BY ALLAN BORDER
What a Test match to kick off the Ashes. The game had a touch of everything: quality bowling, terrific batting and a thrilling finish, albeit without the right result. The boys must be disappointed but also tremendously proud of their performance on a quality deck over five days. The ball appeared to swing around on day one and as the match went on the batsmen that stuck in were rewarded as the pitch got slower. It was an amazing start to what will be a fascinating Ashes series.
Last session blues.
I tended to declare my innings on front of the TV around tea on each day, feeling pretty confident of Australia’s position as I hit the hay. When I woke it was a different story, with England fighting back in each evening session. I thought we were in firm control on day one after dismissing England for 215, but then to wake to find us 4 for 75 my confidence was slightly shaken. It was the same on day two, with England 2 for 11 after Agar (more on him in a tick) pulled us from the brink, only to have Pietersen and Trott there at stumps. On day three, Broad and Bell combined well in the evening and we lost 3 for 3 on day four to put us on the back foot. Fix up those final stages and Australia will be even more competitive.
There have been times when No. 11 batsmen chip around a 30 or a 40, annoying the opposition before finally getting out, but I’ve never seen anything quite like what Ashton Agar did in Australia’s first innings. Walking out at 9 for 117, the game was gone. His composure at that age, on debut and the way he played with a smile on his face without a care in the world was truly remarkable – a real Cinderella story. Agar overshadowed the important innings of Phil Hughes, who despite the criticism on his technique is a proven run-scorer. The only unfortunate thing was those two missing runs that would have really capped off Australia’s day. He’ll go down in Ashes folklore, but a century on debut at No. 11 would’ve been something even more special.
Overall, the quality of the umpiring was below standard in my opinion. The umpires didn’t begin well, calling for front foot clarification on a couple of Peter Siddle’s wickets where his foot was halfway behind the line. The umpires were under pressure straight away and it permeated right throughout the game. The Decision Referral System (DRS) is here to stay, but I’d like to go back to the way it was: the umpire makes the call and everyone gets on with it. I still question the accuracy of HawkEye. Sometimes you see HawkEye predict balls going over the stumps or pitching in line, then you watch the replay and it’s as if you’re seeing things. The whole business around half the ball pitching in line or hitting the stumps, or if the ball is just clipping the stumps confuses the public and me. If the ball is hitting the stumps, it’s hitting the stumps. I can’t recall a Test match with so much controversy about what is out and what isn’t, what should be referred and not challenged. DRS wasn’t meant for that and it shouldn’t be causing so much discussion. I’m not sure what the answer is but let’s hope we see it have less impact during the rest of the series.
To walk or not to walk
Firstly, I’ve got no problem with Stuart Broad’s decision to stay. The way we play in Australia you’re entitled to wait for the umpire’s decision. What gets me is how that was missed by Aleem Dar. That’s the real issue, not Broad’s decision to stay out in the middle. Australia needs to be better with their referrals and take the emotion out of the decisions. I like the way England go about it. They get in a huddle with the key men; bowler, keeper, captain, maybe first slip or someone close, and unless they all agree they don’t challenge. Brad Haddin is such a key person in those scenarios. He needs to take the emotion out of the dismissal and not use it as a tactic to try and grab a 50/50 wicket. That’s what DRS is about – to remove the absolute howler. Broad’s wicket is lesson learned I’m afraid.
Walk or else
Michael Holding raised a good point off the back of Broad not walking. If a player has clearly been dismissed and doesn’t walk does he bring the game into disrepute? West Indies keeper Dinesh Ramdin was fined and suspended for claiming a catch that wasn’t out, allegedly breaking the spirit of cricket and bringing the game into disrepute. Now, if every player who obviously edges one behind and doesn’t walk is later fined and suspended, would that see more walking? It’s an interesting thought. What do you think? I’d say there’s be a few more walking if they know their next match is on the line.
I think the team is pretty settled, bar the number three spot. I like Ed Cowan. He has a great attitude, trains hard and is a solid player, but I’m concerned he’s not in form, so I’d like to see Phil Hughes come in at first drop. We’ve had so many good players at three in recent times and it’s such a crucial position to get right. So, Hughes at three. I’d then throw in David Warner in at six. You’ve got to roll the dice sometimes in an Ashes series. I don’t agree with the decision to send him to Zimbabwe. What if a player gets injured on the morning of the Test? Khawaja, like Warner, hasn’t played for nearly two weeks. Anyway, Hughes or Khawaja at three, with Warner in at six.
There’s no place like Lord’s
It’s a huge occasion playing at Lord’s. It’s my favourite and the premier cricket ground in the world. You can’t recreate the atmosphere. The slope, the history, the way you leave the dressing room through the long room, past the members to get to the field. We’ve got a good record at Lord’s probably because our guys understand it might be the only time they get to play there and have a real crack. Let’s hope we can turn it around there in what is a very important Test.
In what was a great game of cricket to begin the Ashes series I’m looking forward to seeing how Australia bounce back at Lord’s. Would you like to see players accountable for their actions when it comes to walking? There’s plenty to talk about, so let’s hope the cricket is just as good.