Did “clashing ideologies,” as was being said until Ricky Ponting and Usman Khwaja spoke up and hit a discordant note, really “script an epic Ashes” series? Was it, as the Australian duo suggested, a bit of jiggery-pokery which may have sensationally fashioned the result of the Oval Test or was it the eternal “sour grapes” story playing out again? The hat and the rabbit theme do not really seem all that far-fetched in this context, though. Chasing 384 towards the end of day four in the final Test, Australia were 126 for no loss, and batting like they knew not what errors meant.
Then a bouncer thudded into a batsman’s helmet and the ball went out of shape. Kumar Dharmasena, who is okay, and Joel Wilson, not always spoken well of by those on the circuit, were the umpires. Counting on a likefor-like substitute, Khwaja was taken aback when a reverse-swinging ball came to be replaced with one that was hard like a new one with movement so prodigious he asked Dharmasena to begin with, and then Wilson, why it was so. He was told, by the latter, that the one made available was the only spare one in the box. Khwaja kept telling his team-mates of the special attributes of the changed ball, calling it “tricky,” but the cautionary counselling did not pre-empt either Australia’s dismissal for 334 or, indeed, their defeat. The core of Khwaja’s complaint was that he and his team had quite unjustly to deal with a virtually new second ball despite having coped successfully with the first one in that innings.
Given the world of technical difference it made, handing England an advantage they were not entitled to, it placed their rivals at a disadvantage. Ponting, in the commentary box, understandably registered a note of protest, even calling for an investigation into how a clearly unsuitable ball was chosen. Inquiries, though, reveal that there is no way they will take the game to the point where the mistake crept into the game and a correctional process will begin. What is done is not to be undone, never mind the consequences. The International Cricket Council said the umpires wouldn’t be overridden. But this precisely is where you remember arrested bookmakers and writers on cricket corruption concurring that it is a game choreographed with finesse beyond the greatest artiste’s creative talents. But it was rather peculiar that all the heat generated in the row was from the Australian side and England breathed not a word. If something akin to what hit the Oval Test were to affect a sub-continental domestic match, the harvest would have been easily imaginable. That the slip ~ or whatever it was ~ showed during an Ashes series, of course, was a pointer to the darkness that always stayed under a light but you might have wondered if this was how the big boys went about their job.