14 Jul 2013

Ashes: England win dramatic first test

It’s not been easy – but England lead the Ashes series 1-0 after beating Australia by 14 runs in the first test at Trent Bridge. But what of the role of the video umpire? Malcolm Boughen takes a look.

England win first Ashes test (Getty)

Well, maybe it was always going to end that way.

An inside edge through to the wicket keeper – or was it? England’s appeals turned down by the on-field umpire, and then captain Alastair Cook’s call for a video review.

The hot spot camera is once again inconclusive, as the edge of the bat is obscured behind Brad Haddin’s pad. But the video umpire asks for the audio to be replayed. It convinces him there was a click as the ball passed the edge of the bat – Haddin is out and five dramatic days of test cricket end with an England victory by just 14 runs.

The name Marais Erasmus meant little to anyone beyond his family before this match. But he’s known – at least by repute – by a few more people now.

The role of video umpire ought to be a straightforward one. Watch all the TV replays, use the technology that’s available and clear up any errors made by the umpires on the field. But this game proved that that can sometimes not be the case.

Rewind to the start of the test match last Wednesday. England, overwhelming favourites, win the toss and decide to bat on an overcast day in Nottingham. On a dry, slow-looking wicket they must have expected to reach around 280 for four by close of play. In fact, 290 runs were scored – but 14 wickets fell – England skittled out for 215, with the excellent Peter Siddle taking 5-50, then Australia reduced to 75-4 by close of play.

Day two and it looked like the expected order of things had re-established itself as Australia collapse from 108-4 to 117-9 – still 98 behind England and just 19-year-old debutant Ashton Agar to come. And then the unexpected happened again.

Expect the unexpected?

Playing with a freedom that had eluded Australia’s specialist batsmen, Agar took the fight to the English attack, smashing the ball to all parts of the ground.

True, he did have to thank Mr Erasmus for a lucky escape when everyone but the video umpire thought he’d been stumped off Graeme Swann when he’d scored just six. But everyone inside the ground and out – Australian and English – were genuinely sorry when the youngster drove a catch to mid-wicket when he’d reached 98 – just two runs from being the first Number 11 ever to score a century in a test match.

But Australia had established a crucial 65-run lead on first innings. And Mr Erasmus was soon to take a hand again. As the Sky cameras were reviewing the dismissal of Joe Root – caught behind as he edged a ball down the leg side – Jonathan Trott played his first ball into his pads off the edge of his bat.

Read more: Six things to know about this year's Ashes series

At least that was what he and the on-field umpire thought – but the Australians went for a video review and even though the hot-spot camera was not available, Mr Erasmus decided to give the benefit of the doubt to the bowler and Trott was out lbw first ball.

So two big video decisions had gone against England and at 11-2 they were in desperate trouble. But they say such things tend to even themselves out and – in a way no-one could have expected – they did. England struggled to 218-6 – a lead of just 153 – when Stuart Broad joined Ian Bell.

Video review rules

Now under the video review system, each team is allowed two unsuccessful reviews per innings – and Australia’s captain Michael Clarke had already had two referrals turned down. So when Broad appeared to have edged Agar to first slip and umpire Aleem Dar failed to give him out, the Australians could do nothing but appeal to Broad’s better nature – and given what had gone before, he did not feel this was the time to volunteer his wicket.

So, with Bell scoring an excellent century, England reached 375 – a lead of 310 and a target no team had reached batting last to win a test at Trent Bridge.

Credit to the Australians, they never once gave up the fight and a nail-biting final day unfolded agonisingly slowly as they inched towards their target, losing wickets at regular intervals but always in the hunt. When the ninth wicket went down with 80 still needed, the game seemed to be up, but Haddin and the new number 11, James Pattinson, pushed them onwards. A delayed lunch interval allowed England’s key bowler, James Anderson, time to recover from an attack of cramp and – with the Australians now needing just 15 – he beat Haddin. England appealed. The umpire said “no”, but then came the fateful reference to Mr Erasmus.

On post-match replays, it did look as if he’d got this one right. There was the faintest of touches and Anderson rightly claimed his fifth wicket of the innings and the tenth of the match. England had won one of the great Ashes test matches – ranking alongside those epic contests of 2005. Next stop Lord’s for a now much-anticipated second test on Thursday.