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Boxing Day Test Match. Australia v India.

Day 3, December 28, 2011.

At 9-30 sharp, I am outside the Stag’s Head Hotel waiting for Holty and Elliott, two of our club’s Pommy cricketers who are over for the summer. I have decided to drive in today: I’ll get home more rapidly and I’ll be sober. It sounds pretty appealing after the big Christmas week I have enjoyed on the turps.

The Poms are resplendent in slacks and shirts. Someone has told them that they need to dress up for the Members’, but they may have overdone it a tad. No matter. They are looking forward to their first trip into the MCC. They enjoyed Boxing Day in the outer, but wanted to see the little master bat today and reckon Tendulkar’s dismissal late on Day 2 was disappointing.

Disappointing? It was a huge breakthrough for Australia! Courtesy of Siddle the Lion heart. But the consensus is that early inroads must be made to prevent the Indians racking up a big first innings lead.

We make excellent time, meet up with Dervo and are all seated ten minutes prior to play. The conditions are excellent, and the Poms are again marvelling at the vastness of the magnificent stadium. First up is Hilfenhaus, and he grabs an important scalp, second ball, when he bowls the unconvincing Dravid. Strangely, VVS is even less convincing than Rahul and is soon on his way when Siddle entices a nick. Elliott and Holty are reminded of India’s ill-fated English tour last July, when the Poms trounced them 4-0. Yes, we have them 5 fa, but there is still much cricket left in this match.

Kholi contributes 11, and skipper MS Dhoni’s dismissal is as soft as butter. Off-field, MS is statesman-like, but on-field he appears to the naked eye to be largely uninspiring. When the night-watchman Sharma finally departs for a dogged 11, we applaud him all the way to the boundary. I really rate him as a cricketer, and today he has shown a couple of his elders a thing or two about digging in. But it’s now 8/254 and India, against all overnight odds, is on the rack. Zaheer plays the death-or-glory style shot of the tailender who just does not want to be out there, and it is almost all over.

But then, to our amazement, Clarke starts setting deep fields when Ashwin is on strike, giving him the single. I recall Roebuck railing against this strategy, and the four of us are railing against it today. OK, so he made a ton against the Windies, but he is hardly Tendulkar. At 9 fa, with a decent lead, why would you not attack? Finally, the Aussies get their man…but not before he had easily plundered 31 and reduced the advantage to 51 runs. The quicks have me thinking that the Aussies, with a rejuvenated Hilfy, fiery young Patto and street-fighting Sids, are in decent shape.

At lunch, a short tour of our surroundings for the visitors is in order and (surprise!) we wind up in the Bernard Callinan Bar. But it’s only for a quick pint (the unappealing Bulmer’s for the Poms), as we don’t want to miss the Dave Warner show. Alas, as shows go, it is a flop. The Warner-Cowan combination looks perfect on paper, and may well turn out to be a winning formula. But they are soon both brought undone by the respective hare and tortoise traits which commend them. Warner never looks settled and, to me, he seems to be fighting his natural urge to attack. He faces 27 balls for 5 runs: a most un-Warner-like innings in every sense. When Cowan shoulders arms to a jaffa, Australia is 2/16 and an eerie silence pervades the arena.

But then the ageing warrior Ponting strides onto the turf and the ‘G erupts into a standing ovation. The Poms recognise greatness when they see it and are also standing, applauding. It is a touching moment. But as Punter perfectly shadow-drives all the way to the crease, I am instantly reminded of all that he was…and all that he no longer is.

Shaun Marsh seems stuck in 20/20 mode. Remember, this is his first non-bash since Johannesburg over a month ago. He plays a full toss onto his stumps to complete a miserable match. Then Clarke chops on to his stumps (yet again) and at 4/27 the collapse is well and truly on. Hussey gets a warm reception from the crowd, and even before he takes block Elliott remarks on what a fine player MEK is.

And so it came to pass that, defying all pre-match odds, Punter and Mr Cricket drag their country back into the Test match. Ponting will never again be the marauding run-plunderer he was eight years ago, but today he provides this fan with enough magic moments of misty-eyed reflection to give rise to the hope that he can have one last Indian summer. Hussy looks positive from the get-go, and early pull-shot for four signals his intentions. He has often said “It took me a long time to win a Test spot, and I will not surrender it easily.” He plays as if he is mouthing those words every time he faces up.

After tea, the Indians are going through the motions. Waiting for something to happen. And eventually it does, but not before the veterans have posted a fighting 115-run partnership. Ponting plays a loose shot to gully, and the dream is over. Again. He is warmly applauded off the G (for the last time?) Everyone keeps talking about Tendulkar’s next ton, but what about Punter’s?

Hussy keeps punching on, re-asserting his claims to his place in the team with every run. Haddin is possibly now the most precariously placed of the top seven, and lasts little more than two overs. Tim Paine could be heard cursing his misfortune all the way across the Bass Strait. Another Clarkism is the promotion of the bunny Lyon when Siddle departs, but the spinner shows that he is still best-suited to number 11. Unless, of course, Australia is 9/23.

Pattinson hangs in until stumps, with the imperious Hussey on 79, the highest score in the match so far. Australia are 230 runs in front, but a glance at the storied Indian batting line-up tells me they surely need at least another 70. The Poms think even 300 may not be enough, particularly if Laxman and Dhoni start to show some interest in proceedings.

I drive home alone, leaving the young Poms to head over to the Royal Hotel and further adventures beyond. Look after yourself, lads. Tendulkar will be batting tomorrow.

About Darren Dawson

Always North.

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Smokie, admirably restrained.

    Next time tell the Brits tweed jackets are required.

    Could be an absolute ripper of a day today.

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