Stoneman's stoic dig ends in controversy
Reactions after play to Mark Stoneman's DRS dismissal underscored the disparity in interpretations of those in the thick of the action
Not since Geoffrey Boycott stood out of the 1974-75 Ashes sojourn have England found among their number a player who so demonstrably embodies his surname than did Mark Stoneman for a torrid session or so today.
The left-handed opener, who carries the predictable nickname ‘Rocky’, was pounded by Josh Hazlewood and then Mitchell Starc as the Australia pace pair searched for weaknesses in his technique they clearly believed were located around his head and shoulders.
Bruised on the body and broken of bat, Stoneman stood as resolute as an Easter Island statue on a pitch that would reveal occasional flashes of its tempestuous past, and against the fastest collection of quicks that Australia has fielded in recent decades.
And for a while, as fortune fell his way, it seemed the unflinching Englishman might emerge as the winner of a contest squarely stacked in his rivals’ favour.
As it turned out, Australia’s pace pair were ultimately vindicated when the 30-year-old was given out caught behind the wicket - under the DRS protocols - from a ball that, depending on whose eyesight one trusts, flicked his protective helmet, left hand, right hand or none of the above.
"From the naked eye … I didn’t think he gloved it, but that’s from my angle and he’s a bit away," said England’s eventual batting hero Dawid Malan who viewed the incident in the 38th over from a distance of 22 yards at the non-striker’s end.
"I spoke to Rocky in between (the on-field decision and the review process) and he thought it flicked his helmet, but you can’t really argue with what happens."
Which underscored the disparity in interpretations from those in the thick of the action, given the man who plucked the chance instinctively in his right hand, Australia keeper Tim Paine, saw it contrastingly in real time.
"We were pretty confident certainly live, we thought it was out straight away," Paine said tonight.
"I’ve only seen one replay of it which was a slow-mo close-up which I thought looked pretty good."
Even the experts judging from a distance took divergent views, particularly in relation to the animated scenes among the England team when the original not out decision was overturned on what looked to be less-than-conclusive evidence.
And which prompted a small protest movement to form in the doorway of the visitors’ dressing room as captain Joe Root and a member of the team’s support staff signalled their disagreement.
"I was a bit frustrated because I just think we have this technology, all you want is get these decisions right,” former Australia Test opener Chris Rogers told Optus Sport’s ‘Stumps’ program tonight.
"As a player, you just want to know these decisions are right and if he’s walking out thinking ‘that’s not out’ then that’s not right."
But Rogers’ former Australia and Western Australia teammate Michael Hussey felt the public show of dissatisfaction at the decision was difficult to condone, regardless of the factors that led to the eventual outcome.
"You don’t want to see that," Hussey told ‘Stumps’ about suggestions from the England rooms that Stoneman, true to his name, should stand his ground.
"The umpire’s made his decision, had to change his decision, and you’ve just got to accept that.
"I’m sure for some of the English camp, a better time would’ve been to after the day’s play or maybe at lunch time, go behind closed doors, talk to the match referee and get a much better explanation about what he saw."
Regardless of how his fate was decided, Stoneman’s innings proved the antithesis of most opening batters on the first day of a Test match that England have already decreed the biggest of their lives, in that it began with a blitzkrieg and gradually ground its way to a war of attrition.
For the first two hours of his innings, Stoneman might have started to erroneously believe that the lot of an opener at the fast bowlers’ beloved WACA had been overhyped through the legend born over decades pervious.
In the course of one highly productive over from Starc, the day’s third, the England left-hander was served a series of half-volleys as Starc searched fruitlessly for swing and Stoneman gorged himself with three consecutive boundaries.
By the time his vastly more experienced batting partner Alastair Cook was excised, Stoneman was flying with 19 runs from just 12 deliveries faced, a rate that settled slightly to show 34 from 39 at the cessation of the first hour.
Perhaps the replacement bat he was forced to summon when the handle on his initial tool of choice was snapped while fending away a short ball from Starc was responsible, the sweet spot from which the runs had flowed seemingly not replicated in the back-up version.
But the Australians had seen sufficient in the Geordie’s discomfort against short bowling directed above his chest to warrant a concentrated barrage in the aftermath of lunch, by which time Stoneman was but a couple of runs shy of his third half century in six Tests.
Any advance on his previous personal Test best of 53 then became a seemingly distant dream as Stoneman resumed after the meal break to be force fed a diet of bouncers supplemented by a brace of back-of-a-length deliveries that he suddenly struggled to meet with his bat.
He reached his milestone with a flashing cut that flew beyond the slips cordon to the third man rope, his muted celebration followed soon after by a lapse that should have ended his innings.
The edge that Hazlewood induced flying so cleanly and clearly from the outside of Stoneman’s number two bat to Mitchell Marsh at first slip that the recalled all-rounder did remarkably well to spill it.
In Hazlewood’s next over, and with no progression of his score, Stoneman was pinned by a bouncer that zeroed in from the delivery point around the wicket and hit him flush on the right side of the protective helmet, sending the detachable neck guard flying and bells ringing.
In Stoneman’s ear as well as the England dressing room, from where the team doctor emerged to tend to the rattled batter for several minutes only to find himself in awkwardly familiar terrain immediately after.
The very next ball being jabbed away in self defence, with the looping end result failing to nestle in the lunging grasp of Nathan Lyon as he flung himself full-length forward from point.
If the besieged opener was hoping a change in bowler might yield a period of respite he was disavowed of any such silliness when Starc, the replacement, homed in on Stoneman’s chin and the reflexive parry in the name of self-preservation dropped despairingly close to the fielder at bat-pad.
By that point, frustration levels were peaking in synchronicity with Stoneman’s pulse rate as the attack on the body of the batter continued, and the flash point duly arrived in the second over of Starc’s spell when the Australians were convinced they had their man.
Eventually, they were proved justified.
But it took a prolonged assault on his person and a protracted procedure involving the third umpire before Stoneman was successfully chiselled from occupation and sent rolling slowly on his way.
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test WACA Ground, December 14-18. Tickets
Fourth Test MCG, December 26-30. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Tickets
Gillette ODI Series v England
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I – Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I – Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I – NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I – NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I – NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final – TBC, Eden Park, February 21