Ask true cricket fanatics as to whether the age old rivalry of cricket, The Ashes appeals to them or not. Majority will agree and add that this series is a celebration of the longest format of the game in its purest, most appealing avataar.
2013, ushered in another set of five Tests to be played in England between the arch rivals Australia and England. At the start of the series very few people gave Australia a heads up on giving the hosts any semblance of competition. This was arguably the worst Australian side to tour England in recent times.
Young, inexperienced and still in a state of flux, having only recently sacked their team coach, and appointing Darren Lehmann, who was last seen coaching the Kings XI Punjab in the recently concluded Indian Premier League. Having dealt with Darren Lehmann on a regular basis (as I was the Media Manager for Kings XI Punjab - IPL 6), my gut feeling was that this man could get the best out of his team, for he enjoys cricket and treats it as everyday life.
If the first Test at Trent Bridge, Nottingham is anything to go by, then this edition of the Ashes is anything but one sided. The hosts are perhaps the better team on paper, but the Australians gave them a serious run for their money.
Session by session the two sides locked horns, and for a neutral follower of the game, watching the contest was an experience that was nothing but exhilarating. Fools are those who think Test cricket is a tedious affair. For true lovers of the game, know that it's all about the 'sessions', those thirty over sessions of play.
Engrossed and thoroughly immersed, one viewed the drama that unfolded on all days of the Test at Trent Bridge. New heroes were born, and others were applauded for their untiring contribution to the team. But perhaps the most heartening story would be that of a young nineteen year old Australian, Ashton Agar.
A debut that the young man will always have etched on his canvas of cricketing achievement. His omnipresent smile won him hearts the world over, especially when he walked off the pitch with a smile, agonisingly close to what would have been his maiden Test century. A truly brilliant debut that this young man can be blatantly proud of.
The Ashton Agar story was one of the many positives to come out of the first Test of the ongoing Ashes series, but there was one controversial subject that up until now was considered tried and tested (no pun intended).
Yes, the much talked about Umpire Decision Review System (DRS) that the International Cricket Council (ICC) seem absolutely sold on. What one should realise is that technology can be seen as an aid to human involvement and should not be taken as the ultimate decider especially in a game that has such a deep and complex framework.
The first Test at Trent Bridge exposed the flaws of the technical aids that are used to help the television umpire in making a final decision, once the on field verdict is challenged. These primary tools that are used to make the off field decision are Hawkeye and Hot Spot.
Hawkeye(when used to determine leg before calls) is a system that shows the projected trajectory of the ball once it pitches, but it does not take into account the live object - the batsman. So it shows how and where the ball would go after it pitches , but does not take into account the 'human' element that lies between the ball and the stump. Therefore on very close calls, the Television umpire should use his cricketing prowess to make the decision, even if Hawkeye says that the ball would go on to hit the stump.
Hot Spot uses infra red cameras (highly evolved thermal cameras) to show even the slightest contact between bat and ball, to expose whether there was contact at all or not. But the flaw in this largely effective referral tool is that if the area around the bat and ball contact space is unusually hot, then 'hot spot' triggers off a reading that may not be accurate, so in conclusion this is not a full proof aid.
Ideally Hawkeye and Hot Spot should be utilized purely as aids for the Television umpire to make a decision and not be the conclusive end. Unfortunately in an otherwise unblemished Trent Bridge Test match, there were a few shocking umpiring decisions despite the much acclaimed review system. Perhaps the ICC will have a relook as to how they approach the use of these 'aids' that are present for the Decision Review System.
Having said almost all that there is to be said about the umpiring decisions or the lack of them, nothing can be taken away from the sheer performance of some of the players from both teams. England earned the psychological advantage by narrowly beating the visitors by 14 runs and now, at Lord's will look to consolidate that achievement.
The Australians known to be dogged fighters will give the hosts a lot to think about in the matches to come. The English have had a taste of the Aussie hunger and know better now, that they must not whet that appetite.
For cricket enthusiasts, forthcoming matches promise to be treats. Every session being told in different lights, highlighting magical nuances of a game that synonymous to life for many. This series is a gripping battle between bat and ball that has a delectable historical garnish. And for Test Cricket zealots the world over, this is what it is all about!