Sunday, July 14, 2013

First Ashes Test, Trent Bridge 2013

Connoisseurs of Test cricket will have an almighty smirk on their face tonight looking towards the IPL fanatics and its ilk. No artificially created excitement, no manufactured adjectives and no forced super over would have produced the drama we witnessed at Trent Bridge today. The day started with England as clear favourites and they won at the end, but nobody could have imagined what actually happened in between. As it happened throughout the Test match, the momentum fluctuated wildly, before a lucky lunch break and judicial use of DRS finally settled the matter for England.

For all I can remember for a long time, this is a an Ashes series which England started as an outright favourite and there were even talks of a 10-0 results over the two legs in favour of England. Personally I don’t think the gap between these two teams is as big as it is made out to be, especially with the appointment of Darren Lehman, someone who knows the dynamics of how things work in the Australian Test team, prior to the series. As much as England are delighted to win such a close match, when the dust settles and euphoria subsides, they will look back and realize that only 14 runs separated the sides. After four and a half days, 385 overs and 40 wickets, only 14 runs separated the two teams, and that is not how an outright favourite wins by any means.

By the end of second day, thanks to the debutant Ashton Agar’s heroics, Australia had their noses in front. Looking for a big lead over England’s first innings of 215, the Australian top and middle order collapsed, only to be rescued by the mammoth last wicket stand of 164 between Hughes and Agar, the latter missing a deserved century by 2 runs. And to think that they had England on the ground with 218 for 6, a lead of only 153 runs, Australia must be kicking themselves for letting them off the hook. Bell played his best innings of an Ashes test, ably supported by Prior and Broad in particular, and by the time Jimmy Anderson was caught by Hughes, the target 311 looked over the horizon.

The fifth day started with England needing 4 wickets to win and their fans in full flow. They never panicked until Brad Haddin’s calculated attack on Finn and Pattinson’s brave handling of Swann brought the target down to less than 50, after small but handy contributions from Agar and Siddle. England knew that they needed only one wicket to win but that never seemed to arrive. I was very surprised when England took the option of extending lunch by half an hour in search of the last wicket, when everybody around the ground could really see the momentum shifting towards Australia, slowly but decisively. What they needed was to go back to the dressing room and think with a clear mind rather than trying to finish it in a hurry. It just takes your heart to beat a tad faster for your best laid plans to go awry. By the time England realized it, it was almost too late and Stuart Broad had to fake a ‘stone in my shoe’ act to remove and re lace it to avoid an extra over before lunch. Aleem Dar had none of it and duly signalled for another over, and with that it all came down to 1 wicket or 20 run at lunch. At this point, this was a welcome distraction for England who got the opportunity to regroup. In hindsight, they would not have extended the session for half an hour, and in all probability Australia would have won the Test match without that lunch break. That is the real beauty of Test cricket, with its ifs and buts. Over 5 days, with all the breaks, with follow-ons, with new balls, it offers a theater of infinite possibilities.

The last few minutes of the match were played as if in slow motion. Anderson’s off-cuttor was inside edged, albeit a tiny one, to Prior who duly convinced his not-so-convinced caption to go for a review. From Haddin’s reaction and the slight sound, it looked out but the third umpire took an unbelievably long time, just to conform to the rule of being sure without a doubt to overturn the field umpire’s call. And when Aleem Dar raised his left index finger, the ground, where deep breaths were clearly audible until 5 minutes ago, erupted. Perhaps it is fitting that the last moment of the match is decided by DRS, as it was a talking point throughout the match. As much as it almost did its purpose, eliminating clear howlers, it also showed its drawbacks in ‘broad’ daylight. Australia was furious when Stuart Broad edged to second slip and stood his ground, but they were helpless as they had already used their quota of 2 unsuccessful appeals. Imagine if England did not have an option of review for the last wicket and Australia goes on to win it, it would have been a gross injustice. It is high time ICC finds an alternative to the limited number of times DRS can be used, else an ugly situation is bound to occur sooner.

The words Edgbaston 2005 were used a million times in the last hour of play. I will be happier if I can get to use them all through this series. Here is hoping for a drama filled and action packed 4 more Tests.