Clarke not happy with bad light call, subsequent rain ensures play ends with Australia 172 for 7, leading by 331 runs
When England’s first innings closed on 368, securing Australia a lead of 159 on Sunday (August 4), the fourth day of the third Ashes Test, Michael Clarke had two issues to consider when his team came out to bat for the second time. First, which would give his team a better chance of taking wickets: tantalising England with the thrill of a chaseable target, or inflicting a dry struggle for survival. And second, to what extent should the weather forecast for the remainder of the Old Trafford Test be believed.
In the event, Alastair Cook got there before the weather. The umpires had been monitoring the light for half an hour, but were willing to let play continue as it worsened, provided that England’s spinners bowled. So, with Australia 331 runs ahead and surely preparing a declaration, Cook deliberately replaced Graeme Swann with Stuart Broad, and the players went off - all apart from Clarke, eager to dispense his observations to the officials. Though the rain came shortly afterwards, Cook’s readiness to accept a draw in a Test his team could still win, and with two more still to play in the series, is telling.
The day began with England claiming the ascendancy. Though Nathan Lyon tested Broad in the first over, at the other end Harris finally looked tired, after a rhinoceran effort across the two previous days. Matt Prior quickly slotted him through cover, and shortly afterwards, pulled him down to midwicket, the natural heir to Robin Smith’s adjective, “pugnacious”.
And Stuart Broad wasn’t hanging around either, taking a big stride down the pitch to Lyon, smothering the spin and forcing it through cover to the fence. Runs were coming quickly now, a selection of byes followed by a Broad outside-edge that earned four down to third man. The next delivery was clattered through cover to bring England beyond the follow-on target, and the point was emphasised before the end of the over, another four, demolished through mid-off. Four more byes made it 17 from the over.
But immediately afterwards, Lyon found a better length, not quite as full, and got the ball to turn just enough from off stump. Broad missed it with his first push and the top of his outside edge, but tickled it with the lower part in the follow-through, Haddin taking the catch. Out for 32, he leaving without waiting for the umpire; “Wonder, the Broad walks,” The Drifters might have sung.
By now, Harris was so jaded that you half-expected him to turn green, and Swann, the new batsman, quickly clumped him for four to deep square-leg. Then, he perpetrated some spin-on-spin crime, jinking down the track to biff Lyon for six, over long-off.
Eventually, mercifully, Harris was replaced by Peter Siddle, still charging in like a man running for a bus - on the second day of the Test, he ate nothing but 18 bananas – and he accounted for England’s two remaining batsmen. First, he got a ball to nip back at Swann, who edged through the gate to Haddin, and then, after a brief period of resistance, Prior top-edged a hook, which looped up on the off-side to be claimed by David Warner. The extent of Australia’s lead was testament to a magnificent effort by its seamers.
Straight after taking the catch, Warner raced off – he would be opening the batting with Chris Rogers, to get the score moving. Again, England was not especially threatening with the new ball, but nor was it loose. Then, in the penultimate over before lunch and with the score on 23, Rogers attempted to run Broad down to third man, one-day style, only to edge behind. Prior took the catch, leaping left off his knees.
A light gloaming developed after lunch, Cook showing his reactive intention by setting the field back, his men returning the ball to the bowler and changing between overs as though manacled. No official chastisement was forthcoming.
Warner then crunched a short, wide ball from Broad to the deep point boundary that had the bowler kicking the turf in frustration, and he retaliated with a matter-of-principle bouncer. Warner either hooked and missed or hooked and didn’t miss, Prior catching and England appealing, Broad with particular brio.
But Tony Hill delivered a not out verdict, and accordingly, Broad appealed some more, arms waggling ever more frantically. When the decision remained the same, England reviewed, and felt that Hot Spot showed a nick - but Kumar Dharmasena thought otherwise. Accordingly, England did a lot more standing around and a fair bit more complaining, before, eventually, the game could proceed.
And Warner was playing well now, beautifully fluid at the crease and particularly versatile square of the wicket. A louche cut, followed by a pull, served to intensify Broad’s broil, before consecutive overs from him and Swann leaked 20 runs between them.
Tim Bresnan, on for Broad, then persuaded one to lift, Warner crouching to defend and missing the ball, taking it first on the thumb and then the sternum. This led to a break in play for him to receive treatment, after which Bresnan fired in a bouncer, at which Warner threw a hook. But the ball had reared higher than expected, and he could land only a glancing blow. And who should he find underneath it, running in from deep square-leg, but Joe Root, going down on both knees and clasping both hands tightly around the ball – as ever making the difficult look not just easy but fun. Warner was gone for 41, the score 75 for 2.
After his century in the first innings, Michael Clarke was loath to commit to batting at four in the future, despite the distance by which he is Australia’s best batsman, and sent in Shane Watson ahead of him. But it wasn’t long before he was out in the middle himself. Swann tossed one up to Khawaja that pitched outside leg-stump – all his other deliveries had been straight or wide – and the batsman pressed across without pausing to consider the difference. Before he could recalibrate, he’d been bowled around his legs.
And soon, England had another wicket, Watson jumping to paddle-slash a short, wide one from Bresnan behind square on the off side - rather as Kevin Pietersen had yesterday, when bringing up his hundred. But this time, Pietersen was down on the boundary, and scarcely had to move to take the catch.
Next in was Steve Smith, who had only been in for a couple of overs when he moseyed down the pitch to Bresnan, launching an off-drive back over his head for a six. He then did the same to Swann, skipping slightly towards leg and lofting an inside-out drive over mid-off.
But this turned out to be nothing more than the hubris before the fall. In the next over, he glanced Anderson beautifully down to third man and sprinted the first run while Clarke ambled the other way, failing to confirm whether a second was on before embarking on it, while Clarke remained where he was. In the meantime, Tom Craddock, on for Pietersen, threw to Prior, who relayed to Anderson who broke the stumps while Smith dived desperately. He left covered in sawdust and entitled to detain his captain in earnest conversation.
A brief shower forced an early tea, after which Haddin brilliantly pulled Anderson for four from in front of square on the off side, earning the approval of Clarke, applauding at the non-striker’s end. So next ball, he went again, but didn’t get hold of it, Broad hanging onto a steepler at mid-off. It was Anderson’s first wicket in the match.
While England dallied still further, and the light receded still further, Swann turned one past Clarke’s outside-edge and onto his pad. Marais Erasmus rejected their appeal, and England reviewed, to discover that the ball was missing leg-stump – though a few more minutes had elapsed in the meantime. But it was not long before England, and Anderson had another wicket, Starc stretching for a wide slower one and lobbing a catch to Swann at short extra-cover.
Shortly afterwards and with Australia on 172 for 7, another riveting day’s play came to a premature end. Alastair Cook had seen enough.