'It was massive': New light shed on pivotal Ashes switch

Australia's demise after a contentious ball change comes under the microscope in Prime Video's new three-part documentary series

Watch Season 3 of 'the Test' now on Prime Video

The extent to which Australia believed their bid to break a 22-year Ashes drought on enemy turf was nobbled by a controversial ball change in the fifth Test is revealed in the third season of The Test documentary.

The three-part series, which screens on Amazon's Prime Video next Friday, captures the immediate reaction of Australia's bewildered batters as England were handed an unlikely weapon with the Ashes on a knife-edge.

Chasing a daunting 384 for victory at The Oval to secure a 3-1 series win and the team's first Ashes triumph in the UK since 2001, Australia's openers Usman Khawaja and David Warner appeared untroubled in putting together their best stand of the campaign.

They cruised to 126 without loss at a rate of 3.5 per over when England's fastest bowler Mark Wood – who had been held back until the 33rd over of the innings for reasons that were never fully explained – struck Khawaja on the helmet with a searing bouncer.

While the blow inflicted no injury upon the batter, it did cause damage to the seam of the ball prompting England captain Ben Stokes to successfully lobby umpires Kumar Dharmasena and Joel Wilson for it to be changed.

It took just one delivery from Wood, which swung noticeably into Khawaja's pads in sharp contrast to the unresponsive original ball, for everyone to realise the game had undergone a pivotal shift.

The knock to Khawaja's helmet necessitated a switch in balls // Getty

"It's just reacting so different," Khawaja reveals in The Test, noting at that stage of the game he had felt for the first time the challenging target was within Australia's reach.

"It's almost like a brand new ball they've given them."

With heavy clouds closing in on The Oval, batting suddenly became an act of survival but rain fell after only two overs with the replacement ball and no more play was possible for the remainder of day four.

Both Khawaja and England batting coach Marcus Trescothick confirmed at day's end the 'new' ball was significantly harder than its predecessor, and was therefore generating steeper bounce as well as pronounced movement.

When Australia resumed their pursuit next morning at 0-135 (off 38 overs) and requiring a further 249 for an historic win, the pre-play questions as to how the replacement ball would behave were quickly answered.

Padded up in the team viewing room, next men in Marnus Labuschagne and Steve Smith are seen watching wide-eyed as members of support staff who track on-field data confirmed what naked eyes could see.

"It was pretty clear from the data sitting up top that conditions changed dramatically," Labuschagne says in the documentary.

"It went from like … .02 degrees to two degrees of swing.

"It was massive."

A close up of the difference between the original ball (l) and the replacement ball (r) // Channel 9

Smith was similarly incredulous about the abrupt change in the battle between bat and seemingly new ball.

"This ball's just from another planet, it's like it had a mind of its own," he observes.

On the back of four wickets from master swing bowler Chris Woakes, who was named Player of the Match and the Series, England claimed all 10 Australia scalps for the addition of 199 runs from 56.4 overs with the substitute ball to level the series 2-2.

The unforeseen change led former Australia captain Ricky Ponting, who was working as a television commentator during the Ashes, to speculate the substitute ball might have been sourced from a 2018 batch produced by English manufacturer Dukes.

That iteration of the ball was deployed in the bowler-dominated 2019 Ashes series, but after a call for an investigation was aired by Dukes' owner the claim was rejected as "ludicrous" by Surrey County Cricket Club, which oversees balls used at The Oval.

While acknowledging playing conditions changed dramatically once the ball was substituted, Australia fast bowler Mitchell Starc also noted some responsibility must be borne by the batting team.

England square series with another classic at The Oval

"It halted our momentum when the ball changed, and we weren't good enough or quick enough to adapt to that," Starc says in The Test.

And top-order batter Travis Head, who was targeted by England's quicks and their persistent short-pitched attack throughout the series, went so far as to (jokingly) claim he was delighted to see the replacement ball suddenly start swinging.

"I was over the moon about it," he says, laughing.

"England had been bowling bouncers for the whole series.

"Seeing them change and seeing the ball swing – they weren't going to bounce me.

"Here's a chance to get in the game."

'We worked our backsides off and then they changed the ball'

The documentary also sheds further light on another contentious moment on the series' tense final day, when Smith was adjudged not out after Stokes leaped and completed a one-handed catch that had ballooned from the batter's glove only to lose control of the ball as he landed.

Stokes appeared to immediately realise he had squandered the chance as it slipped from his grasp as his right hand brushed his leg but, apparently at the insistence of teammates, called for a third-umpire review regardless.

The incident sparked comparisons with Starc's equally divisive 'non-catch' during the Lord's Test in which he was deemed to not be fully in control of his body when completing the boundary-side attempt.

The documentary also captures the reaction in Australia's dressing room where players – mindful of Stokes's words after the Jonny Bairstow stumping at Lord's, where he suggested 'Spirit of Cricket' should take precedence from letter of the law – were outraged.

"Karma got you … mother cricket doesn't lie," Warner exhorts at the England skipper.

Stokes drops the ball in his celebration, Smith survives

When Smith returns to the rooms for lunch shortly after the controversy, he is grilled by teammates and coach Andrew McDonald on what was said during the fracas which ultimately saw the appeal dismissed and England lose a DRS review.

Smith reveals Stokes's displeasure was due to his belief the review should have been retained as it seemingly sought to clarify whether the ball had rebounded from pad or batter's glove (with the latter proved to be the case) rather than the legality of the catch.

He also says he shared Stokes's view the review should have been lost, a suggestion that is challenged by McDonald as the final Test result hung in the balance.

"They challenged the (on-field) umpire's decision because he gave it not out," McDonald says to the former Test captain.

"That's why Stokesy didn't go up," Smith explains, pointing out the England skipper understood he had not completed the catch but, rather than withdraw the appeal, had outsourced responsibility to the off-field official Nitin Menon.

"And I said to him 'here's your chance buddy, spirit of cricket'.

"He (Stokes) said: 'I've told them (England teammates) it's the third umpire's decision'.

"So if he (Menon) gave me out, I'm out."

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