Ashes 2013: A Magical Mystery Tour Ruined By The ICC's Idiocy

I've travelled the bars, curry houses and cricket grounds of the country over this glorious summer, only to be left raging against the dying of the light...
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I've travelled the bars, curry houses and cricket grounds of the country over this glorious summer, only to be left raging against the dying of the light...

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On 14 January 1978, during the Sex Pistol’s final tour date at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, the band played a Stooges cover, "No Fun" as their encore. At the end of the song, Johnny Rotten, intoned an unequivocal: "This is no fun. No fun. This is no fun—at all". As the final cymbal crash died away, Rotten spoke to the crowd with anger and said: “Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"

I took my son to the fifth day’s play at The Oval yesterday.

I had managed to get the tickets last winter in an Ashes splurge that has taken me around the country this summer watching four out of the five Tests, and more days cricket than I can even admit to my partner. Along the way I have been engrossed and absorbed, annoyed and exasperated, bored and all played out. And through it all, my friends and I and all the people we’ve met up and down the country have enjoyed this series with the good humour and passion of true cricket fans, whether they be Antipodean or English.

I have sat next to Aussies at Trent Bridge and Durham and talked of Bradman & Warne, Warner and Root, and everything in between. Friendships have been made with exceptional Australians that my friends and I have met over the course of this summer that I hope will continue long after Ashton Agar has retired.

In my own version of planes, trains and automobiles I have travelled in packed Inter-Cities and speeding cars, crap taxis and slow buses, drunk extortionately priced wine at Lords and downed 2 quid pints in working men’s clubs in the North East. I have blagged pavilions and nightclubs, nearly trod on Glenn McGrath’s foot and grabbed a chat with Andrew Strauss. I have found magical curry houses and disturbing paintings of Stuart Broad. I have seen the ball of the series, the man of the series, and a Middlesex Aussie make his mark in the series.

I have seen redemption and pain, catharsis and controversy. I have seen an Aussie youngster bat in a fairy tale and watched KP play as if he was writing one. I have even seen Tony Hill giving a masterclass in farce. I have slept yards from the iconic Angel of the North, and nearly nodded off with Big Ben in sight on Friday - if not purposeful batting. I have been sunburnt and soaked. Pissed, hammered, hungover, lost, ticketless and potless. But I have enjoyed every minute of it.

Up until 4 overs to go last night.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame Michael Clarke (for what it’s worth I didn’t boo him either) for what happened. I don’t blame Mitchell Starc. I don’t blame any of the Australian team for their complaints about the light being unsafe for bowling and fielding.  In other news I don’t even blame Boof calling Broad a cheat. And anyway, I heard the interview – if he had spoken to Ian Botham in the same vein I would have taken it more seriously. In the end it was a knockabout line on a knockabout show. I don’t even blame the Umpires Dar and Dharmasena.

I certainly don’t blame any of the Aussie team for their timewasting tactics today – and let’s face it if Clarke hadn’t been so adventurous in his declaration the game would have finished with exactly the same result in bright daylight two hours before what actually happened. I respect the Aussie team just like I respect Aussies and Australia in general. I lived there for 18 months and loved it many moons ago- why wouldn’t I?

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No, this is top level sport, there is no time for niceties or the invocation of the fabled but inexact ‘spirit of the game’. As a Middlesex member there are paintings in the Long Room to two of the most controversial figures in cricket: WG Grace and D Jardine so let’s not kid ourselves that cricket is some innocent sashaying through the dark satanic mills of professional sport. It’s always been thus. Cricket has never been the sporting and fair minded arcadia that certain types want to portray it as. Of course that doesn’t mean as cricket lovers we don’t see the game as an instruction in even-handed morals from time to time (mostly when it suits our team) or the fact that I genuinely believe that having a love of cricket simply makes you a better human being.

No, what I am furious about - absolutely bloody furious about - is the ICC.

For their hatred of Test cricket. For their lack of common sense in banning runners. For their scrapping of the Test Championship (until 2017 they say…). For their appearing like a loud acquaintance with a complete lack of self-awareness, constantly looking to shift the blame.

But mostly for their ridiculous light ruling. I looked at their website when I got back from The Oval last night. There was actually a line that read: “The players were ordered from the field as the crowd looked on incredulous, still buzzing with adrenaline but with the finish to the game taken away”.

Taken away by who? The ICC regulations that’s who?

Being the sad man that I am I even downloaded their playing handbook. Their mission statement was to ‘promote the game’. Sadly I fail to see how they did that tonight.

I am not even angry because I feel that a win has been taken away.

With 21 needed from four overs it was anyone’s game. If Prior and/or Woakes had got out who’s to say the total would have been reached? Who’s to say a revitalised attack wouldn’t have run through the exposed tail to create cricketing history.

Of course it was improbable. But sport is improbable. Cricket is improbable. Nothing is certain. That’s why we love it.

But we were robbed of that finish. Robbed of any sort of finish.

I didn’t even feel annoyed about a missing out on a potential victory.

What I felt annoyed about was not being allowed to watch an enthralling end to an enthralling day’s sport by a ridiculous ruling that turns those who officiate into uncaring automatons with no discretion in the matter - and ultimately robbed Test cricket of a finish for the ages.

We saw the most number of runs ever on the final day of a test – 447 runs - and 17 wickets. We saw old warrior Brad Haddin claiming his 29th dismissal - the most by a wicket-keeper in a Test series beating the record of another Aussie gladiator Rodney Marsh. And, with his second innings, Bell managed to equal the 562 runs scored by Denis Compton in 1948, the most by an England batsman in a five-Test home Ashes series.

Clarke also ran it close of being only the fourth captain - after Garry Sobers against England in 1968, Hansie Cronje in the unforgivable fixed match at Centurion in 2000, and Graeme Smith against Australia in Sydney in 2006 - to have declared twice in a Test match and lost.

This was enthralling Test cricket as the world looked on. This was a chance to spread the gospel or simply to entertain long suffering believers.

My young son who has fallen for cricket just we all did years ago - suddenly and with passion - asked me excitedly, ‘who’s going to win dad?’ I honestly couldn’t tell him. The game as we all know ebbed and flowed.

KP scored the fastest English 50 in Ashes history. Mitchell Starc bowled an over of such precise variance that I thought I was watching a video clip that had been clubbed together.

My son loved it. I loved it. We were as gripped as the rest of the sell-out crowd that was growing increasingly frantic with uncertainty.

What other sporting event could give you the high velocity tempo that we had late on today?

Test cricket examines temperament, technique and character and skill. On days like these it also offers supreme entertainment. Going into the last hour all four results were possible. Admittedly some more than others but the tension was building, as was the hope.

The atmosphere was raucous, every run was cheered towards the end, and pantomime villains booed; the whole crowd was gripped. You could tell they were as the beer snakes tailed off, the triumphant singing fell away to be replaced by a guttural roar that gave you goose bumps and made my son smile in wonder at the drama of it all.

And then the ICC had to ruin it all with an inflexible rule that made no concession to supporters, to players, to officials, to television viewers, to all those who love Test cricket and wanted to see an enthralling end to an absorbing – if not a classic – series.

It was the strangest end to an Ashes Test match I can remember. And I’ve been to a few of them in my time, the first being at the very same ground 28 years previously. I can never remember a more unedifying way to end a game - to end a series – as the events that played out there tonight.

“Why can’t they play on dad, it’s going to be a brilliant finish isn’t it?” my son asked in his youthful innocence, his face a picture of disappointment.

“What do they know of cricket who only cricket know” wrote a great Trinidadian.

CLR James and Johnny Rotten had it right.

Follow Layth on twitter @laythy29