The Ashes: Australia's batsmen must back their bowlers at Durham
Can Australia rally? Will Onions return? Are batsmen cheating? It's Bob Willis on the fourth Test.
Last Updated: 09/08/13 11:42am
The ICC have backed themselves into a corner by insisting that the standing officials must be neutral, thereby ruling out the eight other elite umpires who hail from either Australia or England. It doesn't say much for the standard of umpiring around the rest of the world!
Personally I would have no problem with an Australian or English umpire standing in an Ashes Test; they would be scrutinised and judged as any so-called neutral umpire would be.
After all, you won't last long in the game as an elite umpire if you are biased towards your own country.
Clearly it is a very onerous job these days - you can be on a bit of a hiding to nothing, given the level of scrutiny each decision is subject to.
But I've always felt that the officials would be better off working together as a team, rotating between duties in either two-session or daily spells so they are kept on their toes.
I'm a big fan of DRS so it has surprised me that some fairly obvious edges have not shown up on Hot Spot; before this series it seemed pretty accurate.
It would be a great shame if players were trying to undermine the system by putting silicone tape on their bat edges. It seems hard to believe, particularly as you risk being given 'out' if you get a thin edge onto your pad.
But I guess that as soon as you offer someone an opportunity in professional sport to bend the rules rather than break them they'll jump at it. Hopefully there's no truth in the allegations.
The review system definitely needs one or two other tweaks. I'm certainly not a fan of 'Umpire's Call'. If you've got faith in HawkEye and the ball is hitting the stumps then the batsman should be out.
It's crazy that a batsman is given 'not out' - and the fielding side loses a review - when 49 hundredths of the ball is hitting the stumps.
All of this is an unwelcome distraction ahead of the Durham Test.
Everyone says it is going to do more for the bowlers there and historically nearly 90 per cent of the wickets taken there in four Test matches have fallen to seam.
Tom Moody made a good case on The Verdict that Australia's attack, man-for-man in the seam department, is better than England's so any extra movement may play into their hands.
Certainly Peter Siddle's average and strike-rate is currently better than James Anderson's in this series, while Mitchell Starc's stats are better than Tim Bresnan's and Ryan Harris is making more headway than Stuart Broad.
Australia's problem is their batting - one batsman, Michael Clarke, averages over 50 and other than David Warner no-one else averages over 35. In comparison, England's line-up includes five batsmen who average over 44, although it must be said that Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott are both due.
Cook's captaincy has continued in the same conservative vein as the Andy Flower-Andrew Strauss era - the team has made steady progress so it is hard to be critical of the way they've operated.
That said I thought Cook was completely out-skippered and out-thought by Clarke at Old Trafford. Yes, it was a very important toss to win but in terms of field placings and bowling changes Cook was out-thought.
Given how presentably Joe Root bowled in the first two Tests I can't for the life of me understand why he was only given four overs out of 146 in Australia's first innings.
That forced Cook to rely heavily on his three main seamers and as a result he didn't really have anybody to come and pepper Clarke early in his innings.
Cook is undoubtedly a safe pair of hands but I don't think he's going to win any awards for innovative captaincy - yet.
It's a quick turnaround for both sets of seamers and it will be interesting to see if either side makes any changes.
I'm a big Graham Onions fan but I've been very underwhelmed with his performances on the last two times that I've seen him bowl for England.
Somehow he ended up with 4-88 on his last Test appearance, against the West Indies at Birmingham when James Anderson and Stuart Broad were both rested, and he didn't have that much to offer, again, this winter in the warm-up game in Queenstown although admittedly that was on a flat pitch.
He's clearly bowling well for Durham now and I wouldn't mind seeing him play instead of Bresnan at Chester-le-Street but I think it's a close call; I don't think he'd add as much to the attack as a lot of people are hoping he might.
Bresnan hasn't done any worse than Anderson or Broad when the wicket has been flat; England are struggling in the seam department if the ball doesn't swing.
Australia appear to have come across a better batting order more by luck than judgement, with David Warner up the top and Shane Watson in the middle order.
Watson is a far more valuable cricketer bowling 15 overs and batting at six rather than opening the batting and bowling 10 overs.
Australia are battling back; they gave England almost as big a hiding at Old Trafford as England gave them at Lord's.
Their chance of regaining the Ashes has gone but they will take an enormous amount of plusses from their performance at Old Trafford and now it's down to their batsmen to start getting some runs.
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