Monday 23 July 2018

Sparks fly but Ashes fails to light up

Umpire Aleem Dar stands between England's James Anderson and Australia's captain Steve Smith during the first day of the second Ashes cricket test match. Photo: David Gray/Reuters
Umpire Aleem Dar stands between England's James Anderson and Australia's captain Steve Smith during the first day of the second Ashes cricket test match. Photo: David Gray/Reuters

Ali Martin

Different coloured ball, same old nonsense. The 2017-'18 Ashes may have witnessed less than a week of cricket but when it comes to behaviour, the latest battle for the little urn is already shaping up as a race to the bottom.

The opening day in Adelaide, where a record-breaking 55,317 spectators flocked through the turnstiles for the first day-night men's Test between Australia and England, should have been a celebration of the oldest rivalry in cricket getting a fresh twist under lights. Instead, it was a case of rinse and repeat from the back end of the Gabba Test and the fallout caused by the head-butt saga.

Umpire Aleem Dar, a passive soul, twice had to remind the players that there are standards to be upheld and that the Rugby League World Cup final between the countries was being staged 1,200 miles away.

England have clearly had enough of being on the receiving end of Australia's on-field chuntering and what they believed was an orchestrated attempt to rev up Jonny Bairstow's social faux-pas with Cameron Bancroft at the start of the tour. A new hard-nosed policy is in place, with the man they perceived to be laughing at them at the end of the first Test - Steve Smith - now the prime target.

England's Craig Overton celebrates with Joe Root and Alastair Cook after he took the wicket of Steve Smith. Photo: Jason O'Brien/PA
England's Craig Overton celebrates with Joe Root and Alastair Cook after he took the wicket of Steve Smith. Photo: Jason O'Brien/PA

After the wicket of David Warner, whose earlier homicidal call had led to Bancroft being run out and Stuart Broad pointedly stick his fingers in his ears towards the guilty party, the Australia captain strode out to the middle.

It did not take long before Broad was exchanging views with the right-hander, who fired back in turn. Though hard to decipher the exact words, it was clear the pros and cons of Adelaide's mooted congestion charge was not the topic of debate.

Anderson, whose use of the word bullies in a pre-match column had prompted Smith to remind him of his own partiality for a word or two, then got involved. Placing himself at a short mid-on while Smith was at the non-striker's end, more eyeballing, posturing and general twaddle ensued before Dar once again had to act.

Did the tactic work? Certainly Smith seemed slightly unsettled at the crease. Having last week ground England into the Brisbane dirt with an unbeaten 141, he perished on 40 when, having apparently sledged Craig Overton about his lack of pace, the debutant lit up the Zing bails with a ball that cannoned off pad and bat.

Though England were pretty boorish here, perhaps Smith will now reconsider his assertion that the officials should decide where the line be drawn. Those words showed a leader out of touch with one of the oldest codes of the sport: namely the two captains are responsible for the tone in which a match is played.

But then maybe the spectators who had flocked down from the bustling cafes and bars (and massage establishments) of Hindley Street, and crossed the snaking footbridge over the river Torrens towards this giant multi-purpose stadium, had parted with their cash for such a battle.

It is fair to say they did not quite receive the full day-night experience sold in the brochure. A near 20-degree drop from some punishing temperatures at the start of the week, and the showery clouds that kept sweeping across the ground and breaking up play, meant they were denied the balmy evening of salmon skies witnessed in the previous two years here.

And the cricket never quite crackled into life, however hard the players tried to antagonise each other. Nevertheless, this was a record gate for a cricket match here of 55,317, smashing Big Bash figures and the Test best 50,962 that turned up to watch day two of Bodyline in 1933.

It is something of an open secret that Adelaide Oval is likely to never again witness a daytime Test. The local cricket association is intent on becoming the spiritual home for the pink ball format, as the scene of its birth two years ago. On that occasion Australia and New Zealand reportedly split a million-dollar sweetener to act as the guinea pigs. This time around, you sense they would sooner set fire to the loot than see their opponent also benefit.

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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