ASHES: Umpire draws Australia's ire

Two questionable calls change the course for Australia's cricketers.

Trent Bridge, Nottingham — Now it is Australia’s cricketers who feel cheated by an umpire’s scarcely credible error. England’s players know how they feel. They were embittered by two dubious judgements by Marais Erasmus, the third umpire, on the second day’s play that might well have changed the game. But there was doubt about both those decisions. There is no doubt at all that Stuart Broad was caught at slip when he was 37. The only person on the ground who somehow did not see it was Aleem Dar, the Pakistani umpire, whose finger stayed stubbornly in his pocket.

Broad had used the full face of the bat to try to run the ball past the keeper and slip, but it brushed Brad Haddin and was easily caught by Michael Clarke at slip. The Sky TV technicians had already changed the score on the screen to 297 for 7. The appeal seemed hardly necessary; Clarke and his colleagues started to celebrate. Then they became aware that, instead of turning back to the Pavilion, Broad had strolled down the pitch to chat to Ian Bell. He had noticed that Dar had not actually given him out, and in that case, he was not going to give himself out and walk.

They would normally have reviewed the decision, but only two reviews are allowed in an innings and Australia had already used both; the second on a fruitless appeal for leg before wicket against Bell to a ball from Shane Watson that was missing leg stump. There was no use appealing to the second umpire Kumar Dharmasena. It did not matter what he or indeed the third umpire thought; the rules do not allow him to debate a decision with his colleagues.

Broad’s refusal to walk clearly contradicts the spirit of cricket, but it does not ignore a commonly accepted practice that has been unchanged for over 100 years, especially in Test cricket. The unwritten rule in cases like this was made in Australia. Generations of batsmen have argued that they do not walk unless given out by the umpire (and, having been given out, they do not argue). Broad was acting entirely within his rights. You could argue that Australia had been hoist by their own petard.

The unfortunate bowler, incidentally, was Ashley Agar, the young hero who guided Australia to a 65 run lead on first innings, and who had been the subject of one of the decisions that England were sure had gone wrong the day before. They believed he should have been given out stumped when the score was 130 for 9.

Dar’s was a crucial decision because England were staging a remarkably successful recovery from a dire situation earlier in the day. Shortly after midday Ashley Agar had claimed a distinguished first victim in Test cricket when Alistair Cook edged a looping catch to slip, and Kevin Pietersen, edged into his middle stump a ball from James Pattinson, who was getting reverse swing and was the most threatening of the bowlers. With them gone England were 131 for 4; the lead was only 66.

Ian Bell, who has scored over 6000 runs for England, seems to disappoint more often than he should, but he did not do so now. His defence was solid and when he allowed himself to play his shots he drove and late cut good looking boundaries. His partner Jonny Bairstow never looked comfortable, however. Defensive cricket does not come easily to him and he scratched around for 85 minutes before giving Agar a second wicket. England 174 for 5; the lead 109. Not enough. Matt Prior raised the tempo, and while he was in England’s hopes began to rise. He and Bell had put on 44 together when he misjudged a short ball from Peter Siddle and was caught at short mid wicket. But the lead had increased to 153, and speculation had begun about the total England needed to beat Australia. A common opinion was that a lead of 225 would give them a good chance. England’s Geoffrey Boycott insisted that they must bat all day.

As long as Bell persisted in his dour accumulation of runs, this was possible, though not a great deal was expected of Stuart Broad, he next partner, whose recent innings for England had begun with flash and dash and ended prematurely. Clearly he was under orders to restrain himself. After a rash shot, Bell would walk down the wicket and calm Broad, who was timing his shots well and building a score in singles as well as boundaries. When he played and missed, the ball invariably missed the stumps too.

Before long the lead was 250, and rising. When Broad was caught but refused to go he was on 37 and the lead was a challenging 232. On television he smiled like a naughty boy who has got away with a whopping lie; on the pitch he helped Bell to their 100 partnership of which he had contributed 45 runs to Bell’s 42.

Absent drama, Bell found himself in the nineties, on the verge of his 17th Test century. If he makes it in the morning it will be the most valuable he has scored for England. At the close, England were 326 for 6, and it was a surprise to realise that during an absorbing day they had added 246 for the loss of only four wickets. Bell was 95 and the lucky Stuart Broad 47.

In three days of stirring Test cricket the spectators have experienced three varieties of tension so embracing that it has seemed like recklessness to miss a single delivery. On the first day, it was nervous tension among the batsmen, many playing in their first Ashes series, that defined the character of the day. On the second it was the mild hysteria that accompanied an astonishing debut by Ashley Agar. On the third it was the tension of uncertainty, about survival, and about fate.

Yesterday, England had the good fortune. The uncertainty has not dissipated, the wicket is dry and assisting reverse swing and the wicket is turning. But England have the edge.  

Stephen Fay is a former editor of Wisden and author of books about the Bank of England and the collapse of Barings.

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