Fifth Test: A good night spoiled as Punter’s exit sums up series

by John Harms

I’m feeling really ripped off. About the cricket.

Even more ripped off than I felt in 1975 when those activists dug up the pitch at Headingley and McCosker and Walters didn’t get the chance to chase the huge total England had set for them. They would have got `em. My 13-year-old mind had no doubt about it, that night.

I’m really feeling ripped off. Not because Australia lost, although that is disappointing. I’m feeling ripped off because the whole thing was spoiled by one of the worst dismissals you’ll ever see. A run out. The skipper, R.T. Ponting, was run out. And that ruined my night.

Being run out is a victory for stupidity. Being run out is like being nominated for the Darwin Awards. Being run out, is, is, is, is just the pits.

And if you throw in Pup Clarke’s crazy run out and Marcus North’s ridiculous stumping, well I reckon I have cause to feel ripped off.

Consider the scenario.

Australia lose the Ashes in England in 2005. Warney carries Australia. Punter saves us with the bat a couple of times, but he does not cover himself with glory as a captain.

Then in 2006-07 Australia wins back the Ashes 5-0. Warney and a few other tough nuts retire. Ponting has turned himself into a reasonable skipper.

Australia goes to England this winter full of confidence. Some of it is false confidence. Naïve even.

The selectors take a small squad that is laden with quicks.

They have mucked around with the spinner’s position over the previous couple of years. Tweakers all over the country are dazed and confused. They feel like they’re going out with a bird who’s always looking over their shoulder.

Nathan Hauritz gets the nod.

The batting lacks depth. The selectors have swallowed the idea that Phil Hughes is a rung down from Bradman that he will score 973 runs in Tests and that Punter and Mr Cricket will bat forever. The only decision the skipper will have to make is when to declare. So swallowed the idea that there seems to be no back-up plan for the opening position, nor indeed for the middle order positions.

Brad Haddin will add the icing to the slogfest cake by chiming in with quick tons from No. 7. Doesn’t matter how he goes behind the stumps.

They take a half-fit Shane Watson, just in case they need a few more overs of medium pace somewhere along the way.

And so the walk in the park begins. Yes, they should have won at Cardiff where everyone got a ton, but a Test attack couldn’t find a way through Monty’s defences – for about two hours. It seemed.

Then, a shock. The ball swung at Lord’s and the boys proved brittle. Doubts surfaced. All out for nothing. 1-0 down.

This was seen as an aberration. But, hey, maybe the Poms were better than we thought.

Edgbaston was a draw.

Headingley was too easy.

And so to The Oval for the decider.

The Poms had respected the Australians throughout. They knew they had to make things happen. Strauss led them well. They had plans. The one for Hughes was so good he was banished.

The Australians didn’t seem to respect their opponent.

On the first day at The Oval the Australians appeared to meander in the field. Old third-grade cricketers in slippers (drinking port) in front of fireplaces didn’t need Warney to point out the inadequacies of Punter’s captaincy. (Marcus North bowling sighters to the Test debutant?) It was all pretty obvious.

But Warney did it so well (and so consistently) on SBS, showing what a cricket mind he has, and what a cricket mind Punter hasn’t. He could have gone harder.

Australia collapsed, losing 10 for 87 on a wicket that they’d been talked into believing was full of trickery.

Then the Poms batted like it wasn’t, setting Australia the outrageous task of making 546. The Australians played themselves in, patiently trying to understand The Oval track. The curator may have been a little nervous himself when he realised that as dry and as dusty as it was (remember the mess S. Broad made of his whites when belly-sliding back into his crease) once you got in, you got in, and you were a chance. The balls that did something were actually doing too much.

So Punter and Mr Cricket are set. I am lying on the couch watching the Betfair odds tumble. We get to 2/217 and I’m thinking this is a superb scenario. Embattled captain is given an opportunity. It’s like a myth; a fable. This is a great personal challenge for Ricky Ponting. He can play one of the greatest innings in Test history. All else will be forgotten; forgiven.

He is rock solid. And Mr Cricket has also accepted his own personal challenge and is slowing finding a hint of form.

Keep going, boys. In a few more overs the Poms will start to feel the pressure. The fingers will become greasy and the length harder to find. And Punter will pick them off. Oh, I am loving this. This has great potential.

Then Hussey pushes to Freddy Flintoff’s left. Punter is half-asleep. But he assumes he is in no danger and takes off like he’s great aunt Mabel at the lights. And Flintoff has hit the stumps. Hang on, he’s out. But, but, but there was nothing in that.

It’s the story of the skipper’s series. The skipper is the story of the series.

And I feel ripped off.

This column first appeared on Business Spectator.

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 - Theo9, 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. J.T. Haitch

    “Australia lose the Ashes in England in 2005. Warney carries Australia. Punter saves us with the bat a couple of times, but he does cover himself with glory as a captain.”

    Should that read “but he does not cover himself with glory”?

  2. pauldaffey says:

    Tony,

    Quite right. Change has been made.

  3. Andrew Starkie says:

    I shouldn’t have read this piece – I was just getting over the pain. Now I’m back to shaking my head at Strauss milking the strike to protect Bell on the first morning and Broad (Julian from the Famous Five) ripping through us on day 2.

    Thanks, Harmsy

  4. It all makes sense now. Australia were just using the Ashes as a warm-up for the one-day series.

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