Adelaide Oval, Day 1 – nothing quite like it, even if it is a Thursday. Many in South Australia plan their year around being in Adelaide for the Test. And who can blame them? Whether you are dressed to the nines out the back of the members or jealously guarding seats looking over the bowler’s arm at the Southern end, the Adelaide Test is special.
Of course there’s another special place on the oval. When I first started coming to the Adelaide Test in the mid-’80s, the 1986 Ashes Test to be precise, the hill underneath the scoreboard had its very own West End soaked aura and rhythm. Sitting in the bays in front you could turn to observe Australian maleness at its most ocker. The first session would start with a flurry of drinking with the only trouble meted upon any young women walking along the concourse in front. As the afternoon commenced and progressed, things would become progressively more rowdy. The evictions would start as the one too manys led to increasingly undesirable behaviour.
During the tea break the scoreboard attendants would have to shut all the viewing holes as the occupants of the hill mercilessly pelted it with empties. The last session would ebb and flow with mayhem as the really bad cases had already been evicted but the occasional one too many would hit home. Sometimes even cricket would be watched. Right there was laid bare many of the divisions in our society. Much of what’s wrong with Australian manhood, many would argue, and everything that was right, would others.
So of course on this gorgeous spring afternoon I prop myself on my elbows and take in the hill with a couple of old friends. Much like Twitter, observation does not necessarily equal endorsement.
South Africa win the toss and choose to bat. The calamity will have to wait at least a day. Steve Smith gives off the least convincing “it’s exciting” since Big Kev met St Peter. A gentle waft of blokey BO passes the nostrils. It could not be more appropriate if that particular fragrance sat on a bus staring at strangers.
Cook’s footwork is immediately unconvincing against Starc as the pink ball is unfamiliar but easy to pick. It is nipping about at both ends but the South African openers are having no troubles picking the ball on length. Starc gets Cook plumb as you like except for the small matter of a no ball. How are professional cricketers still doing this?
Wicket – Elgar – c.Khawaja b.Starc 5 FOW 1-12
Elgar never looks settled against Starc and nicks through to Khawaja at third slip in a cordon that looks reasonable despite its lack of time for cohesion. They stay close to each other as Smith and Wade tell Renshaw exactly where to stand.
Wicket – Amla – c.Renshaw b.Hazlewood 5 FOW 2-36
Amla really struggles with Hazlewood’s bounce and nip off the pitch and provides rookie Renshaw with the opportunity to take a very good catch at first slip, which he eagerly accepts.
Wicket – Duminy – c.Wade b.Hazlewood 5 FOW 3-44
Hazlewood is rewarded for some fine bowling with his second wicket, again finding a South African edge. Wade takes a regulation catch. Australia has already grabbed the honours in a rewarding first session. Faf du Plessis comes out to the best natured booing you have ever heard in your life. It could only be more pantomime if the crowd shouted “HE’S BEHIND YOU” as he strolls to the crease.
Tea: South Africa 3-88 – Hazlewood is clearly the best bowler but batsmen are constantly unsettled by Starc. Bird is largely ineffective – less tin-eared selection would see Chadd Sayers playing this test and causing all sorts of problems for the South Africans on this pitch with this ball. Just imagine the crowd’s reaction. While BBL can often be criticised for focusing on ‘entertainment’ this is a perfect example of where Test cricket can be accused of the opposite. Nonetheless, atmosphere on the hill is convivial as the action burbles along.
Wicket – Cook – c.Smith b.Starc 40 FOW 4-95
Cook’s dodgy footwork (first movement is the back foot backwards and away) returns and he edges through off Starc.
Wicket – Bavuma – c.Wade b.Bird 8 FOW 5-117
It’s clear, despite his success in the series, the Australians are confident they can target Bavuma’s weaknesses; particularly a tendency to play uppishly on the leg side. After a period Bird finally gets him with a regulation edge to the keeper.
50 – du Plessis
To another smattering of venomless boos, du Plessis brings up a disciplined 50, picking the balls off his hip and playing straight. Meanwhile de Kock is yet to show his hand down the other end (aren’t you glad that sentence wasn’t the other way around?)
Wicket – de Kock – c.Wade b.Hazlewood 24 FOW 6-149
Biiiggg wicket – de Kock worries Australia more than any other South African and he is brought undone by Hazlewood’s outstanding line, length and just enough movement, as he was starting to look dangerous. Advantage Australia… if such a thing exists anymore.
Wicket – Philander – c.Wade b.Hazlewood 4 FOW 7-161
Did I mention Hazlewood was bowling well? Well, yes, he is. Philander reviews a call on the basis it hit his thigh pad. It did but snicko suggests it hit something else too.
Dinner: South Africa 7-165 – Australia more than happy with that session. The first yahoo is evicted from the hill in what remains a happy old gathering. Another convoy heads off to the one “Craft Beer Bar” for a decent ($10) beer. The sun starts to think about setting (cue montage)
South Africa put up fierce resistance – the ball still moving off the pitch but they are making it through a reputedly difficult time to bat.
Wicket – Abbott – lbw.Bird – 17 FOW 8-215
The first wicket not caught behind the stumps falls as Bird traps Abbott in front. No review – du Plessis is keeping that for himself.
100 – du Plessis
As Rabada hangs on, du Plessis registers a century as much to spite the crowd as to help his team. Greatly impressive but again it appears based on post-day comments that the South Africans have significantly misread the situation. They keep picking fights with Australia and Australians when barely one has been offered. The scoreboard is there for you to point at, Faf.
Wicket – Rabada – st.Wade b.Lyon – 1 FOW 9-220
Perhaps Lyon just gets the bit of luck he needs as the third umpire determines none of Rabada’s foot is behind the line on a frightfully close stumping. A man coming out of the members is escorted off as he is discovered with two little bottles of red in his backpack, smuggled out of a hospitality box. High crime in the last session.
Declaration – South Africa 9-259
Meanwhile, Shamsi puts up an attacking, bat twisting in hand, No. 11 innings before his mint sucking captain cruelly brings his maiden innings to an end with a sneaky declaration. In particular attacking David Warner who is off the field receiving treatment, therefore unable to open the innings.
What follows is, maybe, a new Australia. Khawaja and Renshaw bat out 12 overs competently and without risk. Only a few false shots where the ball did too much off the pitch but no waving the bat at junk outside off stump. This is one of the few times in the series that du Plessis has challenged the Australians and they have not folded like a rubbish poker player made of origami. Maybe taking Warner out of the opening partnership was the worst thing he could do, let alone cruelly depriving Shamsi of a Test batting average.
Stumps: Australia 0-14
And as for the hill, the game has changed… for the better. The atmosphere was simply convivial as people had fun, chatted, intermingled. People enjoyed the cricket – little is dying that doesn’t deserve to be dead.