SYDNEY (AFP) – As Australia's Ashes hopes sink in the Manchester rain, the country's cricket writers took their frustrations out on the match officials, saying the sport continues to look foolish.
The officials were again at the centre of Ashes controversy when they took the players off for bad light on the fourth day of the third Test at Manchester's Old Trafford.
Australia, 2-0 down in the five-match series and needing to win this match to stand any chance of regaining the Ashes from England, were 172 for seven in their second innings -- a lead of 331 runs -- when umpires Marais Erasmus and Tony Hill called a halt before subsequent rain forced play to be abandoned.
"Cricket continues to make a fool of itself," thundered the Daily Telegraph's Malcolm Conn. "It is difficult to know why, if the captain of the batting side wants to continue, the umpires have to intervene? The bad light law must be better implemented."
Richard Hinds, writing for the same newspaper, said the Australians were given no assistance by the home team in attempting to extend play.
"In the latest example of new-fashioned 'English fair play', England first dawdled through its overs and employed a series of stalling tactics, then did its best to cajole the umpires to allow it to leave the field for bad light, having refused to bowl spin at both ends," Hinds contended.
"Under the current regulations, the umpires, not the batsmen, are the sole arbiters of bad light. But England captain Alastair Cook was so eager to get off the ground he almost ripped the light meters out of the umpires' pockets, while Clarke stayed behind to remonstrate with the umpires."
The Australian's Wayne Smith saw the irony in Australia's plight to keep the Ashes series alive.
"Australian fight, English weather. Both had been pretty much conspicuous by their absence during this Ashes series to date and how typical that they would both time their arrival for this critical moment," Smith said.
"Down 2-0 in the five-Test series and facing a seventh straight defeat that would make it officially the equal worst Australian cricket team in history, Michael Clarke's team has dug in bravely at Old Trafford and for the first four days of the Third Test has pretty much dictated terms to England.
"But just when Australia was manoeuvring into position for its final push towards the victory it needs to keep the quest for the Ashes alive, the weather -- so benign when England was winning the first two Tests -- has suddenly come over all English."
The promotion of David Warner to open Australia's second innings at the expense of regular opener Shane Watson was another talking point.
"Whatever has been said about Shane Watson as a Test match batsman, there has never been any doubting his quality as a one-day player," Fairfax Media's Malcolm Knox said.
"So when, in Australia's second innings, a quasi one-day situation required a signature Watson innings, his demotion in the order signalled that something significant was taking place."
Knox said that Watson's replacement as opener by Warner added to the impression of a "political shift".
The Australian's Gideon Haigh said he believed the situation was tailored for Watson to again open the innings.
"The decision to open Australia's second innings with David Warner was described as 'tactical', yet one would have thought this situation made to Watson's measure at the top of the order: the opportunity to approach a Test innings as a one-day scenario, a task at which he excels, with a hard ball on a flat surface.
"As it was, Australia got a bit lost."