04 August 2013

The Ashes 3rd Test, day 4, Old Trafford

The Ashes 3rd Test, day 4, Old Trafford:

Australia 1st innings:
7/527 dec. from 146 overs
Michael Clarke 187, Steven Smith 89, Chris Rogers 84, Mitchell Starc 66*, Brad Haddin 65*
Graeme Swann 5-159

England 1st innings:
368 all out from 139.3 overs
Kevin Pietersen 113, Alastair Cook 62, Ian Bell 60Peter Siddle 4-63, Mitchell Starc 3-76, Ryan Harris 2-82

Australia 2nd innings:
7/172 from 36 overs
Michael Clarke 30*, David Warner 41
Tim Bresnan 2-25, James Anderson 2-37
Match situation: Australia lead by 331 runs with one day of play remaining

Umpiring will be the conversation prior to the build up for the final day of play, yet again. This time it will be regarding the decision the umpires made to call it stumps when there was ample time to still get in a bit more action. The general way is to offer the light to the batsmen, as they have to try and see the ball after all - more so than the umpires. The umpires asked Alastair Cook to move to his slower bowlers, but why would he do this? Fast bowlers chew up time with their delivery stride, then the stroll back to their marker, so why would Cook have even thought of taking the umpires suggestion. Michael Clarke had to accept the umpires decision. The ones who officiate the game but have done so this series in a questionable manner, which will be spoken of in a negative light for some time to come.

Beyond the light ordeal, it would seem a draw is looming now. Rain is forecast for tomorrow and there will be no time for our boys to come out tomorrow and have a bat to advance the lead to 350. There is no need for that now, even though this was the intention yesterday evening for safety matters. It will be a case of our bowlers trying to roll England before stumps but the heavens above may make it hell on earth for Australia. If this game does not bring a win for us, England will retain the urn and we will have to try again end of the year in home conditions.

England added 74 runs to their overnight score and minimised our lead to 159 runs. Still a strong lead but it was definitely a good effort from the English lower order to keep us frustrated as we lost a vital passage of play in this regard. It was time more so than the runs.

Once England were rolled, David Warner was sent out to open with Chris Rogers. Shane Watson - as powerful a striker as Warner - was not asked to open with Warner. This raised some questions as to why we didn't send in two big hitters and I can only assume with three left hand batsmen at the top of the order it was a tactical decision to help "protect" our right hand batsmen from Graeme Swann, especially if the top order went guns blazing.

All we needed to put together was 200 runs to put the lead into a fine posting. Easier said than done. We have only passed 300 runs once this Ashes series which resulted in our first innings total in this Test of 527 runs. So given recent history it was not going to be an easy task. We now sit at 7/172 with a lead of 331 runs, just three wickets in tact. So even though we have scored at a rate of 4.77 RPO and edged closer to the desired lead of 350 runs, we still lost 7 wickets and had valuable time go away from us.

Warner top scored with 41 and comically was caught by Joe Root. Warner has become to villain of the Australian team and has quite enjoyed the role. The Barmy Army trumpeter has even played the Rocky theme song when he's been within an ear shot. It was 41 runs on top of our lead so in some regards it was job done, but ideally a half-century plus score would have been a win for Warner. Understandably he'd have preferred the strike-rate closer to a run-a-ball.

Regarding the catch being taken by Root, I had to laugh at Warner's response: "Hooked another one to Rooty," Warner said. "Of all the people in the field ... it's quite comical now. I can't wait to read Twitter a bit later."
Everyone else but Brad Haddin has made a start of sorts for the small target on the radar, but Michael Clarke (30*) was the last of the recognised batsmen out there with a start to his name. Unfortunately for him it was not mission complete on day four of this must win Test.

Tomorrow is make or break for us and it will be a bitter pill to swallow if rain does ruin the contest to hand England a hat-trick of Ashes wins. It will also raise questions about the umpiring this series, which has been disgraceful at times. Umpiring is a thankless job and I have always maintained respect for the grueling job they have to do, but this series has taken it in a different direction, especially with technology magnifying some daft decisions. We'll just have to see how it goes down tomorrow, either the rain or the action.

Verdict: England took the days play strategically - not purely on their own watch. While we have the lead and sit in the drivers seat, tactically England have the edge right now for the ultimate result of the series if it is to rain. Our bowlers will have to graft hard, very hard indeed.

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