It was a goldfish moment that enveloped the vast majority of 23,500 spectators in London for the final day of the Ashes.
The person primarily responsible for rescuing the match from the tedium generated by home team England, Australia captain Michael Clarke, became an undeserving lightning rod for supporters furious at the decision to curtail England’s near-successful run chase due to bad light, resulting in a drawn Test match.
Clarke was roundly booed as he led his team off the field following the umpires’ decision to call off the match with England needing only 21 runs from the last four overs.
The cacophony intensified soon after when he was called for interview at the post-match presentation. Master of ceremonies Mike Atherton remarked he had predicted, incorrectly, that “gratitude might be the order of the day for the declaration which gave everybody a game”.
“You do your best, you try and set up a game and, unfortunately, home fans [criticise you for it],” Clarke lamented over the din. But he was not overly critical, admitting he thought “Australian fans would be exactly the same” in the situation of England fans.
Had it not been for Clarke’s decision to instruct his batsmen to bat aggressively in their second innings and then declare at tea, setting England a target of 227 in the final session from 44 overs, the match would likely have been called off at least 90 minutes earlier than it was, officially at 7.40pm local time.
England’s chase was given a solid basis from Alastair Cook (34) and Jonathan Trott (59), but it was a swashbuckling 62 from Kevin Pietersen that saw Australia’s hopes of victory evaporate and England’s soar.
The chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Giles Clarke, damned the way the match ended as “totally unsatisfactory”, and said he expected ICC rule changes to be made as a result of it.
Clarke’s main gripe, once the momentum dramatically shifted in England’s favour, was an apparent double-standard in the enforcement of bad light rules.
In the third Test, in which Australia was well on top, play was halted due to bad light just before 4.30pm local time. A rain-soaked final day ensured the match ended in a draw.
At The Oval, however, umpires Aleem Dar and Kumar Dharmasena did not begin using the light meter until about 7.34pm, which prompted a mild physical altercation between Dar and Clarke. Only four more deliveries were bowled before play was halted, for good.
“The concern from our players was that the [light] reading was taken so late. I think the reading in Manchester was 8.1 [lux], and today it was a 5.7,” Clarke explained.
“When you can see your own shadows, just going on what’s happened in the past throughout this series, you know it’s getting to around that time when umpires have consistently taken us off the field.”
The ire of the England fans as Australia employed some subtle stalling tactics late in the match also ignored England’s dawdling over rate in the field and run-rate with the bat. On day three the home team scored just 215 runs from 98.3 overs.
Former Australia Test batsman Greg Blewett said on the Sky Sports TV coverage the umpires should have halted play about four or five overs earlier, while retired England paceman Bob Willis complained the umpires “made a rod for their own back by coming off for bad light on Friday”.
England captain Cook acknowledged the widespread disappointment in the crowd but did not share its negativity towards the umpires.
“Of course you understand the frustration, but you can also understand the other side … you understand the rules and regs,” Cook said.
“Unfortunately the officials sometimes have to take emotion out of the game and do their job of being consistently fair to both sides.
“If it was the third day no one would be moaning about it. If the boot was on the other foot we’d probably be asking the same questions [as Australia].”
Despite the public haranguing Clarke did not attack the behaviour of England supporters, instead expressing his hope he and his team had “given them something to smile about by setting up a game today”.
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