First Test, Day 4: In search of the pivotal moment

By Andrew Gigacz

Day four of the Boxing Day Test match. Potentially the best day. I’ve never really understood the whole Boxing Day thing. I mean I understand that it’s become a bit of a Melbourne sporting tradition. Huge crowd. Big expectations, no matter who the opposition.

But in the context of a Test Match, even a good one, the first day is often the one that offers the least, in terms of drama and entertainment. The pivotal moments in good Tests almost invariably occur on day three or four. Like Warnie’s flipper to dismiss Richie Richardson in ’92. Or ten years earlier when Norman Cowans got rid of David Hookes to turn the match England’s way (although the most dramatic moment of that match occurred on the last morning, thanks to Thommo, Tavare and Miller).

Not that there haven’t been good Boxing Days. I was there for Warnie’s 700th in 2007. And in ’75 when Thommo and Lillee demonised the Windies as 85,000 fans went mad.

But I reckon it’s on days three and four when Tests are cracked open, or even turned on their heads. And that’s what my hope for today is. When play begins Australia are almost 300 ahead, with seven wickets in hand. It’s a pretty strong position. But a couple of quick wickets and memories of the Perth wobbles will surface pretty quickly.

Unlike the first three days, day four does not begin under grey skies. In fact, only a few wisps of cloud can be seen, and they burn off in the first half hour. Maybe the Aussies can burn the “50 but no 100” monkey off their backs today too. The most likely man to do it is the man many would have considered least likely only a month ago: Shane Watson. Having made a duck and done little else in the Gabba Test, “Watto” was in the gun of many cricket scribes and fans, including me. But his performances since make it hard not to have some admiration for the man. 96 and 48 in Adelaide; 89 and 30 (top score) in Perth. And 93 in the first innings here. Not to mention the fact that Watson’s bowling has developed and he’s good for a wicket or two every innings.

And despite the heartache of the catastrophic Katich cock up in the first innings, here he is, 64 not out, pushing towards that elusive ton yet again. Other than reaching that mark, I don’t think we can fairly ask much more of the man.

As it turns out, reaching that mark continues to be an Achilles heel for all Australia. Clarke looks comfortable before  nicking Aamer through to the keeper. North makes only 8 (is his place in question?) and Haddin lasts all of two balls. Australia slumps to 6/161 and it’s game on. Is the pivotal moment of day 4 upon us? Watson is on 88 as Mitchell Johnson arrives. The man can bat but he can also go out cheaply. I can visualise a new way for Watto to miss out on that ton: Australia all out 172, (SR Watson 99 not out).

But Johnson holds his nerve and remarkably, so does Watson. Until lunch. At 98 not out as the players trudge off, I’m betting Shane won’t be feeling that hungry. When play resumes the monkey returns. This is not just Shane’s monkey. It’s all of Australia’s. Not just the team but the fans too. Watson follows the script and starts seeing every ball as a hand grenade. It rolls behind the bat, just missing the stumps. It slips ever-so-closely past his outside edge. This whole “reaching the ton” thing has made a mess of Australian minds. I cannot recall such protracted drama leading up to a batsman making a century. It’s perverse pleasure for me. Like when I was a kid and would hear the screech of tyres nearby. I’d always hope a big bang would follow. Nothing like a good car-crash to stir up the neighbourhood.

Watson does his level-best to crash the car. On 99 he hits an absolute dolly to Abdur Rauf in the gully (?!), who never looks like catching it. Watson scampers a single and, finally, the monkey scampers off. SR Watson scores his maiden Test century.

The next little while is an anticlimax. Johnson makes 22 before getting run out. Hauritz comes and goes, at which point Ponting calls them in, with Australia 420 ahead and Watson still there on 120.

With a day and half left, Pakistan has time on their side. But not history. 421 would be the biggest winning fourth innings total of all time.

Bollinger gets Imran Farhat early. Dougie’s another man who’s gone up in my estimation as this summer has progressed. Capable of bowling an aggressive short ball, but knows the value of pitching the ball up.

Salman Butt and Faisal Iqbal keep the score moving but this is not such a bad thing for the Aussies. They’re throwing the ball up and inviting the drive, which can mean a few boundaries but also a wicket. And it’s a full delivery from Johnson that traps Butt for 33. Pakistan 2/80.

Yousuf arrives and he and Iqbal take the score to 2/116. It’s still a long way to 421 but the Australian attack is starting to seem a little innocuous. Especially Hauritz. Is he another one who might lose his place? No sooner than I ask myself that question, he gets one to turn viciously out of the rough and bowls Iqbal, who’d been shaping to cut.

That could be the pivotal moment. Not just in the match but in the career of Nathan Hauritz.

But Pakistan settles again. As stumps approaches, Ponting turns to Katich – finally some creativity, Ricky! Katich obliges by bowling a rank long hop. Umar Akmal obliges by horribly mis-hitting a pull shot. It goes low to Hauritz at mid-on, who obliges Akmal by dropping it. Now THAT could be THE pivotal moment in this match.

Katich beats Akmal’s outside edge the very next ball but thereafter looks relatively impotent.

At stumps Pakistan are 3/170. 251 to win with a full day and seven wickets to play with. If there is no early breakthrough on day five, a tantalising finish could ensue.

And then we’ll all look back and decide just which was the most pivotal moment in this match.

About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?

Comments

  1. Gigs – Peter Roebuck has written a beauty in The Age today (talking of THE moment). It’s about Watto’s moment rather than the game’s moment, but its a fabulous piece of writing – why cricket is played, why Watto persisted, how each battle took him further up the tree to triumph.

    In some ways cricket is the most pure of games – bat, ball, running, patience, petulance, anxiety, tedium, thought, no thought. And the best part is that it hangs constantly by a thread, waiting for THE moment.

  2. Thanks Dips.

    Bloody Roebuck – always trying to steal my thunder!

    Yes, it’s a very good piece. This summer, more than any other perhaps, has highlighted the tricks the mind plays on us. The further we’ve gone into the season the more outrageous the shots of players nearing the century have been. Watto deserved the ton, but how good would it have been if he’d gone on 99?! It would have ratcheted up that pressure on the next Aussie batsman to near 100 (and Watto himself) to excruciating proportions!

    Meanwhile, let’s hope day 5 throws up one or two of THOSE moments.

  3. Peter Schumacher says:

    Gigs, good stuff.

    I am glad that you made reference to that “catastrophic Katich cock up” (love the alliteration) as my wife and I argued as to where the blame lay, she reckoned, somehow, that it was Watson’s fault couldn’t see how. On reflection she argues that I have it cocked up that the argument ran the other way.

    What I have found interesting though are the two teenagers Aamer and Umar Akmal in the Pakistan team. How good are they!? I wish that we knew their exact birth dates but irrespective of that they certainly seem the goods. Where are our young kids? If Jim Maxwell is to be believed any young quicks are being wrapped in cotton wool. He was extremely critical of this but once again my wife said to me, “what about stress fractures down the track for Aamer?” And low and behold, in today’s Oz this is reported to be a problem.

    So today could see Hauritz found wanting but don’t expect Smith to be the saviour, he hasn’t been that good in very recent matches.

    Today could also be the day where Umar Akmal is found to be not wanting. Think I might go and watch the match now!

    Oh and I have to confess that I have totally under rated Johnson, he seems to bowl tripe half the time but boy, he has certainly joined elite company.

    Also I had to come in stinking smelly and foul from a morning at the gym, then in the garden and then cutting and edging lawns to sit down in our lounge room as is (my wife was at work) and see the last five or so runs leading to Watson’s century. The fact that it was broken up by the lunch break was no help at all. And if he wasn’t nervous then I certainly was. Beverley could have come home at any time.

  4. Peter Schumacher says:

    Bloody Johnson. Fixed up Umar Akmal and the Test!. So much for my “expert” prognostications. Umar WAS found wanting!

  5. Peter, I thought it was clearly Katich’s fault. The only criticism I could make of Watson was that he did not call loudly. Which is something I don’t understand. I call loudly EVERY time. Yes, no, wait, doesn’t matter. No crowd noise, doesn’t matter.

    Regarding Johnson, his best is top class but what he threw up between his best in England was a large contributor to Australia’s loss of the Ashes. His round-arm action leaves a lot of room for error. To his credit, he has tightened up significantly this summer and particularly this match. Leaking runs is not a huge problem if you are pitching the ball up and inviting the drive. But the short stuff was way too prevalent in England. It seems every generation needs to relearn that the short ball is an effective weapon when used as a shock ball only. Looks like it’s finally sinking in for Johnno, perhaps because he’s been watching Dougie. He will go from good to great if this lesson remains with him.

    Siddle has bowled well but could benefit from pitching it up another foot or two.

    Good to see you at the gym, even if it added to the nerves! Planning a comeback like that other Schumacher…?

  6. Hauritz gets K Akmal – pivotal moment.

  7. Hauritz gets Aamer for a golden and is on a hattrick. Extra-pivotal moment.

  8. Abdur Rauf scores a run. Pity he couldn’t prevent Watson’s 100th.

  9. Bollinger hits the woodwork. Is that called “Bolliwood”?

    Either way it’s a super-extra-pivotal moment.

  10. Peter Schumacher says:

    Not this year or next, no! Merely trying to stave off senile dementia!

  11. Johnson’s weakness showed up clearly in his last over before lunch. When he tried to bowl a couple of bouncers, his action became much more round arm than his already round-ish action. As a result, he was way off line.

  12. Warnie’s flipper?
    did Shane get a dolphin?

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