Clarke’s century boosts Australian cricket
Australia captain Michael Clarke led from the front with an unbeaten century as the first day of the third Test saw yet more Decision Review System controversy hit the Ashes.
Clarke’s 125 not out, the first hundred by an Australian this series, helped the tourists to 303 for three at Thursday’s close in a match his side, 2-0 down with three to play, must win to have any hope of regaining the Ashes.
Not since Australia’s Don Bradman, cricket’s greatest batsman, scored 810 runs at an average of 90 in 1936/37 has a side come from 2-0 down to win a five-match Ashes series.
And while Australia still face a colossal task the fact Clarke and Steven Smith, who survived both of England’s DRS innings referrals on his way to 70 not out, had so far added an unbroken 174 for the fourth wicket meant the tourists had enjoyed their best day of the series so far.
That was despite the controversial dismissal of batsman Usman Khawaja who was given out when the third umpire upheld an on-field decision for a catch behind.
Such was the outrage that Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described it as one of the worst cricket decisions he had seen while Cricket Australia demanded clarification from the sport’s governing body.
England took two wickets in quick succession as 76 for one became 82 for two but this day belonged to Australia, with opener Chris Rogers making 84.
“The sun was out all day and the Aussies played really well,” said England seamer Tim Bresnan, who removed opener Shane Watson.
“You just have to be very patient, put the balls in the right areas and beat the bat a lot. Tomorrow (Friday) morning we may go past the edge or they may nick it -- that’s the fine margins in this game.”
As for suggestions England might whitewash Australia, Bresnan replied: “Five-nil in England would be difficult as we expect it to lash it down (rain hard) in one of these Test matches.
“We didn’t think they [Australia] would roll over.”
Clarke won the toss for the first time this series and batted despite Australia being dismissed for just 128 in the first innings of their 347-run second Test defeat at Lord’s.
However, the combination of a good pitch and sunny conditions meant there was plenty of justification for Clarke’s decision.
Australia had lost their last six Tests coming into this match, their worst run since 1984 when Kim Hughes tearfully resigned as captain.
Although Australia recalled David Warner, usually an opening batsman, they stuck with all-rounder Shane Watson and Rogers as their first wicket duo.
The pair responded by putting on 76 before Watson, on 19, pushed forward to Bresnan and edged to England captain Alastair Cook at first slip.
Soon afterwards, Khawaja was caught behind off spinner Graeme Swann.
Khawaja reviewed on-field umpire Tony Hill’s decision and while the Hot Spot thermal imaging did not appear to show an edge, there was a noise on audio.
After several minutes’ study, third umpire Kumar Dharmasena upheld Hill’s verdict in the latest controversial DRS call this series.
The 35-year-old Rogers was in sight of a maiden Test hundred before a well-spun Swann delivery had him lbw to end the left-hander’s 114 balls innings, which featured 14 fours.
Asked if he was playing for his career, Rogers replied: “In some respects, yes. I wanted to show people I could do more than bat time.
“As a batting side we’ve been under a lot of pressure and copped a lot of criticism. Today we could play with a bit more freedom.”
Smith was on nought when Swann had an lbw appeal rejected by New Zealand’s Hill. As the DRS indicated the ball was only clipping leg stump, his decision was backed by Sri Lanka’s Dharmasena after England reviewed.
Meanwhile the 32-year-old Clarke showed why he is one of the world’s best players of spin by several times advancing from his crease to drive Swann for well-struck boundaries.
Wicketkeeper Matt Prior was convinced he’d caught Smith, on 18, off James Anderson and England reviewed Marais Erasmus’s original not out call only to be disappointed.
It was a decision that came back to haunt England after tea when paceman Stuart Broad appealed for lbw against Smith, then on 24, only for Hill to rule in the batsman’s favour.
Replays showed the ball hitting middle stump but there was nothing England could do as they’d used up their reviews.
Clarke, however, was in command and his single off Swann saw him to a 169-ball hundred with 13 fours in just under four hours. It was his 24th century in 94 Tests.
Smith completed a 115-ball fifty before greeting the new ball by striking Anderson past mid-on for four.