The art of not losing: Clarke takes a leaf out of England’s book

Scorecard / As it happenedClarke booed after farcical finishUmpire altercation a touch subject for Clarke

The nerve! Asked what his team has to do to regain the Ashes in Australia this summer, Michael Clarke, still looking woozy after the bizarre last session at the Oval, said, ‘Score more runs, take more wickets for fewer runs.’ Not a bad start, except that in this series Australia did just that, and it still translated to a 3-0 defeat. Where the Ashes were won and lost was, as in 2009, not runs and wickets but in the more mysterious realm of nerve.

England kept theirs on the last day at Trent Bridge. Australia lost theirs on the second day at Lord’s, and on the last day at Durham. Just a few key tests of bottle, and there went the series. One team had consistently greater self-belief when it mattered.

So it was appropriate that the closing drama, the game-within-a-game on Sunday afternoon, was resolved as a matter of keeping and losing one’s nerve.

By declaring at tea, 226 runs ahead and with 44 overs left in the series, Clarke was prepared to risk losing the match to give his team a chance to win it – but only up to a point. That point came in the 26th over of England’s run chase, when Clarke, accepting that Kevin Pietersen’s onslaught had tilted the balance, shifted his field placements to the defensive. ‘We had nothing to lose,’ Clarke said of his declaration. But an hour and a half later, he found that he did. He mightn’t have cared about the difference between 3-0 and 4-0, but he was buggered if he was going to let England have a win as a gift.

Australia’s switch to defence triggered a sequence of events so strange that they had to be seen to be believed – although what brought them to a halt was that they could no longer be seen.

In the final stages, Clarke was booed by a well-oiled Oval crowd for talking to his bowlers and slowing the game down. ‘Same old Aussies, always cheating!’ sang the outraged patrons. Who says alcohol doesn’t kill brain cells?

It was Clarke who had given them something to watch by declaring and trying to force a result, one way or the other, rather than let the game sputter out. The fantastic afternoon’s entertainment was his present to the patrons, but they wanted more.

By 7pm, tea time was ancient history. Soon Clarke was provoking a near-riot in the stands by asking the umpires to check their light meters. Pietersen was gone but a late rally from Ian Bell and Chris Woakes had England 21 runs short of an early Christmas present. Mitchell Starc caused an outcry by running up to the crease and not bowling, a move known, to this point, as an ”Anderson”. Had any Australian bowler taken his boot off, or thrown the ball to the umpires to have its shape checked, or pursued a towel or a vexatious DRS review (any one of which is known as a ”Broad”), things could have turned ugly.

In the final act, Starc ran Bell out – Australia’s first run out of the series, no less – and Clarke, a foe of light meters every time they have foiled his plans to keep playing, was being pushed away by umpire Aleem Dar as he tried to read the digitised number on the black box, now his last saviour.

A through-the-looking-glass day ended, in darkness and fireworks, as England received the urn and Kevin Pietersen praised ‘the brand of cricket this team plays’ in their bold chase (read Kevin’s bold chase). Then he began swearing at photographers for spoiling his selfie with the trophy over which Australians and Englishmen have battled for so long. Ah, the nerve.

And so cricket found itself again at a crossroads between entertainment and something (literally) darker, between an audience-chasing spectacle and a proxy clash of civilisations. And not for the first time, it was resolved, as a draw, by officials bound by the pettifogging precedents they themselves had set.

Something like the European Commission without the shooting.

But Test cricket has always been played on this uneasy junction, ever since the first properly representative match between Australia and England at this ground in 1880. It is a show – as Clarke was stating when he transformed a dreary scenario into pulsating theatre – but it is also a struggle between the representatives of two nations, whose relationship is as ambiguous and tense as any close kinship – as Clarke was stating when he pushed for the match to be abandoned.

The result of the match was fair, by the way. England did not deserve to win any more than Australia deserved to lose. But it was another of those moments where one team showed a stronger nerve than the other, and it is solving that enigma that Australia will be looking to address between now and November.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on 苏州美甲学校.