Australia flogged

I spent the last few overs of the Australian debacle that was the third day of the Melbourne Test Match standing at the southern end behind the rampant Barmy Army. They were loving it. Next to me was a solemn man in a heavy metal T-shirt. I didn’t recognize the name of the band but I knew it was heavy metal from the Gothic script, the length of his hair, and the way he took a bottle of vodka from his pocket, poured himself a capful, and hid it away.

The Barmy Army sang, “He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right; Mitchell Johnson: your bowling is shite.”

When Johnson drove for a brace to take the Australians (feebly) to 6/168 my solemn friend retorted, “Give it to ‘em Johnno.” His was a lone voice.

I drifted out through the gates at the Punt Road end where bronzes of Leigh Matthews and Ron Barassi smirked down on the river of tired people. If ever there were two sportsmen who understood the contest this was them.

There have been quite a few moments of contest in this Test Match, those moments when the consequences of failure are grave and of success are glorious, and everything is for a time on the line, and the English have won all but a couple of them. The game started in a moment of contest, and the English took control, by using the conditions cleverly and exposing and exploiting the weakness of the Australian top order. The Australian opening attack faced a moment of contest, and couldn’t find anything.

And then the third day. The pitch was made to look very flat by Trott and Prior who helped England to 513, and there was a sense of possibility: that Australia could bat through days three and four and in to day five, save the Test Match, and go to Sydney still able to win the Ashes.

That was when the Australians won their only moment of contest for the match. Watson and Hughes appeared to have snuck in to the English dressing room and absconded with the broad blades of their opponents. They looked comfortable at least, and were wearing down the English attack who were fighting. Anderson was beginning to reverse swing the ball which was not even 20 overs old, and Tim Bresnan was giving nothing away. The contest was on. The evidence suggested it was easier for the batsmen than the bowlers.

And that’s when Watson blundered (yet again). He pushed firmishly to Trott’s left at cover and called a bewildered Hughes through. Trott didn’t need to be a young Clive Lloyd or Roger Harper, he just needed to field adequately. Which he did. Prior took the bails off, and Hughes was gone, and Watson left in the middle, his half-conscience telling him he should feel a little guilt, and a lot of consequent responsibility. I suspect he went for positive self-talk and rationalization.

No bronzes should ever be struck of Shane Watson. Give me a champ who knows why he is there and whose efforts are demonstrably in the interests of the team. Many of his runs are mere numbers on a page.

Some of his team-mates would kill for those numbers at the moment. Ponting, in being so, so determined not to lose his wicket helped Bresnan find confidence and the bloke who looks like he could be up road down mine took hold of the contest. Watson failed to play at a ball coming back in to him, the evidnce showing it would have hit the top of middle stump. Very Watson.

And so the captain and vice-captain were at the crease. What a moment for them. Both out of form, and both under pressure. Yet able to form what might become one of the great partnerships of Test cricket. It looked increasingly unlikely as they scratched about. Pressure was built by a series of referrals, the sub-text of which suggested the batsmen were oh-so-close to being dismissed.

Finally Ponting jumped outside the off-stump and nicked a ball back on to his stumps. That doesn’t do the bowler justice. He had probed and contested and given Ponting and Clarke nothing. Ponting had kept him interested and his final shot was just plain awful. The feet, the arc of the bat’s swing, the head: all over the place.

Another moment of contest ensued. Michael Hussey has carried the Australians all summer, and as he walked to the crease, he was met with the warmest applause of respect, gratitude and hope.

Bresnan beat him with one that came back, and then pushed a full out-swinger (to the left-hander) across him. Hussey followed what looked like a regulation half-volley, and lifted the drive to Bell at short cover. “Oh no,” the crowd groaned. Like it was over.

Steve Smith took up the contest and despite his nervous twitches got well forward, while at the other end Clarke jumped and pushed, and even when he used his feet to Swann determinedly, he looked vulnerable. Swann, who bowled beautifully (his length was impeccable) should have had Clarke stumped to the offie’s best weapon: the straight one. But Prior fumbled. Swann, always looking for a different way to cook Thai chicken, went around the wicket, and Strauss added a second slip. It was like a pantomime. “Watch out for the straight one,” we yelled from Section M30. But Clarke didn’t and the Test match was virtually over when Strauss gleefully accepted the chance in that very position.

Smith played an awful pull shot, but the young man had fought well. Whether he is a Test player now remains doubtful.

Australia looked defeated.

About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au He has written many columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf’s Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV’s Offsiders.

He can be contacted j.t.h@footyalmanac.com.au

He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids – Theo10, Anna8, Evie6.

He might not be the worst putter in the world but he’s in the worst three.

His ambition is to lunch for Australia.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Poignant description JTH

    Punter’s body language spelt defeat all day. When he batted, he seemed to trying to muster powers that had now deserted him. As he walked slowly off after being dismissed, head bowed, it was hard not to think that may have been his last MCG test.

  2. Knowledgable crowd around us in M30/31. Farming families down from the Riverina behind us – very pro-Australian. Sad for Ponting” stood and clapped him to the gate.

    Suburban cricketers to our right. Tough-looking blokes. Used the right temrinology: “Ponting just has to ‘get in'”. Equally Clarke. These blokes told Watson where to go. And had no sympathy for the skipper when he was playing so badly.

    The time has come.

    Unless….Haddin and Johnson both get 200…and…

  3. I thought Steve Smith showed a fair bit of promise with the ball. Good loop and some spin. If he bats at number 8, where he should be, and continues to develop his bowling, I can see a long term place for him.

  4. You are a tad harsh on Watson…he has done Philip Hughes a massive favour. Now the selectors can rationalise that Hughes was run out just as he was about to come good and conveniently ignore his three other failures at the crease.

  5. Hughes is arbitrary in that argument. For Hughes insert Batsman X. It just happened to be Hughes. Some of the comments around us at the cricket when Watson was dismissed were less than complimnetary. There is a sense he is not a team player – and a poor runner between the wickets. he has used up many a referral as well.

    Nice to have you back with us Mulcaster. Where have you been? We need more references to French novels and guillotine hags (see Mulcaster’s earlier comment).

  6. Disappointing is such an inadequate word but we are going to hear a lot of cricketers and cricket administrators use it over the next few days and weeks. We lost the Ashes and played terribly – “yes it was disappointing.” Its the worst defeat in God knows how many years – “yes very disappointing.” It will drive me mad.

    Felt for Ricky, his eyes are gone. The dismissal was not the dismissal of a great batsman, just a bloke on the edge of retirement. Hope he goes gracefully.

  7. Phil Dimitriadis says:

    Harmsy,

    I was at the G yesterday with Syson. The thing that came to mind after Watson’s dismissal was how conditioned 20/20 has made him. Surely the test of a great cricketer now is their ability to not only adapt to conditions , but to different styles of cricket. The run out was a great example of a good cricketer lost between forms.

    They looked so comfortable before the run out…so unnecessary.

    I also wonder if our boys care enough about the Ashes and Test cricket generally. In the past, Test cricket was the measuring stick. Now I’m not so sure. It is too easy to escape into the shortened form without caring a toss. The money is good and the attention span of the fans is short. For England, there was more historical value to winning the Ashes in Australia, and it showed.

    It is no coincidence that our best players were those whose position were under threat. Haddin, Hussey and Siddle. Clarke is the most overrated cricketer I’ve seen, yet lucrative commercial arrangements forbade him getting dropped. As they used to say at my old club Croxton: “He is a pea heart”. If he gave a damn about his country he’d put himself in at 3 and earn the accolades.

    Finally, I believe the treatment of Punter by the media has been ‘disgraceful’. He is the best batsman in a generation and he has been treated like shit. Border, Taylor, Waugh or Warne would not have done any better with the cattle at their disposal.

    Suddenly, everyone wants to be an Andrew Bolt when it comes to Punter. The reactions have been hysterical and infantile. He deserves a couple of years batting at 5 or 6 ala Tendulkar. It has been our first Ashes loss on our soil in 24 years. Lets get some perspective and appreciate what the guy has done for his country. I hope history judges appropriately when all this vitriol settles.

  8. PD

    I agree with giving the skipper opportunity to bat at 5.

    I agree with the idea that he hasn’t had a strong team under him in recent times. But neither have other skippers: Andrew Strauss, Jeremy Coney, AB etc The question remains: has Ponting been able to get the best from his players?

    Another question: has he been a front-runner?

    No doubt he has served his country’s cricket team well, and brilliantly at times with the bat, and deserves respect ofr that.

    But just as the sensationalism comes out when he is struggling, so too we have witnessed hyperbole throughout his career. He has a great eye. He has a magnificent pull shot. But it has been evident for years: he plays from second slip to mid-on, especially early on. I think he has been the very prototype of the modern cricketer in that he has been well-serevd by flat tracks designed for five-day gate receipts. Despite his natural ability, he has benn able to play the percentages. Hence Ishant sorted him out with the ball that came back, because he was pushing just to the outside of the line. Now the ball that leaves him is finding him out because his feet and the arc of his bat are all over the place.

  9. Peter Flynn says:

    Great read JTH. I found my mate and entered the ground about 15 minutes after we parted company. How did Theo enjoy his first Test?

    Interesting debate above particularly re Ponting and Watson.

    Watson and Johnson lead the new Australian way to play Test cricket.

    The central tenet of this approach is to play dumb dumb cricket. Dumb cricket seemingly shaped by misplaced arrogance.

    The MCG run out of Hughes and the run out of Katich in Adelaide were the dumbest run outs since GM Wood being involved in a run out in every Test of the 78/79 series. As an aside, one of his victims in that series was A Hilditch. Good one Woody!

    Why does Watson continually makes 50’s and not go on? Really high-percentage of LBW dismissals.

    Australia have very little hope of reverse swinging a cricket ball with Johnson’s scrambled seam random style of bowling.

    Siddle showed the bat-danglers how to bat. He got his body behind the ball and hence his eye-line was perfect to play the ball. The bat-danglers are nicking everything because they aren’t adhering to the basics of footwork and body posture/position.

    With Ponting you have to appraise him as skipper and as batsman. He has to share some responsibility for burning 10 spinners since Warne. He seemingly doesn’t rate spinners, bowls them at incorrect times and sets poor fields. He could do no worse than to talk with Ian Chappell about these issues.

    Ponting as batsman? A great batsman with some imperfections (mentioned above) that are getting exploited more frequently as father-time rolls on. The front-foot lunge. Iffy against spin early on.

    Almanac pundits have been calling for a revamped order for quite awhile now. Let’s see what happens.

  10. Interesting to read people’s views on our cricket. Dare I quote Peter Roebuck again (who says some questionable things at times) but he also makes sense. He reckons 20/20 has found us out. Too many of our test players also play 20/20 (something like 7 in our team, 2 in England’s) and it is 20/20 that has ruined the batting techniques. Too many batsmen now hit the ball with open hips like they’re always trying to hit it over mid wicket. With that type of stroke a catch behind the stumps is inevitable.

    We need to go back to basics, pick different style cricketers for the the different games, and get some good coaches for a change.

  11. Did anyone else find it interesting to read Ponting’s comment that, prior to the Brisbane test, G Chappell suggested that Punter move down the order to number 4? If the plan was to drop North, bring in Khawaja at 3, and push both Clarke and Hussey down a spot, it is disappointing (sorry, Dips!) that Ponting did not take up the offer.
    Having said that, it is true that Ponting’s form was ok on the tour of India. It really is Clarke who has the biggest question marks over his head at present.

  12. What worries me about the 20/20 thing is that the idea has taken off with junior cricket administrators. They’ve seen the ‘popularity’ of the game and want to buy into that at the junior level. They don’t seem to understand is that which attracts punters doesn’t necessarily attract players. Not many young kids fancy of not being able to bat for more than 20 overs (if they’re good enough). And what it will do to their (batting and bowling) techniques . . .

  13. Club cricketers love club finals – because many of Australia’s club comps (suburban and country) play finals over four days often with first class hours and breaks. Suddenly they are playing the equivalent of first class cricket – and the attendant considerations that brings. Urgency is immediately eschewed. It’s what cricketers love in my view.

    Even two-day matches are preferred by cricketers (when they don’t have families and punting commitments).

    Reassuring to see my young nephews (16,14,10) loving the game – and subscribing to the Syson view, without a doubt.

  14. Andrew Starkie says:

    Say what you really mean you guys.

    Phil, Punter has been treated poorly and he is an ATG who deserves much more respect. And his winning percentage was better than Waugh’s early on. However, he has captained three losing Ashes campaigns. Can he survive that? Give the captaincy to Haddin, even in a caretaker role. DRop Punter to no.5 or even 6 with a role of holding up the middle order and protecting the tail.

    Dips, spot on about the need for separate teams for 20/20 and Tests. Our selectors are still yet to see the light on that issue. One of the big talking points from Melbourne was the lack of defensive skills in our batsmen. This must be due partly to the amount of short version cricket they are playing. (20/20 looks more and more like baseball. They NZ keeper was wearing a baseball keeper’s mask the other night.)

    I could go on for ever about scheduling issues. The ICC and closer to home, the CA, have had problems with scheduling for 4-5 years now and are still yet to find a way of fitting all three forms of the game comfortably into the calendar. England played three warm-up games before the first Test. Australia played a 20/20 and three limited over games against Sri Lanka. Why? Our preparation for the 2009 Ashes was the 20/20 World Cup. Our Test squad played in the tournament and we were bundled out at the first stage. As Gerard Whateley (?) said at the time, our best eleven 20/20 players were at home in Australia. James Sutherland said on radio the other day he hoped the scheduling issues would have sorted themselves out by now. Isn’t that your job, mate?

    We need clear leadership and direction from the top on issues such as priorities, vision, planning, selection. It seems the Ashes meant more to England this summer.

    Is shield cricket still valued? It appears not.

    Harmsy, I feel your pain over Watson. I wanted to cry Day 3 when he ran a comfortable looking Hughes out. Then he got out LBW without offering!!! I like watson – maybe because no one else does. I was impressed by his show of emotion at the AB award night last year. But he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. he has brain fades which lead to partners being run out and him losing concentration, usually in the 50s or 90s. Like him or not, he’s one of the few batsmen scoring runs. I’d like to see him at no. 4 or 5.

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