Prolonging the Game

Another Ashes series comes to a close and once again the final test match raised a lot of talking points.

The selectors were slammed for picking Peter Siddle ahead of the younger Pat Cummins. Yet Siddle showed everyone why he was the right choice in terms of winning the game. He is one of the few Australian bowlers capable of holding down one end and not conceding runs, thereby putting the batsman under pressure. Would Cummins have been as effective?

One can understand the argument that the younger man should have been given the nod with an eye to the future, but Siddle was ultimately the difference between the two sides. He used the conditions and bowled line and length. People have talked about his selection came too late, which it did, but it also raises the question had Ryan Harris not been forced to retire due to injury would the series have gone England’s way?

All the best bowling line ups work bet when they bowl in pairs. McGrath could pin down one end but so too could Andy Bichel, and Jason Gillespie two fairly unsung heroes of that golden era; then there was warn to do the same. When Botham was taking wickets for England, and he was at times far from accurate, batsman took a swing at him because at the other end Mike Hendrick was stopping the flow of runs. Until the final test, with no Harris, Australia lacked a bowler who could pin down one end.

The one thing the tight bowling showed in the series is how none of the Australian or English batsman are really prepared to grind out a long innings. They all want the runs to continue to flow and are unable to be patient. Yes, Root and Smith played long innings but in those knocks they were able to continue to score fairly regularly as no bowler was able to pin them down. Chris Rogers was the closest in the Australian team to grinding out a long innings and occupying the crease until the shine has left the ball, Alistair Cook probably the closest for England.

Retiring Captain Michael Clarke has had a parting shot at the Groundsmen/Curators, blaming them for the test matches finishing within the allocated five days. Clarke said that it was the fans who were suffering the most with seven days of possible cricket lost in this series after the five fast finishes. He is right and wickets the world over are now prepared to favour the home team.

In this series after the Lords test which England where thumped their Captain Alistair Cook said his side wanted to play “on English wickets.” They enjoyed greener seaming wickets in the next three tests.

One report claimed that Clarke ‘implored’ curators around the globe to ‘have the courage’ to produce Test match pitches that produce results on the fifth day. It used to be the home captain who had a say on the type of wicket he would like, now one feels it is the game’s administrators in that country, and Clarke’s comments would seem to echo that. Home nations want to see their side win, a winning side means more people through the turnstiles and more money in the coffers.

The only way that we will ever see true Test match wickets that can last five days is if the Match referee is given the power to fine the host nation for preparing a wicket that he deems is prepared to favour the home side. All of the match referees are former top flight players and they all know what a good cricket wicket should look like. If host nations know that they could lose vital revenue then they may be a little more co-operative in preparing a wicket conducive to an even sides matched between bat and ball.

One thing that was certainly not good for the game was the time it took for the Third Umpire or the DRS to rule Michael Clarke out in Australia’s innings and Joe Root in England’s first innings. The laws of the game used to state that to be given out caught, the umpire had to see the ball deviate. Now the umpire does not even appear to look at that issue, it is based on a supposed noise which could be a number of things, or hot spot. In Root and Clarke’s dismissal the Third Umpire  took the ICC’s rules to the extreme. These state:

  1. As a guide, a decision should be made within 30 seconds whenever possible, but the third umpire shall have a discretion to take more time in order to finalise a decision.

Many watching on television, if they are honest, will feel that both batsmen were hard done by and the spirit of cricket should have applied. If in doubt the batsman is not out.

Clarke talks about pitches, but these two decisions had that train of thought applied could have changed the game, and had it last longer. It appears that so much pressure has been applied to umpires, by television technology that now they will err in favour of the bowler. Many are too afraid to make a wrong decision. Yet umpires are human, like batsmen, bowlers and fielders, and just as they miss the ball, bowl a full toss and drop catches so too can umpires make an error in judgement. Yet it will always be a genuine mistake.

In sport today there is so much scrutiny on the officials that they are scared to make a mistake, as that mistake will be replayed during the live action again and again, and then on news channels the world over. Surely such mistakes are part of the game. Sure we want to get things as right as possible, but we are after all, all human, and it is sometimes important to remember that.

Just as Michael Clarke is saying we should trust the Curator to prepare a wicket that will last five days, should we not accept the umpires decision, if it is not clear from a replay within 30 seconds that a batsman has hit it?

So is it a pitch or an umpiring decision that could best prolong the match? Probably a combination of the two.

Prolonging the Game
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