Michael Clarke’s exemplary 24th Test century gave Australia a belated foothold in the Ashes at Emirates Old Trafford.
Clarke insisted, both immediately after the tourists lost by 347 runs at Lord’s to go 2-0 down with three to play and then again on th eve of the Test, that his team can still win the urn back from England this summer.
He acknowledged on both occasions that many may laugh at his continued optimism – but after underpinning Australia’s 303 for three on day one of this third Investec Test, Clarke had reason for a quiet smile to himself. His chanceless and unbeaten 125 was a prime case of leading from the front in adversity as he, Chris Rogers (84) and Steve Smith (70no) – with whom the captain shared an unbroken stand of 174 – ensured Australia overcame yet more DRS intrigue to establish a dominant position.
There was barely a blip in Clarke’s 169-ball hundred, punctuated by trademark sweet timing and canny placement as well as expert footwork against Graeme Swann – on a pitch already offering the off-spinner conspicuous assistance – and fine judgment of when to leave the seamers.
On a day which witnessed several questionable calls by umpire Tony Hill, one might have cost Clarke when he had made 24 had Ian Bell clung on to a ‘catch’ at leg-slip off Swann.
Runs were given, and Clarke would therefore presumably have had to go – or invoke Australia’s remaining review – even though the ball appeared to hit only his thigh-pad.
Australia were first to fall foul of the decision review system in the morning as the process, which has been vexed throughout the series, served up another clutch of minor controversies.
Usman Khawaja called for a review after Hill’s on-field decision that he had been caught behind off Swann for a single.
There appeared ample evidence, as International Cricket Council protocol dictates there must be, for third umpire Kumar Dharmasena to overturn the verdict.
Yet despite the absence of Hotspot or any audio-visual clue that bat had made contact with ball, Khawaja’s dismissal was confirmed.
It was a harsh outcome from every angle, but Australia’s No 3 made the first mistake by playing a very poor shot to a length ball which turned sharply.
It was an incident that even had Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd expressing outrage on Twitter and Cricket Australia chief executive officer James Sutherland said in a statement released last night: “Cricket Australia has sought an explanation from the ICC on the dismissal of Usman Khawaja. In our view, the on-field decision and referred decision using DRS were both incorrect.
“CA remains a strong supporter of DRS and believes it is important that cricket continues to improve and build confidence in the DRS.
“We understand and accept that from time to time mistakes can be made, however in this instance, on behalf of the player, the team and all cricket fans, we feel duty bound to seek further explanation as to how this decision was arrived at.”
DRS unsurprisingly had more twists in store, the remainder all favouring Australia – and Smith in particular, as England used up their two reviews on him and then had none left shortly after tea when Stuart Broad would surely have had Hill’s not-out lbw verdict overturned by Hawk-Eye as the batsman instead survived on 24.
Beforehand, Swann thought he had his man lbw for nought only for computer simulation to vindicate Hill’s ruling by the finest of ‘umpire’s call’ margins; then on 18, Smith also escaped when Dharmasena decided an audible but unidentifiable click on audio replay was not enough to overturn Marais Erasmus’ caught-behind not-out off James Anderson.
Australia had perhaps made some of their luck with much graft already done – not least by Rogers, initially in an opening stand of 76 with Shane Watson after Clarke won his first toss of the series. Watson edged a good delivery from first-change Tim Bresnan to slip but by then Rogers was past his 50 at better than a run a ball,.
The left-hander remained on course for a maiden Test century until he was trapped lbw by Swann. That success, less than halfway through the day, was to be England’s last as Clarke and Smith took over for the remaining 53 overs.
They took their toll of a tiring attack, and the second new ball brought not wickets but an acceleration in the run rate.