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Umpires under fire over ball change with Khawaja, Ponting fuming over English bowlers getting dramatic swing their way

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31st July, 2023
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Australia’s fortunes on the final day of the Ashes swung dramatically the wrong way after a controversial ball change suddenly added plenty of venom to England’s attack. 

Former Test captain Ricky Ponting was furious in commentary for host broadcaster Sky Sports at umpires Joel Wilson and Kumar Dharmasena and opener Usman Khawaja was also bemused over the switch from a scuffed-up ball to a much shinier one. 

Ponting said whenever a damaged ball needs to be changed, the umpires are supposed to select the one in the box of options which most resembles the one being replaced. 

But they have clearly failed to do that this time around with close-ups comparing the two Dukes six-stitchers showing the old one looking worse for wear and the new version appearing to be in much better condition. 

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“It certainly looks a lot newer than the one they changed from. That is a huge contrast to the conditions of the two Dukes balls,” Ponting fumed. 

Former Australian batter Callum Ferguson described it on Nine commentary as a “disgraceful” situation and said it was staggering that two professional umpires could approve the selection of such a different ball. 

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Ian Healy added that it has started “seaming and swinging” since the umpires made their controversial choice. 

Former England batters Mark Butcher was laughing in Sky Sports commentary at the dramatic difference when viewing a close-up of each ball, describing the replacement as looking “brand spanking new” even though it was supposed to replicate one that was more than 36 overs old. 

England took such a shine to the replacement ball that they didn’t bother taking the second new ball late in the day with Australia’s tailenders an outside chance of victory and the hosts went on to record a 49-run triumph.

The ball change was made with 11 deliveries remaining on day four when Khawaja was struck on the helmet by a Mark Wood thunderbolt. 

After they had struggled to get any movement at all for 38 overs on day four as the Aussies racked up 135 runs without loss, the English seamers had the ball hooping around early on day five with three wickets falling inside the first hour. 

David Warner nicked Chris Woakes to keeper Jonny Bairstow on 60 before the same bowler trapped Khawaja in front to end his innings on 72. 

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Marnus Labuschagne made just 13 before edging a Wood outswinger to Zak Crawley at second slip as Australia finished the first hour of play at 3-175 in pursuit of the victory target of 384 to seal a first series win in England since 2001.

“As soon as they changed that ball, I knew straight away that ball was very different,” Khawaja said. “I went straight up to Kumar and said how old this ball? It feels like it’s about eight overs old.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Ben Stokes of England calls for a review as Steve Smith of Australia is given not out during Day Five of the LV= Insurance Ashes 5th Test Match between England and Australia at The Kia Oval on July 31, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Ben Stokes calls for a review after botching the Steve Smith catch. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

“You could see the writing both sides and it hit my bat so hard. I got hit in the head by Woody, they changed the ball because of it. I didn’t see the ball, I was more worried about my head.

“They changed the ball because they said it got damaged. I’ve opened in every single innings this Ashes series and I haven’t felt a ball hit my bat as hard as that ball felt when it hit my bat. I said to the boys coming in, ‘be careful, this new ball is going to be tricky, it’s going to be a lot harder than that other ball.’

“Some things you can’t control in this game and it’s disappointing for us because it felt like we had a real stranglehold on that game. Today that ball was at 90 overs and it was still hooping around corners and the keeper’s taking it above his head. It really hurts you.

“England is a class bowling attack, and if you give them a little inch, they will always get as much out of it.”

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Speaking at the lunch break, Ponting was scathing. “The biggest concern I have is the big discrepancy in the condition of the ball that was chosen to replace the one [that had gone out of shape],” the former Australian captain said on Sky Sports.

“There’s no way in the world you can even look at those two balls there and say in any way are they comparable.

“At the end of the day, if you are going to change the ball, you want to make sure that you get it right, so [you make it] as close as you possibly can to the one that you’re changing it from. Now if you have a look in that box, there weren’t too many older-condition balls in there. There were some older ones that were picked up, the umpires looked at that and threw them back.

“I just cannot fathom how two international umpires that have done that a lot of times before can get that so wrong. That is a huge moment in this game, potentially a huge moment in the Test match, and something I think actually has to be investigated: whether there was the right condition of balls in the box, or the umpires have just, blasé, picked one out of there that they think will be OK to use.”

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Chris Woakes of England celebrates the wicket of Usman Khawaja of Australia during Day Five of the LV= Insurance Ashes 5th Test Match between England and Australia at The Kia Oval on July 31, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Chris Woakes celebrates the wicket of Usman Khawaja. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

The local bowling had been so benign on the fourth day that former England captain Geoff Boycott in the UK Telegraph said “it was ominous that England could make no headway”.

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“England didn’t look like getting a wicket. They are clutching at straws. Something dramatic has to happen to get England over the line.”

That proved to be the case – even though they could not regain the urn, England were able to force a 2-2 series draw by winning the final Test at The Oval. 

with AAP

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