracle to avoid their sixth straight Test defeat. The reason for this is pure, unadulterated, pathetic batting.

Why beat around the bush? Australia, in its current incarnate, are horrendous with the bat. If you haven’t already seen the score then don’t bother. We got nowhere near batting 120 overs, which I stated in an earlier post is about the requirement for a good 1st innings. Instead, Australia managed just over fifty overs at the crease, scoring a pitiful 128.

Closing England’s innings

The day started well enough with Harris bagging a couple of early wickets. England’s tail wagged sufficiently though, and pushed their first innings total over the 350 score I feared would put England on top. But, with a good batting track, a big occasion and plenty of time ahead, there was some hope that Australia’s batsmen could finally apply themselves and, at least, level England’s score.

The Australian batting calamity

I didn’t see any of the first session as we were out to dinner with a group of friends. Happy Birthday John. Some of us, including John, did plenty of phone checking to keep abreast of events 15,000 kilometres away in London.

I arrived home to catch most of the second session and was unfortunately a witness to Australia’s batting calamity. Shane Watson’s review was clearly an error of judgement in the use of DRS, again. Watson is a massive LBW candidate, regularly plays across his line and he should know that if he feels he didn’t hit it, then he is almost always out. And he was, again on a start for 30, last ball before lunch. There’s talk that his partner Rogers encouraged the review so maybe that absolves Watson of the “selfish review” critique on this occasion?

A short time into the second session the house of cards came crashing down. Chris Rogers copped a bizarre full toss from England’s spinner, G Swann, who appealed with the umpire obliging. Rogers, obviously feeling the nip of pressure and the narrative of Australia’s poor use of the DRS, decided not to review and walked. It was clearly not-out and DRS would have reinstated him.

The next man in, Philip Hughes – apparently totally oblivious that we were 2 for not many in a Test Match – went aggressively chasing a delivery outside off and got a feather snick to Prior at keeper. He was given out, but reviewed. DRS revealed a tiny hot spot and the inadmissible “snickometer” later confirmed a noise. Another poor use of DRS and Australia are 3/50-odd and have squandered our two reviews.

New number three Usman Khawaja looked like the man he replaced, Ed Cowan, looked in the First Test – totally spooked. He clearly didn’t want a bar of facing Graeme Swann and you could see that Swann’s probing was suffocating Khawaja, who eventually holed out with a weak, skied shot to mid-off Pietersen, who was able to read the newspaper before taking a comfortable catch.

Australia are now four down for, how do you say it, stuff all. England are sitting on the chest of our top order, slapping its face like a school yard bully.

When Steve Smith and Michael Clarke succumbed and then Ashton Agar ran himself out, the march of Australian batsmen back to the pavilion would rival the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. This pilgrimage, however, is no once-in-a-lifetime experience – it’s occurring with the regularity of Sunday church.

I’ll spare you the rest of the painful details. You get the point. Anyone out there thinking that maybe the pitch is bad, or our luck is out of order, or that the poor use of DRS are the major contributing factors, kindly remove your head area from that grainy sediment stuff.

Speaking of the batting in the post-day’s-play press conference, Australia’s coach Darren Lehmann stated, “it was more one-day batting than Test much batting. We know we have to improve our batting over periods of time and bat a lot more than 55 overs. We believe the plans are right. Our shot selection was poor today. Simple as that. I think eight out of the 10 were self-inflicted to be perfectly honest.”

Where to from here? A friend asked what our options are in terms of other players, my response is as follows:

The reserve batsman on tour is now in the team and played a shocking shot to give away his wicket cheaply. The man he replaced is haunted at the prospect of batting. It will be detrimental to elevate reserve wicket-keeper Mathew Wade into the top six; we had the chance to prepare Brad Haddin to bat at six (with Wade at 7 as keeper) but ignored this option so Haddin must now stay at 7. We can’t go Skype-ing players back home and pleading them to come join the party, because they’re on the couch eating corn chips like the rest of us, watching on in horror. So this is it, we’ve got one of the largest touring parties over there, 18, since the days it took 2 months to get there on the ship. Pick 8 bowlers.

England’s second innings

Australia’s big game bowler, Peter Siddle, did it again late on Day Two. Removing each of England’s big three – Cook, Trott and Pietersen. Tim Bresnan joined Joe Root as nightwatchman and England limped through to stumps at 3/31, leading Australia by 264 runs.

Topical

For a significant period during Australia’s innings England employed the use of a substitute fielder. The commentators revealed that this man, a former county cricket stalwart, was in fact Chris Taylor, retired cricketer and current fielding coach of England. This is ridiculous. How can the rules permit a coach to take the field of play and participate in the match?

Protocol stipulates that a young and talented member of the host ground’s cricket club will get the opportunity to participate as a substitute fielder. Some sides have exploited this and utilised an older player, more accomplished at the art of good fielding. The most infamous of these incidents was Gary Pratt who ran-out Ricky Ponting in the 2005 Ashes series. This is controversial enough, but to use a coach? I  think that’s taking it way too far. Time for an ICC ruling on this one.