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July 12, 2013 8:53 pm
Two elderly Australian supporters came out of the lift at my Nottingham hotel after breakfast on Friday. “There’s still a bit of a nip in the air,” said one.
A bit of a what? Here we are in the midst of Britain’s most convincing attempt at a heatwave in years, and doing our utmost to make our antipodean guests feel at home. The July sun was already beating down, and they started whingeing that it’s too cold. Really! The Australians did have more realistic grounds for grievance later, but perhaps it serves them right for being unappreciative.
The defining theme of the third day of the Ashes series was that the Trent Bridge Test returned from its journey to the wilder shores of fantasy and morphed into a normal cricket match. Quite a slow one: England batted all day, scoring 246 runs and losing four wickets to finish on 326 for six in their second innings. If the remaining wickets fell at once when play resumes, Australia would still need 262 to win, and the consensus view is that it is already beyond them. With two days left and no break in the weather expected, they have almost no hope of reaching the sanctuary of a draw.
Some of the tension slipped out of the occasion. The spectators baked on the torpid afternoon (except for the Aussies of course, in their greatcoats and fur hats), mostly quietly. This is a very Nottingham phenomenon: the crowd just get amiably drunk; at Tests in Birmingham they get raucously drunk; in Leeds, nastily.
But the on-field edge was there all right, and ultimately it boiled over into yet another umpiring controversy: this time the error favoured England. Stuart Broad nicked – no, almost middled – the ball to Michael Clarke, the Australian captain, at slip. Clarke and all Australia appealed. Umpire Aleem Dar, one of the most respected practitioners of this increasingly fraught profession, made a clear error in turning it down. He’s human.
Normally, Australia would have appealed and expected justice. But they had used up their two permitted unsuccessful reviews, the second on a ludicrously speculative lbw shout, and so had no redress. They did not take it well. Broad, meanwhile, just stood there phlegmatically, an innocent look on his still choirboyish countenance. He may have been whistling. Sentimentalists believe Broad should have fessed up and walked off. “Cheating Poms!” cried the doyen of the Australian press corps, though I thought I caught the ghost of a wry smile on his lips. Cricket has moved on, for better or worse.
Earlier, technology had intervened again when Broad’s partner, Ian Bell, was given lbw by another umpire, Kumar Dharmasena, and overruled by the TV official, Marais Erasmus, England’s villain of choice on Thursday. Neither man made a bad decision, but the difference between in and out in this case was microscopic. Cricket’s trust in technology has gone to absurd lengths.
Whatever, England – robbed twice on Thursday – had the Friday luck. Both Bell and Broad were still there at the close, having added a vital 108, with Bell five away from his 18th Test century – one to remember if it comes.
So what of Ashton Agar, the boy wonder? He had a long bowl in the heat, performing very respectably and dismissing both the England captain, Alastair Cook, and Jonny Bairstow. But his day of miracles had passed. Australia as a whole bowled well in conditions that remained unfavourable. And Clarke shifted his resources with intelligence and zest.
Whenever I looked at him, he seemed to be gesticulating vigorously, not only when protesting against the umpires. It was not always clear whether he was moving the field; giving the bowlers secret signals, as in baseball; performing the Great Australian Salute, and brushing off flies; or had been reduced to nervous tics by the pressure of captaincy. Surely he can’t have been trying to keep warm.
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