All the talk after the final Ashes Test at the Oval will be of the umpires’ decision to end the game prematurely due to bad light, but Michael Clarke’s bold declaration part-way through the day should gain the most plaudits.
With Australia already trailing the series 3-0, many captains would have grabbed an opportunity of damage limitation and held out for a draw. However, Aussie captain Clarke bravely declared on 111-6, setting a target of just 227 from 44 overs for England to win.
There was a huge element of risk, and but for the ICC’s rigid restrictions on light, the decision could have backfired spectacularly. England looked to be on the cusp of a 4-0 series victory, needing just 21 runs off the remaining four overs before the sides were hauled off.
Clarke could have inadvertently set up an England win, but in the end, all he set up was a thrilling match of cricket amid accusations that the series had petered out with a mediocre final Test.
The fourth day was marred by rain, but a match that looked certain to end in a draw was brought back from the brink almost single-handedly by Clarke, although some gallant T20-style batting from Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott played its part.
The sight of Aleem Dar gallivanting around the crease, his light meter held high above the air as though he were celebrating a century may have dismayed the spectator. The Barmy Army were robbed of their fairytale ending by the Surrey darkness, but ultimately had it not been for Clarke, such an ending could never have been possible.
The series was bound to end in controversy, and with no possibility of reviewing the umpire’s decision, England’s players unsurprisingly felt aggrieved. With England just five wickets down, the draw suited Clarke, although there were no signs of triumphalism from the Australians (little wonder after their overall performance in the series).
It is difficult to criticize Alistair Cook after he has led England to an unprecedented 3-0 Ashes victory, but it is hard to imagine the England captain making such a bold move as Clarke made on Sunday afternoon.
We have Clarke to thank for the day’s drama, and while his side lick their wounds, the one victory the Aussie skipper can relish is the one he secured for cricket by putting a game on.
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