Manchester

I need sleep, but I can’t let go of this riddle!

Here we go again. It’s Day Five, we’ve had play, we’ve had wickets and I think I’m going to need that defibrillator again. This is unbelievable. The problem is, it’s raining now!

England are rocking at 3/33, but father time and mother nature are mating again and they want a draw. Every Australian fan and neutral is screaming for more dry weather and wickets. You guessed it too. We’ve had more controversy with umpiring and DRS. Ally Cook was absolutely plumb, Jonathan Trott was out, but Kevin Pietersen… well. The umpire gave him out, he reviewed, hot spot did not support the original decision, but he was sent packing.

The increasingly impossible riddle of original decision versus referral, leading to hotspot, close camera analysis, deviation detection, noise, player reaction and gut instinct is enough to shatter the sanity of players and fans of both sides.

My initial and gut instinct was that Pietersen was not out. It wasn’t as clear as Usman Khawaja’s miss on Day One, but there was little evidence he hit it. The inadmissible snickometre detected something though, so I will say that at best Pietersen may have feathered a tiny thread of seam string. The close up photo showing the position of the ball indicates this might, just might, be the case.

Anyway. The second session is yet to commence due to rain. The full covers are out and I’m a jittering wreck of a man. I need sleep, I have heaps of work to do, my fitness is declining. This series is battering me, a ludicrous cocktail of pleasure and pain and I can’t let go, not now. I know I’m not alone either.

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Incredulity Inducing Cricket Council – we’re in the dark, again

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

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.

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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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