Ian Bell's maiden Ashes century was tinged with controversy after technology gave him a remarkable escape today as England moved to the brink of their first series victory Down Under since 1987.
Bell benefited from the Decision Review System and left Australia at their wit’s end. Having made 67, the England man was given out caught behind by umpire Aleem Dar, who believed he had thin-edged Shane Watson through to Brad Haddin.
Bell did not call for the review immediately, doing so only after speaking to his partner Matt Prior. After a pause of about two minutes, Dar overturned the decision following a discussion with TV umpire Tony Hill because Hot Spot showed no mark on Bell’s bat. Yet Snicko — which is not available to the TV umpire because it takes about seven minutes to prepare — registered a clear sound as the ball passed the bat.
Bell went on to make 115, helping England to end the day 488 for seven, a 208-run lead over the home side with three first-innings wickets still remaining. Bell was booed by some at the SCG when he reached the landmark and when he walked off but Australia’s stand-in captain Michael Clarke declined to point the finger. He said: “I don’t think Ian Bell is a cheat at all. We thought there was an inside edge, the appeal was referred and the technology said he did not hit the ball. I don’t believe anyone would refer a decision if they thought they’d hit it. I think Ian wasn’t sure and that’s why he referred it. That’s technology, that’s what we’ve got and we can’t do a thing about it.
“I think technology has helped the game. I would like it to be 100 per cent but not many things are. Sometimes it’s frustrating but both teams are dealing with the same issue.”
Australia’s frustration at the Bell incident was understandable, yet their conduct earlier in the day prompted Sir Ian Botham to accuse Australia’s Phillip Hughes of “cheating”.
With Alastair Cook on 99, Hughes at first appeared unsure whether he had taken a clean catch at short leg off Michael Beer but then hurled the ball in the air as he was surrounded by jubilant team-mates.
Umpire Billy Bowden referred the decision and replays showed the ball had clearly bounced into Hughes’s hands but he was defended strongly by his captain. “I can guarantee one thing: Phillip Hughes is not a cheat, that’s for sure,” added Clarke.
“He’s a wonderful young guy. The end result was spot on. Hughesy wasn’t sure, Brad Haddin, who saw the ball clearly, wasn’t sure, and we made that quite clear to the umpires, who referred the catch and checked it. It’s a bit harsh from Ian to say that about Phillip because he is certainly not that type of guy at all.”
The incidents involving Bell and Hughes took the attention away slightly from Cook, who enjoyed another record-breaking day in this remarkable series for him. Cook’s innings of 189 left his series aggregate at 766 — the second-highest for any England player in Ashes cricket after Wally Hammond, who amassed 905 runs in the 1928-29 series. Yet before he could reflect on his own achievements, Cook was required to discuss the day’s principal talking points.
“Phil Hughes said straight away that he wasn’t sure,” said Cook. “On 99, I was obviously going to hang around — you’d have to be dragged off — so they went upstairs and I think the right decision was made.
“Ian Bell wasn’t sure either, which is why he referred it. There was a similar incident with Michael Clarke at Brisbane, where we were convinced and Snicko said he might have hit it.
“Belly said he wasn’t sure, he didn’t feel it, and Hot Spot didn’t show anything. Is Snicko totally right? Nobody really knows.
“If Belly had honestly thought he’d nicked it, I can’t see him standing because then you look quite foolish when you’ve nicked it and referred it. I don’t think any players are trying to bluff technology, you could end up with egg on your face quite quickly.”
Cook has batted for 2,171 minutes in this series — more than 36 hours at the crease — scoring one double-century and two substantial hundreds.
The difference from his performances against Pakistan last summer, where he struggled against Mohammad Amir and Mohammad Asif, could not be more stark. His latest effort has virtually sealed a series victory for England after they ensured the Ashes would be retained with their victory in the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne.
Cook rode his luck in this knock — he was caught off Beer on 46 but was reprieved when replays revealed a no-ball — but few would begrudge him this good fortune after his outstanding concentration this winter.
“I didn’t get any runs in the first warm-up game and this looked a long way away,” Cook said. “I can’t really believe what I’ve achieved. It’s been a good couple of months but we’ve two days of hard work left.”
Cook was eventually caught at gully by Mike Hussey after driving at a wide ball from Watson, becoming the third wicket to fall in the day after nightwatchman Jimmy Anderson and Paul Collingwood had departed in the morning.
Bell shared century stands with Cook and Prior before he fended at Mitchell Johnson and was taken at second slip by Clarke. When bad light halted play, Prior was 54 not out and ready to hammer in another nail tomorrow.
Tom Collomosse is the cricket correspondent for The Evening Standard.