Aus Tales #4 – Sunshine, Beer and Cricket

After meeting the wildlife and sampling some history the next stop on
Popey’s tour Down Under was to worship at a cathedral of Aussie sport:
the WACA and the Third Ashes Test. The queue to get in wound for over
1km along the Swann River as over 21,000 packed in to see if England
would maintain their command of the series or if a remodelled
Australian side would fight back. Under blazing sun and piercing blue
sky the captains strode out to the middle in their whites and their
blazers and it was Andrew Strauss who called correctly and elected to

By now the ranks of the Barmy Army were amassed on the far side of the
ground but were studiously quiet … too many hangovers perhaps? The
banter of the home crowd centres on the diverse geneology of the
England side, something quite ironic from such a young immigrant
nation. We had an interesting conversation in the pub later about
nationalitry and our sense of home and home land … as you do…

So with much anticipation the first ball was sent down by Jimmy
Anderson and the match had begun. It was a torrid opening session for
Australia. Phil Hughes went in the second over bowled by Tremlett ,
who was the pick of the English bowlers. Coming in for the injured
Stuart Broad he bowled with real venom and menace particularly in a
coldly accurate spell.

Anderson was also bowling brilliantly and these two never let the
under pressure Australian top order look comfortable. Shane Watson
survived a review, Ponting played a few nice strokes before being
snaffled at slip, Michael Clarke is woefully out of touch. It took
the WACA’s favourite sone, Mike Hussey, to come in and calm the
situation. Slong with first Shane Watson and then Brad Haddin he
demonstrated that if you were patient enough to play yourself in there
was good batting to be had.

The first session was definitely England’s. They had their foot on
the jugular, Australia looked broken, the Barmy Army found its voice
and the mood in the members stand was despondant. Unfortunately for
an England fan this was as good as it was going to get.

The rest of the day was more evenly balanced with momentum being
fiercely scrapped over. It made for a more entertaining contest
(being less partisan apart it). In the heat of midday England bowled
less ruthlessly and the pairing of Hussey and Haddin looked icy.
England turned to Swann to tie an end down as the quicks began to
bleed runs but he was smacked for ten from his first over. The mood
was definitely shifting but then Swann found Hussey’s bat with a
feather touch, confirmed on review, and the threat was neutralised.

Except … Australia finally found some fighting spirit and their tail
wagged mightily. There were some nervous moments and rash shots at
first until Haddin realised Johnson was good enough to stay with him
and calmed down. First the fifty partnership and then individual
fifties piled up and the ball was despatched to all corners of the
ground to the growing delight of the locals. These weren’t desperate
runs but big, powerful blows from the middle of the bat. England took
wickets and kepy thinking they had made the brealthrough … but
Australia kept coming as Siddle and Hilfenhaus joined in and kept the
runs flowing. England should have done more to press home their
advantage but it was also good to see Australia getting up from the
ropes and swinging some punches.

There was a buzz … England still had 12 overs to negotiate with the
bat but the damage didn’t seem that bad as Strauss and Cook progressed
serenely to 29 without loss at the close.

Day 2 was finely poised. England: bat out the day and bury Australia
in runs taking the series and the Ashes away; Australia: scenting
wickets. The view in the queue was that the first hour would be
crucial and the whole series could tilt on the outcome. Early wickets
and Australia would be back; if England kept on batting the crowd
would turn on their men and their captain in particular. It promised
to be a fascinating session with much pride and history and stake.

And so it started … Cook finding the middle of the bat but also the
fielders not the gaps. Strauss was scratching around but getting
streaky runs. Then …. The Moment.

10.37. Harris steaming in with real spite finds the edge but it
bisects keeper and first slip and flies through to the boundary. The
crowd gasps. The replay shows neither fielder moves. The crowd
groans. Strauss is safe and in the next over plunders 12 runs from
Harris from three glorious pulls. Have Australia missed out? It
proves not …

11.16. Man of the moment Mitchell Johnson finds the edge of Cook’s
bat and Hussey takes the catch low at his right ankle. It’s 78-1 and
the crowd is suddenly rejuvenated. Trott, unnerved and impatient ,
swishes one over the top for four but is nailed LBM in Johnson’s next
over. KP strides out after drinks and can’t believe he is rapped on
the pads after only 3 balls and departs without scoring. England,
perhaps reeling, call for the review but the crowd roars as the
decision is upheld. 11.37 Johnson has single handedly wrenched the
Ashes back with 3 wickets for 4 runs in 2 overs. Strauss, stranded on
45 as he watches the carnage from the other end, finally claims his 50
to steady the ship and everyone audibly breathes again.

The next decisive moment. Ponting needs to make a bowling change.
Hilfenhaus and Johnson are in charge but can’t make it through to
lunch. He decides to bring Harris back but from the river end to
resume his dual with the England captain. The effect is immediate and
electric. Strauss departs caught behind. The crowd is interested
again and Collingwood and Bell are in a cauldron. Johnson claims
Collingwood after a review. 5 wickets down. Only 20 runs scored in
an hour, England are collapsing in a horribly familar way and Johnson
is a man vindicated.

The afternoon session by contrast starts gently and soporifically.
Bell and Prior dig in and Hilfenhaus continues to bowl exceptionally
well without reward. Everyone wakes when Prior plays onto his stumps
to expose the tail. Will they wilt or will they wag? The Barmy Army
trumpeter starts up almost mournfully to jeers from around the ground.
The battle shifts to the stands for a while as the Barmy Army find
full voice, never stopping even as Swann is caught. Out in the middle
the English batsmen are facing a barrage of bouncers and seem to have
no idea whether to defend or attack. Instead they allow that man
Johnson to come back and claim is 5th and 6th to much acclaim. The
crowd are delerious. They cam expecting to witness a day of further
pain … now they only scent English weakness.

Everything has changed. England need a good final session. … they
manage to take 3 wickets but Australia lead by 200 runs. The most
controversial moment was Ponting departing for 1 after a caught behind
review. The more it was replayed the more every English fan thought
it out and every Australian though it not out. The decision review
system is also taking a battering in this match. The Barmy Army were
not entirely silent by the end but this had not been England’s day.The
entertainment came from the increasingly vociferous members as more
beers were sunk and more wickets fell. There were fights, debates
about dress code violations and plenty of helpful ‘coaching’ directed
at the nearest English fielder in particular “Leg Side Warrior” Steve
Finn … another baptism of sledging for him!

That was my introduction to the Ashes and test circket: it’s
passionate, intense, absorbing, turbulant, infuriating and exhausting.
Whilst the two teams continue to battle it our on the pitch (with
Hussey getting a well desrved century today) I’m heading to the beach
and then to watch day 3 from the comfort of the sofa.

Beer choice: Swann Draught and XXX Gold at the cricket; James Squire
Sundown with Friday night chinese!

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