England’s controversial first Test victory

Trent Bridge - Ashes 2013Quite simply, the first test was a classic: A topsy-turvy game in which momentum continuously swung between both sides, punctuated by moments of individual quality and umpiring controversy.

After 14 wickets fell on the first day alone it was clear that the match was going to be a dramatic low scoring affair. After Australia were reduced to 117-9 and Ashton Agar brought to the crease, it appeared that England would take a commanding lead into the second innings. However, if this test has taught us anything, it is to take nothing for granted, and expect the unexpected. Ironically, it was Glenn McGrath, a famously hopeless number 11, who gave Ashton Agar his cap on the previous morning. Agar’s debut innings of 98 forced his team into a strong lead and won the affections of the partisan crowd. Few would have begrudged him those two extra runs that would have made him the first number 11 to make a test century.

During Agar’s innings the first of several contentious umpiring decisions were made. Agar had made six runs when he was stumped by Matt Prior. Replays suggested his foot was on the line, but not behind it. The supporters were preparing to rise and clap the England bowlers off the field after a job very well done, yet Erasmus gave the young batsman not out. Agar took full advantage.

Umpire Aleem Dar
Umpire Aleem Dar

Early in England’s reply Jonathon Trott fell LBW first ball to Mitchell Starc on review. Front-on replays suggested Trott may have edged the ball; however the side-on hotspot view that would have shown for certain was unavailable. Despite lacking all the tools to be 100% sure, Erasmus overturned Aleem Dar’s original not out decision, leaving batsman and umpire equally bewildered.Pietersen and Cook put on a watchful hundred partnership, before Australia fought back with regular wickets. The game was in the balance until Bell and Broad came together, putting on what was to prove a match-winning 138 run partnership.

However any batting based headlines were dropped by a moment of controversy that will echo throughout the series. Broad thick-edged to slip. Aleem Dar remained unmoved, as did Broad. The Aussies were incensed. Commentators are split on whether Broad should have walked. Jonathan Agnew argued he should, describing the instant as ‘an issue for the spirit of the game’.

Edgbaston E v A 2009 Stuart Broad Swings to Leg
Stuart Broad

Interestingly, the majority of pundits who had only recently stopped playing backed Broad’s decision. Michael Vaughan and Damian Martyn both claimed they would have stayed. Shane Warne backed the Englishman on Twitter ‘By the way, you can’t blame Broad for not walking, hats off I say if you nick it to 1st slip stand your ground & get given not out !’. In the modern game there appears to be very little room for sentimental notions of the ‘spirit of the game’.

Quite frankly, if Dar had done is job properly this debate around hazy notions of the ‘spirit’ of the game would not be raging. The mistakes of Dar and Erasmus leave the ICC with a headache for the rest of the series. There are currently 12 elite umpires, yet only 4 of those are not English or Australian, leaving the ICC with a limited range of options. I expect both teams wouldn’t mind seeing the back of both men for the next test; however it appears that at least one of them will have to remain.

On the final day parallels with Edgbaston 2005 were being liberally applied. By lunch Australia only need 20 runs to win with one wicket left. Hotspot confirmed that Brad Haddin had sent a thin edge through to the keeper. As the umpire’s finger was raised the feeling around Trent bridge was one of relief rather than joy. Many had predicted an England win, yet few could have foreseen the dramatic and contentious manner in which it was achieved.

Both teams face selection issues going into the next test. Finn didn’t bowl well, yet his exemplary figures at lords might push him into favour with the selectors. Australia have such a long tail that if they sort out problems at the top of the order, they could score some very high totals. To that end, David Warner can be confident of being reinstated whilst Ed Cowan’s place looks under threat after a dismal display at number three.

Australia will find it difficult to come back from a defeat that could have quite easily been a victory, and I think England will win at Lords. However, if the first test is anything to go by, a series victory is well beyond a forgone conclusion.