The first Ashes test match of the 2013 series has been a real treat for cricket lovers. With the side in pole position ever changing, the watching public have been transfixed as the old enemies of England and Australia do battle for the little urn.
From Australian middle order collapses to a 19-year-old on debut scoring 98 in a record tenth wicket partnership and from exceptional batting and bowling from England’s experienced heads to bizarre decisions by the on and off field umpires, this test has been a showcase for the longest format of the game at its very best. With two days still play, and England in a strong position to set the Australians a challenging target to chase down for victory, it promises to be a pulsating weekend at Trent Bridge.
However, such is the nature of most enthralling sporting contests, controversies another far away; the aforementioned bizarre decisions made by the officials have left many perplexed.
A trio of questionable decisions marred day two. First, Ashton Agar, the 19-year-old number 11 who hit 98, was given not out after a shout for a stumping that seemed to be out was turned down by the 3rd umpire, Marias Erasmus. Agar had just six runs to his name at the time.
With Agar dismissed and England batting in their second innings, Joe Root was given out after seemingly clipping a Mitchell Starc delivery on its way through to Brad Haddin down the leg side. Hotspot replays suggested Root hadn’t made any contact with the ball but the young opener had opted not to refer the decision.
The ball that followed saw a huge Australian appeal as the ball rattled Jonathan Trott’s pads but umpire Aleem Dar turned down their pleads. Skipper Michael Clarke opted to have the decision reviewed, resulting in Trott being given out despite the footage suggesting a small inside edge had saved the Warwickshire batsmen, although a half functioning Hotspot, with only one camera available, showed no signs of any bat on ball. Technology isn’t faultless and it would appear Trott’s tiny nick wasn’t picked up.
Baring a few reviews, it seemed as if the third day was going to pass without any serious controversies as play headed into the final hour with England building a healthy lead through a settled partnership between Ian Bell and Stuart Broad. That was until a delivery from Agar produced a healthy edge behind off Broad’s bat, with the ball nestling into Clarke’s hands at slip via a deflection from Haddin’s gloves. The Australians appealed as a matter of formality, knowing they had their man, but umpire Dar was unmoved as Broad nonchalantly walked down the wicket to chat to his partner. With the Australians wasting their final review on a hopeful LBW shout that never looked like being out, there was nothing they could do; Broad remained and finished the day 47 not out, building a 108 run partnership with Bell who finished five runs short of a magnificent century as England closed on 326/6 with a lead of 261.
But the excellent work from England with the bat was overshadowed by Broad’s decision not to walk following his clear edge behind. To many traditionalists, it’s expected that a batsman who knows they are out should uphold the spirit of the game and walk no matter what decision is made by the umpire.
Commentating for Sky Sports, Michael Holding compared the incident to one that occurred in the recent ICC Champions Trophy. West Indian wicket keeper Denesh Ramdin celebrated a catch that he dropped in a game against Pakistan, with the umpire giving the unfortunate batsman, Misbah Ul-Haq, out with only a review producing the correct decision. The ICC hit Ramdin with a two match ban and fined him his entire match fee for ‘conduct that is contrary to the spirit of the game’. Holding’s argument was that Broad, in not walking, was guilty of the same offence. Although more of an attack on the ICC’s decision to punish Ramdin, Holding was adamant Broad should have walked.
However, Holding was in a very small minority with many other figures in the game supporting Broad. Fellow Sky Sports commentators, such as Andrew Strauss and Ian Botham, focused on the heated competition in the Ashes series with Strauss suggesting it’s now the case that a batsman isn’t expected to walk. The modern era has changed the game. Intense competition, increased rewards and a DRS that already challenges the umpire’s decisions puts sporting conquest over fair play; such as in several other sports that the majority of us adore. Even Shane Warne, the most passionate of Australians, defended Broad’s actions on his Twitter feed saying: “you can’t blame Broad for not walking”.
An argument in regards to the spirit of the game has seen what I believe to be the crucial element of this controversy ignored; the quality of the decision making of the team of umpires in this test match. Dar’s error not to give Broad out is one that can’t be forgiven on the international stage, not least when its combined with his decision to give out Root and the inexcusable decisions by Erasmus in the 3rd umpire’s chair. It’s the umpire’s job to make the correct decision, and if they’re incapable of doing so, then Broad shouldn’t be labelled as the guilty party.
Much of the fallout from this test will revolve around Broad’s failure to walk, especially if the runs himself and Bell continue to add prove to be match winning, but Broad is only doing his job. He wants to win this test match for his country. If the Australians have anyone to be aggrieved with, it’s the umpires.
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