Ashes 2013: Talking points from 5th Test at The Oval

In the end, when it narrowed down to England needing 17 from four overs, the umpires intervened and stopped play due to bad light, thus ending what had been the most productive day of the final Test © Getty Images

The Ashes is over. England’s wait to get their hands on the little replica of the trophy has come to an end. What started off with Australia’s mammoth total and England’s cautious approach took a bizarre turn with a rain-marred day and one that almost produced a result. Prakash Govindasreenivasan has more.

Shane Watson’s late form
After hitting the headlines for all sorts of wrong reasons, from bad strokes to poor DRS calls, Australia’s Shane Watson finally struck form. Unfortunately for him and his side, it came a bit too late. He struck 174, a knock that saw him essay 25 boundaries and grow from strength to strength on the first day. The way he paced his innings was commendable as Australia came out with the intention of taking control on Day One.
It has been a mixed series for Watson. Having played at five of the top six batting positions and struggled with his front leg that he often brought far too across, Watson’s effort in the final Test gave him some breathing space. It has perhaps even given him a ticket to the Australian squad that will line-up against the same opposition at home in a few month’s time.
Steven Smith makes his case
In a team that is struggling to find the right mix of players, Steven Smith has been a revelation. The man who was initially touted as a ‘leg spinner who can bat a bit’ has turned out to be a more-than-handy-batsman who can turn his arm over. He adds meat to the Australian middle-order, but what about the bowling? Australia’s spin reserves are thin and Smith’s inclusion in the side is an example of that fact. Yet, more importantly, Smith is one of those players who has showcased his worth with a masterful knock of 138 — his maiden Test ton. With a string of consistent performances, he has probably assured himself a spot in the squad for the return Ashes which is to be held towards the end of the year in Australia.
Simon Kerrigan’s nightmarish start
After being added to the England squad following his exploits at the domestic level, not many would have expected Simon Kerrigan to get a debut. Once he did, it was a rather nightmarish one for the Lancashire lad. As many as six boundaries came from his first two overs as Watson went after him from the word go. He finished with first innings figures of none for 53 from eight overs and didn’t bowl in the second.
Negative approach or forward planning?
Australia’s total was massive and the weather forecast predicted heavy showers during the fourth and fifth day. In that situation, England came out on Day Three and dropped the anchor to make sure they do not concede the Test to the visitors if rain did not come into play. As little as 215 runs were scored with the likes of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and even Kevin Pietersen anchoring the snooze fest.

Experts and fans on social media and even some in the commentary box seemed unhappy with what was being tagged as England’s negative approach. With the Ashes already in the bag, one perhaps expected Cook to come out and take some adventurous decision in the quest for his record 4-0 win.

Nothing of that sort happened as the anchor was dropped and the Australian bowlers were made to toil.
Unfortunately for the visitors, their bowling department did not boast of the rich experience from the past like Glenn McGrath or Shane Warne who would have found a way around the lack of intent in England’s batting.
Rain and bad light
As expected, rain came along and doused Australia’s dying hopes of pulling off something on the last couple of days in the game. The entire fourth day was washed out and the scorecard remained as they were at the end of the third day, with just the formality of the fifth day’s play before England could get their hands on the coveted trophy.
Entertaining finale and the bad light fiasco
The sun turned up of the final day of the five-match Test series to allow the two sides to try and outsmart each other for one last time. At the start of the day, one would have got the feeling that it was too late for Australia to turn this game around for a win while England’s satisfaction at finishing with a draw was evident on the third day. Yet, in the end, England came agonizingly close to stealing a memorable victory to take the desired 4-0 scoreline before bad light intervened. If Day three was considered a dampener of spirits, the final day provided riveting action as both the teams went for broke.
The day provided a lot of topsy-turvy action that was otherwise missing from this game. James Faulkner became the first Australian since Stuart Clark in 2009 to pick up four wickets in an innings on debut as England were bowled out for 377. At lunch, Australia walked in with a first-innings lead of 115. Clarke had to decide his team’s desire from hereon. When the Australian batsmen walked out, the message was clear — get as much as you can in one session. Australia managed a nelson, setting England a target of 227 to get from the last set of 30 overs.
If one sat through England’s first innings, not many would have expected them even think about attempting the chase. Yet, it seemed like Alastair Cook saw the prospect of a 4-0 scoreline and was keen on pursuing it. Kevin Pietersen strengthened England’s case at number three. Shots began to flow and Australia’s bold and enticing move now began to cause a headache.

As the teams were fast approaching the end of the day, the visitors began to use ‘time-wasting’ tactics to put the game away from the home side. With an in-form Pietersen in the middle, any target would have been gettable and Clarke would have been aware of that. Pietersen had his 50 from just 36 deliveries and was looking set to steal the game from Australia’s clutches. Such was Pietersen’s impact that even his dismissal did not put an end to England’s pursuit. His aggressive batting turned Clarke’s bold declaration on its head and came close to giving England the much-anticipated 4-0 scoreline. The visitors were panicking and Clarke went to the extent of getting into a heated discussion with onfield umpire Aleem Dar in order to stop the play due to bad light. Reports suggested that Clarke had told Dar not to touch him when Dar was probably looking to explain the gravity of the situation.
In the end, when it narrowed down to England needing 21 from four overs, the umpires intervened and decided that the light wasn’t enough to go on, thus, ending what had been the most productive day of the final Test.
(Prakash Govindasreenivasan is a reporter with CricketCountry. His Twitter handle is @PrakashG_89)