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  • England v Australia, 3rd Ashes Test, Old Trafford, 1st day

Clarke steady amid DRS grumblings

The Report Daniel Brettig
August 1, 2013
Tea Australia 180 for 3 (Clarke 55*, Smith 20*) v England
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Michael Clarke led Australia into a decent position at tea © Getty Images
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Steve Smith was a beneficiary of the vagaries of the DRS and umpiring judgment just as Usman Khawaja had been a most unfortunate victim as Australia pushed on to their strongest batting display of the Investec Ashes so far. Granted a sound platform by Chris Rogers' sparkling 84, the captain Michael Clarke drove himself through a patchy start to be unbeaten on 55 at tea.

He was accompanied by a fortunate Smith, who twice survived England decision reviews by narrow margins, the first an lbw to Graeme Swann - very marginally umpire's call on hitting leg stump - and the second a caught behind appeal by James Anderson that was denied on the same inflexible basis that had seen Khawaja given out. England's fielders looked as mystified by Smith's escapes as Australia had been at the moment of Khawaja's dismissal.

That verdict, reached by Tony Hill and upheld by Kumar Dharmasena. will serve mainly to batter the reputation of the serving umpires and the protocols of the DRS, which places a heavy weighting on the on-field umpire's initial call. Khawaja's exit enhanced Australia's sense of injustice in a series where the wide margin so far has been hurried along by numerous questionable decisions, a feeling that could only have subsided marginally following Smith's reprieves.

It also removed some of the gloss from a wonderfully calm yet positive innings from Rogers, who essayed barely a single false shot while punching many good deliveries to the Old Trafford boundaries. His success has been a long time in coming, having waited until the age of 35 for a decent chance at Test cricket then endured a difficult Lord's match. He could not go on to three figures but had at least ensured Clarke had something to work with.

The Australians made three changes to the side humiliated by 347 runs at Lord's. Phillip Hughes was dropped for the return of David Warner in his new role as a middle order counterpuncher, while Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon replaced James Pattinson and Agar. The tourists thus omitted the authors of their two highest individual scores for this series.

By contrast England named an unchanged XI, resisting the temptation to include the extra spin of Monty Panesar or the height and pace of Chris Tremlett. Kevin Pietersen retained his place after proving he had recovered sufficiently from a calf strain. The Old Trafford pitch was dry but hard, offering some bounce to England's pace bowlers in addition to the spin expected for Swann.

James Anderson took the new ball at his home ground, though its reconfiguration in the middle and in the stands made it something of an unknown quantity for players on both sides. Watson collected a single and Rogers a boundary from the first over, a pattern that would be maintained throughout their partnership in conditions quickly revealed to be the most friendly for batsmen all series.

Rogers and Watson had trained together in London between Tests rather than travelling down to play against Sussex, and their new approaches reflected plenty of thought. Watson was largely conservative, battling to value his wicket and also to avoid the lbw fate that had befallen him three times in four innings. But Rogers showed far greater intent to score than simply survive, and punished all but the most minute errors of line and length.

Sequences of boundaries pushed Rogers along in between the deliveries he gave their due respect, a brace off Tim Bresnan through gully and down the ground, then a trio to the fence in a single Anderson over took him to a first Test fifty. All these shots were played with assurance and no great sense of haste, but Rogers' intent had given Australia an ideal start.

But at the other end Watson was becalmed, and though he did not fall lbw it was less of a surprise to see Bresnan find a way through, coaxing an edge from a firm defensive blade that flew straight to Alastair Cook at first slip. Watson wandered off having again made only a start, his wicket drawing England back into the morning.

Khawaja was greeted by the introduction of Swann, and in his second over an optimistic lbw appeal was followed next ball by a more convincing shout for a catch at the wicket. Khawaja's bat brushed his pad well before swishing at the turning ball, but Hill's finger was raised. After a brief pause to consult Rogers, Khawaja referred, shaking his head as he did so.

Despite replays that offered no evidence whatsoever of an edge, the third umpire Dharmasena upheld Hill's original call. These are the kinds of decisions that can break the spirit of struggling teams, and Khawaja walked off with the wronged air of a man found guilty of a crime he did not commit. Heated discussion of the incident, both at Old Trafford and around the world, extended well beyond the lunch interval.

Nevertheless, Rogers and Clarke resumed in a sturdy position, and for most of the afternoon's first hour did well to strengthen it. Rogers lost some of his earlier fluency and Clarke dealt in edges as often as the middle of his bat, but together they were forming a union. However the combination of a looming century and inattentive stewards behind the bowler's arm did for Rogers, who lost concentration when facing Swann and swished across a straight ball to be lbw.

Smith came to the crease in halting form, despite a century at Hove, and gave England hope of another wicket. They thought they had it when Swann spun an off break sharply to strike Smith in front of the stumps, only for Hill to decline the appeal and then Hawk Eye to deny the decision review by a millimetre. Happy to be reprieved, Smith gathered in confidence alongside Clarke, who had shed his earlier uncertainty to purr past 50.

As the tea break neared England had another moment of frustrated jubilation, when Smith drove at Anderson and a loud sound accompanied the sight of ball passing bat. Anderson and Matt Prior were utterly convinced, abandoning their usual tact to gesture for a review from Marais Erasmus even before the captain Cook had done so. But in the absence of a Hot Spot or a visible deflection Smith survived, leaving England to enter the final session without any reviews left to call on.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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