The Ashes have begun. For any English or Australian cricket fan this is without doubt the biggest few weeks of the sporting calendar. An epic five test series that will afford the winning nation prestigious bragging rights. Well, that is until we do it all again Down Under in December. There is a suggestion that test cricket is a fairly boring incarnation of the sport however Trent Bridge hosted the first instalment in this great battle. It was anything but boring! Britain has gone a bit sport mad recently , so unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of days, you will have heard at least something about the duty to walk, or some young Aussie called Ashton. The fact is, this test match had everything; lashings of controversy, stellar individual performances and a nail biting finale. And, despite the best efforts of England’s Steven Finn, it was first blood to the Poms.
I have the good fortune of calling Australia home. That is not to say I consider myself an Aussie. I’m British through and through. Land of hope and glory etc. However, this gives me an opportunity to view this series from a slightly different perspective. Along with the rest of the country, I have become entirely nocturnal, as I did last year during the Olympics. The Aussies are big on their sport, particularly bettering us Pommies, and their less than satisfactory performance at last year’s Olympiad is still smarting. Add to that a capitulation by Adam Scott at the Open, defeat to the Lions, Tour de France hopes ended and a British Wimbledon champion; this hasn’t been a particularly great year for them. But the Ashes is a shot at redemption.
Many people underestimated this Australia side coming into the series. They are currently in transition, with many of the old guard, the likes of Hussey and Ponting, bowing out. Despite this, I watched Australia annihilate Sri Lanka last Boxing day at the MCG. This crushingly clinical victory was perhaps an indication as to the actual strength of this team. Despite Shane Warne declaring himself fit and ready for selection once more, the Aussies have opted for youth. This has led to the emergence of a potentially great cricketing talent in the form of 19-year-old Victorian, Ashton Agar. He followed up an understandably nervy bowling display with what was quite simply the best batting display by a number 11 in a test match. With looks that suggests he is the love child of Mitchell Stark and Sachin Tendulkar, Agar, with a little help from England’s bowlers, shot an incredible 98 opposite Phil Hughes to give the Aussies hope in a match which at that point was all but dead and buried. Newspaper sub-editors everywhere let out a collective sigh as he was caught two runs short of his century, and the headline ‘Ash-tonne’ became redundant. Naturally, the country has gone wild for him, particularly in my home state of Victoria. The born and bred Melbourne lad has been plastered all over TV screens for the past week with his cricket-obsessed family, teachers and coaches all waxing lyrical about the wonder kid who has the traits of ‘a young Brian Lara’. It was perhaps this media pressure that led to his rather underwhelming 14 in the second innings.
There is one moment from the test that seems to have polarised the cricketing community. Stuart Broad edged behind and was caught. A seemingly very straightforward decision for umpire Aleem Dar yet one that he got catastrophically wrong. Broad was given not out, and Australia were denied the right to review the decision, having used up all their opportunities, rather wastefully, earlier in the innings. Broad, knowing full well he edged the ball, waited at his crease for the umpire’s decision instead of respectfully walking from the field. He hadn’t broken any rules, but instead, according to some, had offended the ‘spirit of the game’. To walk or not to walk is the question that seems to be on the lips of pundits and adorns the back pages of every newspaper. In Britain, that is. Here in Oz, there is a quite different attitude. The Australians are very wary of being accused of double standards. In the very same test match, Agar had been seemingly run out and elected to wait for the umpire’s decision, and none of the Australian team were inviting Jonathan Trott to stay at the crease when he was given out for lbw, despite his bat first connecting with the ball. Michael Clarke, now captaining the tourists, was involved in a similar incident from a Kevin Pietersen ball in Adelaide during the 2010/11 series. The ruling was overturned on review, but the same principle applies; he waited for the Umpire’s decision. Despite grumblings from Holier than Thou former wicket keeper Adam Ghilcrist it has always been Australian policy to wait for the umpire. The Aussie media are instead taking aim at the DRS system and poor old Mr. Dar.
Shane Warne, the voice of a nation who nowadays offers pearls of wisdom on everything from the carbon tax to Australian musical theatre, branded Dar a ‘bad umpire’ who ‘gets all the big decisions wrong. He was furious, although few people could tell as his face is now plasticised in one permanent pearly white smiling position. It is clear that Dar made the wrong decision, but this is why the Umpire Decision Review System was put in place. The Aussies simply used it badly.
It is quite fitting then, that DRS played such a pivotal role in the gripping conclusion to the match, which saw the tourists chase a previously unreachable target. Australia are developing a strong rearguard, and the partnership of Haddin and Patterson at the back end of the order helped them whittle down their required runs at an alarming rate. After Haddin had nearly run himself out, he smashed the truly awful Steven Finn around the park in two over’s that yielded 24 runs. Finn then dropped a makeable catch on the boundary and watched it dribble away for four. With 15 runs needed to win, Haddin was caught off what seemed to be his inside edge from a Jimmy Anderson ball. Initially given not out, this went to review, and by the tiniest of margins, hotspot indicated a touch sending the slightly surprised England team into raptures. Painful memories of Edgbaston in 2005 were being relived for Australia. However, after the game both Alastair Cook and Clarke defended the review system. Clarke didn’t ‘think the test was decided on one DRS decision at all’ and admitted that England had used their reviews far better than the away side. Despite the Aussie media and cricket personalities suggesting a review of the system, it is part of the current game, and the teams should adapt to that. England used it to their advantage, and it may well have given them their slim margin of victory.
I was strutting about a very proud man this morning. Us ‘whinging Poms’ have nothing to whinge about at the moment, and certainly won’t do if we keep winning everything! The Australian public seem to be encouraged by their side’s performance. It’s an uphill battle now, but they are looking forward to a ground they usually do well at Lords. I’m just looking forward to some regular sleep! Who said test cricket is boring!?