Australia frustrated by weather with play called off after England reduced to 37 for 3
As the rain fell hard on a humdrum town, the third Ashes Test was denied the finish it deserved and Australia was denied the finish it deserved. It may read as an oxymoron, but the Ashes have been retained in the most inauspicious of circumstances.
On Saturday evening, Kevin Pietersen was adamant that Australia’s superior batting and bowling to that point was simply a consequence of getting to bat and bowl at the best times, but the second innings performances demonstrated that this was nothing like so. Over the course of the last five days, England has been unarguably out-everythinged.
When Michael Clarke declared Australia’s innings at 10.50 am in the morning on Monday (August 5), the light was not that much better than it had been last evening at Old Trafford, when the players departed. But things were brighter for the start of play 40 minutes later; the dream opening partnership of Nathan Lyon and Steve Smith would have to wait for another day. Instead, Clarke opted for the obligatory Ryan Harris, and Mitchell Starc.
Both started with a maiden, but not once did Starc force Joe Root to address the ball, the decision to start with him in preference to Siddle not an obvious one. Perhaps, with England not remotely interested in pursuing the runs, Clarke was seduced by his ability to do the unexpected, perhaps he wanted a left-armer’s angle, or perhaps Siddle wanted Harris’ end - but it did not pay-off, Starc unable to maintain the straight line for which the field was set.
Harris, though, was bowling as accurately as in every other spell in the series, but inspired by circumstance and situation, found the extra pace to give the batsmen extra trouble. It is, of course, absurd to impute anything from the way that someone runs in to bowl, but nonetheless, it is hard to ignore the impression of Harris as a just and righteous man. In his third over, he swung one in which pitched and then straightened, crashing into Alastair Cook’s shin as he loitered in front of his stumps. He ought to have walked, but instead he reviewed – perhaps he was timewasting – and Hawkeye showed the ball to be careering into middle-and-off, halfway up. England had lost a wicket with no runs on the board.
While Jonathan Trott resumed his unbalanced scratching of the first innings, it took Joe Root 26 balls to score his first run, and the difficulty in scoring intensified when Starc was replaced by Shane Watson, the series’ most economical bowler. However, it was Harris who nearly forced the next wicket, his inswinging yorker far too good for Trott, again batting with the weight of the world on his right shoulder. The ball hit low down on the inside of his left leg, and on first glance, looked exceptionally out, but Tony Hill felt differently. Following a quick summit, Clarke asked to consult the third umpire, and a sizeable chunk of the ball was shown to be hitting a sizeable chunk of leg-stump – he was exceptionally out, in other words - yet not in sufficient proportion for the decision to be reversed. Consequently, Australia forfeited a review.
But Trott was not long for this innings. A rare stray ball from Harris, towards leg-stump, got him wandering across his stumps, head falling away again. He inside-edged an insipid clip to Brad Haddin.
In next, in circumstances not entirely dissimilar to those of Saturday morning, was Kevin Pietersen. This time he managed to impart a solid bit of bat on his first ball, and later in the over, thudded a bouncer from outside off stump, high over midwicket for four – he looked confident.
And he no doubt felt even more so when Clarke brought Lyon into the attack, despite the bullying that had befallen Lyon in England’s first innings. But with only his third delivery, he enticed one to grip and spit at Root from outside off stump, who played it well.
At the other end, Harris was replaced by Siddle, immediately into his rhythm and finding a beautiful ball for Root, swinging in, gliding straight off the seam and bouncing well above waist height. Sort of trying to play, sort of trying to not play, Root fenced towards the ball and clunked a thick outside-edge to Clarke at second slip – but somehow, he went to catch it down the wrong line, jabbing it with his wrist bone instead. Again, Root had been reprieved, this time on four; had the two balls in question gone to hand, his series average would be 10.17.
With Lyon on, Pietersen’s feet were twitching, and after coming down the pitch and missing one that dipped, he was hit on the pad. Then, in the next over, Siddle zipped in another full one to which Pietersen responded with a booming drive down the ground, bat miles away from pad - because it’s just the way he plays - but he missed, and the ball passed exceedingly close to his outside-edge. Behind the wicket and ball in hand, Haddin was rhapsodic, Siddle, in front, less so. But Tony Hill was sure, giving him the finger.
After a discussion with Root, Pietersen elected to review, and when Hotspot showed no mark on his bat, must have felt confident of resuming his innings. But Kumar Dharmasena felt that there was “clear audio” of an incriminating sound at the relevant time, and could find no reason to overturn the decision. To his anguish, Pietersen was gone, his face bearing the look of a man suffering acute indigestion. But the failings of the review system could not obfuscate a shot that was, in Aussie parlance, “pretty ordinary,” and precisely the kind that he did not play on Saturday. With England on 27 for 3, Australia might have been wondering whether it had batted on too long.
Not for the first time, England was relying on Ian Bell, who looked more comfortable than any of those in before him. With only an over until lunch, Michael Clarke brought himself on to bowl for the first time since the first Test against India in February. But he was played easily enough, and at lunch, England was 35 for 3.
When play resumed, Siddle was again into his delivery stride immediately, a perfect length ball leaving Bell as he presented the full face and it passed his outside-edge. Then, later in the over, he persuaded some extra bounce from the pitch, the ball pitching hard at high, cracking the thumb of Bell’s bottom hand before flying just over second slip. He called for the trainer, the rain came down, and the covers came on, where they stayed.
At 4.39, play was abandoned for the day. England had retained the Ashes, but the glory of the last five days goes to Australia.