By Mark Whalley
England’s victory over Australia shows that technology can enhance the drama of this great rivalry
In the end, it seemed inevitable that it would end in a room filled with computers, rather than the field.
England won the first test of its home Ashes series against Australia, sneaking through by a mere 14 runs.
Parallels will undoubtedly be drawn with Edgbaston 2005, often referred to (in English quarters, at least) as “The Greatest Test,” but with a more contemporary element: the Decision Referral System.
Of course, DRS was not available that day eight years ago, and Australia will note that if it was, they probably would have won.
In that test, Simon Jones was allowed to bat on despite being plumb LBW early in his innings. The last-wicket partnership he went on to forge with an inspired Andrew Flintoff was a match-winner.
And then there’s the matter of Steve Harmison’s bouncer to Michael Kasprowicz, gloved behind to Geraint Jones – which goes down as one of the iconic moments in Ashes history.
Had that been referred, the third umpire would have noticed that the Aussie fast-bowler had let go of his bat when the ball struck his hand.
He would have been given “not out”, Australia would likely have knocked off the remaining two runs, taken a 2-0 series lead, putting them in an incredibly strong position to retain the urn.
On such small details, history can change in such seismic fashion.
Had English cricket not undergone its resurrection in that mid-noughties period (with that Ashes triumph seen as the zenith) would the current team look and play like it does now?
Would its members believe that they can come through even the most scrupulous of character assessments?
A cold, hard look at the numbers will show that England won this test match by 14 runs.
It will show that Ian Bell’s second-innings 109, eked out through a show of fortitude that many of his critics said he was not capable of, was the decisive score from the home side.
It will also show that Jimmy Anderson’s 10 wickets underline his status as probably the best bowler his country has produced in many generations.
But what it will not show is that this match was one which didn’t so much ebb and flow as violently convulse, with the initiative seized and re-seized by each side on seemingly an hourly basis.
It will not show that 19-year-old Ashton Agar, (one of the most left-field selections in recent memory), walked out to bat in the first innings as a joke to most of the English spectators, but left with many of them feeling desperately disappointed that he couldn’t convert his world-record 98 into an unthinkable century.
It is likely that no debutant number 11 will ever come so close for the rest of time.
It gave Australia an energy and a purpose that Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann thought they had taken and trampled into the dirt.
It set a platform for an intriguing game to springboard into a bona-fide classic.
Nor will it show that England won this game not through their batting, bowling or fielding, but through their more judicious use of the technology afforded to them.
Stuart Broad’s refusal to walk when clearly edging Agar behind , (as is his right, many seem to be forgetting) was a seminal moment.
Not necessarily because it re-opens the debate about to what degree gamesmanship is acceptable in a supposedly “gentleman’s” game, but because it highlighted how Australian captain Michael Clarke had foolishly wasted his two reviews with speculative referrals.
If executing a glorious cover drive or getting the ball to reverse-swing by the fifteenth over is a skill, then surely so is calling for a review knowing that there might be times in the future where you will need to be able to call on the option and not have the ability to do so.
In that respect, England’s Alistair Cook won the battle against his counterpart. He could use his reviews in the crucial moments. Clarke could not.
England reviewed more judiciously, precisely, and with greater success.
They can now afford to put aside their feeling of injustice that errors by the third umpire meant that Agar was not stumped for 6, and that Jonathon Trott was given out for a golden duck.
These do not matter so much now.
What does matter is that hotspot confirmed their victory.
Whilst the result will be the most pleasing aspect of this test match to the England fans, not far behind is the confirmation that this Australian team will not roll over and die, and poses a very real, very credible threat.
Its bowling attack can take 20 wickets.
It has a number of fighters, such as the nuggety Brad Haddin, who counter-attacked England like Ian Healy used to in the nineties.
Consequently, we can expect the kind of competitive series that makes the Ashes one of the best contests in all of sport.
There are many who worry that virtually six months of Ashes cricket is overkill in the extreme and that the flames of excitement will die down before the final ball is bowled in Sydney, come January.
That might still turn out to be the case, but not if this match is anything to go by.
Indeed, we can expect to have plenty more treats in store.
This was a game of margins and England’s composure when using DRS won them this game.
They will hope that its top order batsmen – the real area where they are undoubtedly stronger than their opponents – will be a rather more definitive difference-maker from this point onwards.