Australia’s resistance movement has been a long time in coming. Those who assumed it would never arrive, however, overlooked a native obstinacy in general and an eternal dislike of losing to Poms in particular.
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It did not arrive in the form of the seventh cavalry storming over the hill but was rather the circling of the wagons as if to say enough was quite enough, come and get us if you jolly well can. There is some way to go before it will be possible to posit the notion that these tourists are viable contenders in this Ashes series but the manner in which they went about their work showed that they appreciate there is something worth playing for.
Almost inevitably, the sternest of the stern stuff necessary to have any hope of overcoming a 2-0 deficit came from their captain and most accomplished batsman, Michael Clarke. His 24th Test century and fifth against England on the first day of the third Investec Test, his side’s first of this series, oozed implacable determination from every pore.
Never utterly dominant, he was calm and methodical and has been around long enough to know that being beaten outside off stump, as he was a few times early on, does not amount to a hill of beans in the wickets column. He guided his team to 303 for 3.
An unbroken partnership of 174 with Steve Smith, who prospered admirably after living perilously close to the edge, left Australia in a position where they might seriously think the unthinkable. England were jaded if not shaken. The ball is already turning on the dry pitch.
The day was marked, marred or enhanced, depending on your viewpoint, by yet more umpiring controversy linked to the umpire decision review system. In their dreams, the International Cricket Council intended that that DRS should eradicate error. It is turning instead into the stuff nightmares are made on. What larks.
There was a list of cock-ups as long as the protocol in which the regulation is enshrined, which is becoming increasingly impenetrable. They had probably evened themselves out by the close, as matters tend to do in this game, though both teams took turns to feel aggrieved and relieved.
The Prime Minister of Australia intervened in the matter on Twitter, the Prime Minister of Britain stayed silent. The last Ashes incident which almost led to diplomatic cables was Bodyline 80 years ago and DRS has the capacity to stir similar emotions.
Clarke’s first significant act of the day was to win the toss after announcing that the selectors had made three changes in team. It was the sort of surface and the type of day on which any team would want to bat. But Australia’s batting has been so shorn of the qualities essential in building Test innings that taking advantage was by no means probable.
They came out slugging. Chris Rogers, with nothing to lose but a Test career for which he had waited 15 years to have a proper crack at establishing, played with a beguiling authority. Instead of waiting for bad balls he went for his shots and found plenty of them.
There was some early movement but he made light of it, pulling, cutting and driving straight. He was the senior partner in an opening partnership of 76 with Shane Watson during which Australia set out their stall: they would not be going quietly.
Watson flattered to deceive yet again. Having seen off the initial shine he edged a ball with hard hands to slip. The fun was just beginning. In the 23 over Usman Khawaja went down the wicket to Graeme Swann and was deceived in flight.
A strong shout for lbw was turned down and England decided not to ask for a review. The next ball gripped the arid surface and turned as Khawaja flailed forward. Matt Prior behind the stumps went up for the catch and umpire Tony Hill decided there had been an edge.
Khawaja reviewed the decision after a brief conversation and nothing which ensued confirmed that he had touched the ball. Quite the reverse. But on the grounds seemingly that there was no conclusive evidence that he had not hit it the original decision stood.
As it happened, this merely brought in Clarke. The first ball he received, from Jimmy Anderson, seared past his outside edge. If England could have got Clarke then they were in the game and then some.
Rogers reached a lustrous fifty but after lunch the import of what he was about to achieve – a hundred in the Ashes – seemed to take hold of him. He essayed some booming loose drives. Then, fatally, he allowed himself to be distracted by the movement of members behind the bowler’s arm in the pavilion. It is a continually surprising aspect of cricket etiquette that the people who should know better never do.
Having rightly complained about movement for the third time in the over Rogers played round his front pad and was out lbw. Another wicket now and Australia were in big trouble again.
Smith seemed to have provided it. Still to score and looking as if he might never score, he was beaten by Swann. Umpire Hill, growing gaunter of expression by the minute, turned down the appeal. England reviewed only to find that the ball was decreed to be hitting leg stump but by a millimetre less of it than needed for the decision to be overturned.
On 18, Smith, still skittish, edged Anderson faintly behind according to England’s stentorian appeal. Not so, according to umpire Marais Erasmus. England used their second of two permitted reviews. None of the gizmos suggested Smith had made contact.
On 24, the batsman was beaten by a corker from Broad. Hill rejected the appeal, England had no reviews left. The slow motion showed the ball was going on to hit middle stump half way up.
The excitement was all but done for the day. Australia ticked over as the temperature rose. England, irked by the heat, annoyed by loose footholes, were tired. Their opponents were rejuvenated at last.