Hughes and Bell spark 'cheats' row but players refuse to fan the flames

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Try as many observers did, it was impossible to provoke an Ashes row yesterday. With the series drawing to a close it seemed ready at last for a dramatic story about rifts, discord and irrevocable splits. It was possible to imagine cables, or at least angry emails, being exchanged by governments and diplomatic relations being threatened.

How quickly all that altered. Instead of adding fuel to the fires ignited by umpire decision reviews and batsmen being allowed to bat on when they had been given out by the on-field umpire, the players of both sides brought along heavy-duty extinguishers.

There were two potentially contentious issues, both involving England batsmen who made hundreds, both settled in favour of England. The first was when Alastair Cook, who went on to make 189, was on 99 and prodded forward to short leg off the bowling of the debutant left-arm spinner Michael Beer.

There, Phillip Hughes at first claimed the catch but with Cook immediately expressing doubt the umpires asked for it to be re-examined on slow motion replay. This showed conclusively enough that the ball had hit the ground just before Hughes got his mitts round it and Cook was spared.

But this was not good enough for some, including Ian Botham on the Sky commentary who suggested that Hughes was a cheat. As if that was not enough contention, Ian Bell, who was to make his maiden Ashes hundred, was given out on 67 when umpire Aleem Dar adjudged that he had edged a ball from Shane Watson off the inside edge of his bat to wicketkeeper Brad Haddin.

After a short delay, Bell asked for a review. The hotspot camera showed no contact and the decision was overturned. Moments later the snicko gizmo placed in the stumps, which is not being used, suggested there might have been a collision between bat and ball. Cue irate sermons about the need to walk, the weakness of technology. It was worth the involvement of Prime Ministers at the very least.

And then at the end of another day which had not gone Australia's way, Australia's captain, Michael Clarke, said: "Phillip Hughes is not a cheat, that's for sure. He's a wonderful young guy and I think the end result was spot on.

"Hughes wasn't sure, Brad Haddin who could see the ball more clearly wasn't sure, we made that quite clear to the umpires. I haven't seen the replays but it must have come up quite clearly that the ball bounced and the right result was made. So I think that's a bit harsh from Ian to say that about Phillip."

This version of events was confirmed by Cook who said: "Obviously it was very close. To be fair to Phil Hughes he said straightaway he wasn't sure. I obviously was going to hang around, on 99 you've got to be dragged off so it went upstairs and the right decision was made." So, no review wars there but the Bell incident might offer more scope for an angry debate.

"I don't think Ian Bell is a cheat at all," said Clarke. "We thought there was an inside edge. He appealed that, it was referred and obviously technology said that Ian didn't hit the ball.

"At the end of the day it's the same for both teams and I actually said that out there to Bell as well that I do think technology, especially hotspot, is inconsistent. I'm sure there have been plenty of cases when we have been batting and the same thing has happened."

Cook, who had just been dismissed when Bell was given out, said: "If Belly had honestly thought he had nicked it I can't see him standing there. You would look quite foolish when you have 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."

England's prodigious opener has benefited himself from technology in this series, having a catch overturned in Adelaide and an lbw verdict in Melbourne, both of them correctly.

Someone erroneously suggested that the Australians had not applauded either of the hundreds. Clarke begged to disagree and indeed his side could be shown applauding.

"I think technology has helped the game, I really do," he said. "I would like it to be 100 per cent right but there's not many things in the world that are. There are going to be inconsistent areas and both teams are dealing with the same issues." And dealing with them, it should be noted, with a good deal more temperateness than some.