Australia On Top After Controversial Day

Michael Clarke (left) celebrates his century with Steve Smith.
Usman Khawaja looks disgruntled after being given out caught behind.
Stuart Broad thought he had trapped Smith leg-before but the umpire disagreed.
©Action Images / Jason Cairnduff Livepic *3

Australia 303-3 (Clarke 125no) v
Third Ashes Test, Old Trafford, day one

DRS, in particular the misuse of it by the umpires, overshadowed a day on which Australia’s batsmen, for once, had the better of England’s bowlers.

Chris Rogers shrugged off the safety-first nature of his play in the first two Tests to compile a fluent and technically-pleasing 84. Michael Clarke then hit a century - interestingly after moving up to number four in the order - while Steve Smith made the most of multiple umpiring errors to finish on 70 not out.

The success of Messrs Rogers, Clarke and Smith wasn’t the only thing unusual about the day as Manchester basked under the blazing hot midsummer sun, with those located in the uncovered temporary stand turning more beetroot-like in hue as the overs ticked by.

Australia began cautiously after winning the toss and electing to bat. They made three changes to the side that lost at Lord’s, with Mitchell Starc seeing off the challenge from Jackson Bird to replace the injured James Pattinson and Nathan Lyon and David Warner returning in place of Ashton Agar and Phil Hughes.

Rogers soon upped the tempo and started to hit boundaries almost at will, brining up his half-century off just 49 balls. His innings was certainly the talking point of the first hour or so, but that soon changed after Shane Watson had edged Tim Bresnan behind to depart for a dogged 49-ball 19.

It was then that Usman Khawaja received the day’s first, and by far biggest, umpiring howler when he was given out, despite reviewing, for the sin of getting within an inch of a delivery from Graeme Swann. Swann beat his outside edge and Matt Prior claimed the catch on the strength of a loud noise. On-field umpire Tony Hill gave him out, but perplexingly third umpire Kumar Dharmasena - current ICC Umpire of the Year no less - upheld the decision despite replays showing distance between bat and ball and showing that the noise was caused by Khawaja hitting his pad.

Australian prime-minister Kevin Rudd tweeted that it was the worst umpiring decision he had seen, demonstrating in a single tweet that he hadn’t been paying attention properly in the first two Tests.

Australia have, on the whole, had the worst of the umpires’ incompetence this series, but any injustice they felt should have steadily eroded over the afternoon as Steve Smith benefited on three occasions. The first was not really anyone’s fault, rather the over-cautious nature of the ‘umpire’s call’ element of the system. Smith looked for all money that he was out LBW to Swann but was given not out. England reviewed but HawkEye showed only 49 per cent of the ball to be hitting leg-stump.

The second reprieve showed up, not for the first time, the probable inadequacies of HotSpot. No edge was detected by the system despite there being a clear noise with no other possible cause than Smith’s bat or nuclear Armageddon. There was also no deviation discernible on the slow-motion replays but decisions in this series have been overturned on far flimsier evidence and most cricketers’ gut instinct was that it was out.

The third reprieve was the result of a poor LBW decision from Tony Hill and England having no reviews left. Stuart Broad got a ball to move in at Smith and strike him on the pad. Replays showed that it would have hit a healthy portion of the stumps and would have been overturned had England been able to review.

Two things are worth considering when analysing today’s umpiring mistakes. The first is that even without DRS they would all have still happened as the initial error was always made by the on-field umpire. The second is that perhaps it is time to trust the system completely - or not at all - and do away with umpires’ call and margins of error. Also, a way must be found to incorporate the Snickometer, by far the most reliable piece of technology, into the Decision Review System.

The headlines in tomorrow morning’s papers will doubtless be about the umpiring and the DRS, but they should also focus on a fine innings from Michael Clarke that followed on from the fine innings from Chris Rogers and looks like it will precede what has the makings of being a fine innings from Steve Smith.

Rogers’ innings was cut short when on 84 as, distracted by movement behind the bowler’s arm, he played across a straight ball from Swann. The sight of the offending spectators being moved later in the day only added to the day’s increasingly shambolic feel.

Clarke and Smith, though, showed excellence amid others’ incompetence and, by stumps, had helped Australia into a position of supremacy. They added an unbroken 174 for the fourth-wicket and took the tourists from 129 for three to 303 for three by the close. Clarke countered the spin of Swann especially well, and reached three figures off 169 balls, while Smith grew in confidence with each umpiring let-off.

© Cricket World 2013