Day 4: what’s not to like about Test cricket

I was in the car when play resumed on the morning of the fourth day at The Wanderers, my mind strongly of the view that the Australians would struggle to contain the South African batting line-up, and certainly were unlikely to dismiss them unless they attacked early. It has been an unusual Test wicket in that some batsmen have been defeated by the movement and the bounce early in their innings, as is often the case, but equally once batsmen were well in they had thrown their wickets away.

Amla and de Villiers were well in the evening before, but needed to re-establish themselves. The Australian attack needed to be mean and hungry and well-supported by the captain. The steam coming through the dashboard as I turned the ignition suggested there was a problem. Henry Lawson was going off his nut. A candidate for the Australian coaching position, he was either involved in an elaborate job interview by sending a strong message to Cricket Australia that the on and off field leadership of this team was no good, or he had just learnt that he was no longer in the mix and was flabbergasted.

The origin of steam was deep point. “What possible purpose is that man serving there?” was code for “Do these tossers in charge know anything about cricket? And do they understand anything about tactics and strategies and how they are dependent on the situation of the game.” He was going bezerk. At one stage he was about to open the window and scream at Michael Clarke. And then tell the bloke walking back to his bowling mark what to bowl next.

And it all made sense. Henry wanted wickets, or at least a genuine attempt to take wickets. If they weren’t coming easily he wanted pressure to be built. He wanted plans: simple cricket plans. The type garden-variety cricketers have employed from Nuriootpa to the Uni fourths.

Thanks God for Patrick Cummins, otherwise Henry may have been carried out in a straight-jacket. By the time I got home de Villiers had been caught at slip by Michael Clarke and Amla had managed to bamboozle his running partner in a way that would have made David Copperfield proud. Prince was run out for a couple.

Clarke varied the attack and it was Johnson who broke through. He found the jaffa in the jar of tofu toffees he’d brought to Johannesberg, and had Amla caught behind. It was a relief to see Haddin hang on. Lyon had Boucher caught by Watson at slip. Siddle toiled away. So did Cummins. Philander and Steyn dug in, both knowing that every run mattered to them as bowlers and as South Africans. Despite some dicey moments they survived until lunch.

First ball after lunch Cummins got one to fly at Philander, surprising the all-rounder (Philander is an all-rounder the way Max Walker was), who gloved to Haddin. The next ball was an absolute pearler, beating Morkel for pace and movement and crashing into the base of the stumps.

Were David Letterman doing the Top Ten Batsmen You’d Like To Bowl At To Register Your Hat-trick Imran Tahir would feature somewhere between Chandrasekhar and Jim Higgs. In he walked. But the leg-spinner survived to become part of a classic tenth wicket partnership.

Steyn belted, successfully at times. But equally Cummins made the ball bounce and swing, as did Siddle at the other end and not only were the runs important but Australian lounge-rooms were wondering how the brittle Australian batting line-up would get near 300 on a wicket that had this sort of  bounce and movement.

When the Australians began their chase the concerns were justified. Watson, who believes he can see into the future, saw a delivery from Philander rushing past him. But he has limited idea of the moment, let alone the future, and watched as the ball crashed comically into his off stump. 1/0.

The following minutes were a microcosm of contemporary Test cricket: a combination of approach to batting and the amount of cannon there are in bats these days. Khawaja pushed at a full one which went for four straight and a couple balls later drove for four again. At the other end Hughes belted one through point, then was beaten, then belted one through cover, before nicking to Kallis who had enough bread in his basket to catch one as Hugo from the KFC ad circa 1983 would have. 2/19 and  the third over hadn’t been completed.

At this point anything could have happened, and selectors should note the nature of Khawaja’s approach. Determined. As was his partner. I’m not sure how long it takes to overcome the falling-over issues that Ponting has had (I didn’t right them in 30 years of nicking impotently to the keeper down the leg side) but a couple of shots suggested he was desperately trying to adjust. You can’t ask for more than that. In particular one drive, which a week ago would have been aimed at mid-wicket, went straight past the stumps at the other end.

The Australian pair consolidated under pressure.

Until Imran Tamir, inspired by his ability to lift Peter Siddle to the fence a couple hours before (you should have seen Siddle’s face) got his wrong’un to go and had Khawaja caught at slip.

Clarke faced one ball for a single. Then it was too dark.

Australia went to stumps at 3/142. They need 158 tonight.

Wow! What a situation this Test match is in. I haven’t felt this excited about Monday night TV since Match of the Day followed Man About the House and Pot Black.

I think the South Africans remain favourites, but there’s a chance Patrick Cummins debut will be in a winning side.

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:

    JTH

    Watto is no Carnac the Magnificent.

  2. Is that the stage name of Nostradamus?

  3. John Butler says:

    Close. One of Johnny Carson’s regular characters.

    Come to think of it, Carnac wasn’t really much chop at the prediction game either.

  4. Andrew Starkie says:

    spewing about the rain; been looking forward to an Aussie win all day. My night’s plans ruined.

  5. Andrew, If only Man About the House were on. Haven’t been this disappointed since the pitch was dug up overnight at Headingley in 1975. I was 13. We were on holidays, picking onions at my Uncle Stan’s place (same Uncle Stan who got flooded out at Grantham earlier this year). Funny idea of a holiday we had in our house. We were working flat out each day, having a terrific tea at night (very hungry) and then settling down to watch the cricket. The match had built to a superb crescendo and all day in the paddock we were going through the what-ifs, Of course K.D. Walters was one of our all-time favourites as he was the embodiment of the imagined us (and we weren’t even punters, but we were cricketers and card-players and occasionally used Bryl-creme). Doug Walters can make a hundred. McCosker won’t get out. 250 in the fourth was unheard of then. 445? You are kidding. But I thought it could happen. Anyway, there were tears when we heard about the disaster after tea.

    Where were you?

  6. Andrew,

    On second thought, you were far too young to remember that Test.

  7. Peter Flynn says:

    I’m on the gas in Freo and just caught the lack of play.

    What the?

    Has the ‘Free George Davis Movement’ been at it again?

    How was Jo in Man About The House?

    Crikey. Daily double with D Harry singing In The Flesh.

    Watched Phil The Power Taylor this morning. He could be the original Great Man.

  8. Andrew Starkie says:

    Harmsy,

    have just listened to you while doing a lap of Edward’s Lake.

    I’m shattered. We’re a big chance if they get out there.

    Yep, can’t quite recall the ’75 tour, however, have read about it. What did Gorge Davis do? What’s he doing now?

    First time I had my heart broken was by the 3 run loss to the Poms in the ’82/’83 tour. Norman Cowans was man of the match. I recall the tears and thinking how much I loved Test cricket. That loss cut deep for a long time.

    A mate asked me on the weekend what my favourite sport was. Good Test cricket, I said. Can’t beat the drama. No other sport can build suspense like that over five days. Imagine if a game of footy went for five days. Crazy.

  9. Peter Flynn says:

    One of the pillocks who dug up the pitch was Peter Chappell.

    The drinkstables reckoned ol’ Georgie did a number on the London Electricity Board in Essex(?).

    Much later, I reckon he may have got a pardon of sorts.

    He’s been in more Banks

  10. Andrew Starkie says:

    Flynny,

    The original and best GM is a bloke called Andrew Watts. A classic Lad from the ‘Bool. Freddy Mercury lookalike, Wattsy’s man with a heart of gold who loves his kids, footy, cricket, beer and good looking women. He coached Old Collegians ressies to back-to-back flags in the mid-90s and was famous for his affection for his players and for his oneliners: ‘If I could take 20 c-ts into the trenches, I’d take you 20 c-ts,’ and ‘A leopard can’t change his stripes’. And we loved him. We won flags for Wattsy. He resigned after the ’94 GF because he could no longer bear the hearteahe of having to drop players from GF teams. I was a part of the ’94 premiership team and Wattsy still hugs me every time I see him.

  11. Peter Flynn says:

    Watto couldn’t open a can/envelope whatever the gag.

    Great openers have the capacity to play off the back foot and they possess adaptive and economical footwork.

    I can’t remember a great opener who just plants his front foot down the pitch.

    Look at the footwork of Sobers, Ian Chappell (for Dips) etc. Don’t just front foot plant. Bowlers work this 1-D behaviour immediately.

  12. Peter Flynn says:

    I’m back out on the gas.

    Little Creatures calls.

  13. Punter out.
    All over now ?

  14. Peter Flynn says:

    No

  15. Very much not.

  16. Andrew Else says:

    Where’s Bill Lawry when you need him?

  17. Only coverage I can get is Test Match Sofa, I’m settling, what I wouldn’t give for Grandstand right now.

  18. No Grandstand online, Tim?

  19. Ooooooooo. Tie?

  20. I tipped this!! (Not really.)

  21. Nathan Lyon: a study in grimness

  22. Cummins looks nerveless.

  23. Cometh the hour, Cummins the man!

  24. John Butler says:

    Gooood win!

    How predictable that those under the gun would all produce something to cloud selection issues.

  25. pamela sherpa says:

    Those under the gun saving the day should not cloud the selection issue at all JB.That is the very issue with CA selectors-not being able to see through the clouds.

  26. John Butler says:

    No argument on that score Pamela. If only you were a selector.

  27. Andrew Starkie says:

    great win. gutsy. agreed Pam, selectors must make big decisions. give Punter send off against NZ? Is the second test in Hobart?

  28. Grant Fraser says:

    jth

    Life isn’t funny with an empty tummy.

    Rgds,

    RGF.

  29. Peter Hulthen says:

    We need a Funky Miller back again. This may get the Facebookers and Tweeters back to watch Test Cricket.

  30. pamela sherpa says:

    Andrew , JB, I don’t know why the decision to retire ageing players has become such a big tormented decision for the selectors- they just make it harder for everybody, fans included. So what if Punter still has a couple of good innings in him? He should go before he declines and make way for the next bloke. The Mathew Hayden saga was an embarrassment. Are we going to go through the same ordeal with Ricky this summer? He is being selfish trying to convince himself he is needed.. Give Clarke the space to forge his own captaincy Have some faith in the next breed selectors- and show a bit of vision for heaven’s sake !

  31. John Butler says:

    Pamela

    A lot of money at stake for these blokes in squeezing in one more season. Add to that the natural competitor’s instinct to keep on fighting. Combined, it makes it unlikely they’ll jump early.

    Selectors need to be strong in their resolve. Will the new lot bight the bullet?

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