England revived the fifth and final Test of the Ashes 2013 on Day Five after Michael Clarke’s sporting declaration, but unfortunately it all finished in darkness. Nishad Pai Vaidya reflects on the dramatic final day.
The modern one-day game may have revolutionised the approach to the classical format, but chasing at over five runs an over in fourth innings tests the best in business. For once, the bowling side has the advantage as the captain can shuffle his bowlers and persist with his best for prolonged spells. The field can be spread out to protect the boundaries and plug the flow of quick runs. Yet, England nearly managed to steal the fifth Ashes Test at The Oval and almost took the sheen off Michael Clarke’s sporting declaration.
At the outset, Clarke’s decision has to be lauded as it gave the viewers something to watch. Australia may have almost lost the game, but Clarke showed that he is a brave captain. By declaring with 44 overs to go, he gave his bowlers a slim chance to clinch victory. Such bold manoeuvres may backfire at times; yet, when they come off, they can be very rewarding. In the years ahead, Clarke has an important role to play in shaping the future of Australian cricket. This aggressive mindset is what will help him revive their fortunes and possibly chart a roadmap for a new era.
In one Test match at The Oval, we have seen murder and resurrection of Test cricket. It is quite astonishing to witness the two contrasting approaches during England’s two knocks. In the first essay, it was painful to watch a good batting line-up take the life out of the Test match with a dogged display. On Day Three, they scored a little over 200 runs and it only looked like they wanted to save the game — denying Australia a consolation victory ahead of the return Ashes later this year. However, chasing 227 in 44 overs, Kevin Pietersen inspired a spirited pursuit.
Let us first rewind to England’s first innings. Even a batsman of the calibre of Pietersen consumed 133 deliveries for his 50. The England setup has gone on to defend their approach, but it was inexplicable. On a flat track at The Oval, with wickets in hand, scoring at that rate was nothing but killing the game. Such an approach can only be worth the watch when a team has its back against the wall and are made to save a game. England may not have been in a position of strength, but they weren’t in dire straits either.
Considering their first innings, England had to make amends during their second effort. Had they taken it slow and allowed the game to meander towards a draw, there certainly would have been an outcry. Instead, they did the sensible thing — seeing off the first few overs and then charging to the bowlers. The same Pietersen who took his time in the first innings was in one-day mode. Jonathan Trott was quicker by his standards.
Thus, there is one pertinent question: Would England have gone for the kill if they had a slender 1-0 lead in the series? In the recent past, we have seen teams taking the safer option and settling for a draw when the opposition could have drawn it level. In 2011, India were criticised for abandoning a run-chase in the West Indies when they could have gone 2-0 up by clinching the third and final Test match. Sri Lanka did a similar thing during their home series against Pakistan in 2012. However, the same Indian team that gave up during the run-chase, raced against time when they had the 2-0 advantage against the West Indies in Mumbai. Ultimately, it all boils down to where a team is placed in the series. Nevertheless, it does make for an interesting viewing.
In the age of T20, Test cricket needs thrillers to catch the imagination of the fans. On a whole, the Ashes 2013 have been good for Test cricket. Australia’s effort at Trent Bridge, England’s comeback at Chester-le-Street and the thrilling finale at The Oval are what the fans want from the classical format.
Were the umpires right in calling it with the light fading?
However, what do the umpires do when the light fades in the midst of an intriguing finish? Do they stick by the book or allow “common sense to prevail” as some commentators suggested? Firstly, letting the match continue would have been unfair to the fielders as they couldn’t pick the ball. The batsmen can exploit such situations and push for more runs as the fielders lose time in trying to spot the ball. It is even tougher on the fielders given the fact that they have to try and locate the ball with the crowd in the background.
Earlier, the batsmen were given the call, but with the matter in the umpires’ control, justice prevails. The Englishmen wouldn’t have gone off with 21 needed off four overs even as the Australians struggled to field in the dark. Some may cry foul over the umpires’ decision, but it was the right one and they had to follow the rules. They didn’t make them, they are the ones who enforce them.