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Cricket news - Knackered Australia's mare on England's day
Umpire Kumar Dharmasena called for lunch a minute early, at 12.59 pm, on Saturday (September 14). And Tim Paine wasn't quite sure why he'd done that. So he tried getting an explanation even as the rest of the players started walking off the field. It was all in good humour of course as the two stood pointing at different clocks around The Oval and having an argument in jest about Dharmsena denying the Aussies an additional over in the first session of play. It ended with a lot of smiles and laughter with Paine giving the Sri Lankan a cuddle as they walked off together. By then, most of the other Australians had already started ascending the stairs to their dressing-room.
You wonder how many of them were complaining about not having to spend even a single minute more than what they were asked to. Not at this stage of the summer. Not at this stage of the tour. Not at this stage of the series. For, on the third day of the final Test of the Ashes, the well-oiled Australian bowling attack finally looked knackered, like they were running on reserve, like they were thinking more about running off the field rather than running into bowl. You couldn't blame them either. It's been a long summer where the likes of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood have bowled more overs than they ever have before in a series. And their batsmen haven't of course helped them out either.
The Aussie pace attack did find a late unexpected boost courtesy of two breathtaking catches from a flying Steve Smith and a diving Marnus Labuschagne. And the day did end with Pat Cummins galloping in at full blast like he has throughout the Ashes. But it was a day that belonged to England.
It was the kind of day when at times even Paine looked agitated with his bowlers, like when Mitchell Marsh slipped a short-pitched delivery down the leg-side and conceded a boundary and he put his hands up towards Smith at slip helplessly. It was a day when Peter Siddle ran in with the wicket-keeper at the stumps. It was the kind of day when the Australian captain then decided to front up to the media and review the proceedings candidly. For starters, he didn't shy away from admitting that the challenge of playing five Tests in seven weeks at the back of a World Cup had finally caught up with some of the players from both teams.
"It was always going to be challenging but that's part of the game, being about to get yourself up mentally and physically is one of the challenges of Test cricket over five days and five matches and seven or eight weeks, it's bloody hard work. If it wasn't there would be plenty of more people doing it," he said. Paine did also then highlight the reserve energy that his bowlers and fielders had shown at the fag end of the day to bring some life into Australia's efforts.
"I think the last hour of today showed our energy is still really good in the field. Our bowlers have run in every single day we have asked them to, they have done a fantastic job. The only thing that has been a little bit upsetting this Test match is our catching and our referrals. That's not anything new, we've had some issues with that this series," he added.
It was, of course, another day where Paine had a "mare" (nightmare in Aussie tongue) with DRS. The jovial banter at the end of the first session wasn't the only time the umpires and he had to take a call on the same decision. Both times, the umpire adjudged it not-out. Both times, Paine sided with him and chose not to go for the review. Both times, ball-tracking would show that they were both wrong.
The first occasion was when Marsh trapped Denly on the backfoot with a nip-backer that pitched on a length. And though the all-rounder looked convinced that the ball was going on to hit the leg-stump despite Marais Erasmus not lifting his finger, Paine decided to keep his arms down. In fact, he'd already taken his position at the other end for the next over from Nathan Lyon with Marsh still standing at the centre of the pitch watching the replay on the big screen. And Paine could do little but put his helmet on as Marsh punched the air in despair after seeing where Denly's pads were at the point of impact.
The second successful review that wasn't came when Lyon had Jos Buttler playing back to an off-break and missing it. Yet again, Paine didn't even look remotely interested in a second-opinion and simply tossed the ball back to his bowler, only to be found out by the replays a few moments later. And he tried his best to give it a tongue-in-cheek twist when inevitably asked to describe his repeated transgressions with the dreaded DRS.
"I'm going to do some umpiring school when I get home, I'll enroll in a level three umpires course and see if I can get them right," he quipped before sounding slightly more testy when asked about it again. "I don't know mate, I'm getting it wrong, I don't know what else to say. We're having a mare. We've got it wrong, we're not deliberately getting together and saying, 'Gee I reckon that's out Gaz, do you want to refer it? Nah let's let him keep batting. We're getting it wrong, it happens, it's fast, it's a tough job."
Paine did then jump to the defence of the umpires talking about how he has a "new respect" for the job. It was fair too on a day when he'd twice like the umpire thought an lbw call wasn't out and had been proven wrong both times. "For years players whinged about umpiring and now we've got it in our hands a little bit and we're finding that it's hard," he said.
For the first time in the series, running in and giving it their all seemed equally hard for Cummins and Hazlewood. At times, during some spells during the middle session where they failed to get a wicket, you could see them putting the ball on a length rather than bowling it with too much effort or energy. Like the fatigue had understandably and finally caught up with them. The walks back to the top of the mark were a lot slower, especially after an England batsman had driven or edged them for a boundary. Cummins did, however, keep throwing himself in the field, a sliding stop on the boundary and a diving stop at mid-off after having bowled a spell with the second new-ball.
The day also did witness a lot of verbals between the two teams as the tired Aussie fielders went after the likes of Denly and Ben Stokes in particular. Matthew Wade led the way as always and had a lot to say to Joe Root while welcoming him to the crease. Paine, however, underplayed the chirp as banter and in fact goaded everyone to not focus too much on it.
"I think we've been fantastic, I think both sides have played this series in good spirit. It's competitive Test cricket and people are going to talk to each other. I don't know why it's such an issue. It's fine. They are grown men having a conversation, no-one is swearing, no-one is abusing anyone. It's Test match cricket and I don't understand why so much is made of something so little. Particularly given the standard of cricket being played. I think there's so much more to talk about," he said.
With only two days left in the series, the time for talking is anyway over. For Australia, it'll be a question of knocking off the last two English wickets and then hope that their batsmen still have something left in the tank to bat out six sessions or maybe even pull off a dramatic run-chase. You know Steve Smith certainly will.
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