First Test – Day 4: Marvin Vaas dons the white shorts

On a pitch as bone dry as the humour of comedian Steve Wright, Australia ended the fourth day in the ascendancy. Set 393 to win, Sri Lanka reached 2/65 at stumps.

This Australian side, constructed in such a bizarre way that its two most prolific run scorers present at 5 and 6 and its three best bowlers don’t take the new ball, began Day 4 with a comfortable lead of 141 runs.

Australia’s Felix (Cowan) and Oscar (Warner), both wielding Gray-Nicholls bats, began confidently. Bellerive-specialist Warner thrashed freely and brutally when given generous width outside the off-stump. So indeed did Cowan. The obligatory deep point was employed a mere ten minutes after play commenced. Early doors, runs flowed like the tidal water passing by One Arm Point. The large variance in line and length suggested that the standard of bowling in the opening overs was suburban at best.

As the morning session progressed, a combination of an ageing ball, appreciably lower bounce and stump-to-stump bowling caused the runs to dry up. Endeavouring to counter this, Warner and Cowan took guard incrementally closer to the point of ball release. Defensive crouched strokeplay became the norm. Bats became shovels.

On 34, Cowan survived a bizarre review. The off-cutter missed his bat by a long way. The Sri Lankans haven’t had a good match insofar as their reviews are concerned. The previous evening, Cowan was plumb LBW. For reasons not fathomable, they didn’t implement the DRS.

Warner reached his 50 with a violent baseball-style pull. Thereafter, he began moving around the crease, inventing shots and, as a consequence, upping the run rate. A slog sweep on one knee went for a Tom Mix. A right-handed-switch-hit-slog cannoned into the boundary rope. Should such a stroke be allowed? Cowan notched his 50 with a neat back cut boundary.

The Odd Couple guided Australia to 0/132 (a lead of 246) before Warner perished for 68. The canny Herath produced a delivery that went the other way. Warner nicked it off the toe of the bat and through to the keeper who took the catch safely despite needing a second attempt.

Soon after, Cowan got a ripper of a delivery that cut back and bowled him. This brought the rightly maligned Watson to the crease. Hughes and Watson copped a decent spell of reverse swing and cut just prior to lunch.

Australia went to lunch on 2/146, a lead of 260.

After lunch we saw the ‘best’ of our beloved Watto. At 3/153, and soon after padding up to a straight one and being fired LBW (decision subsequently rescinded), Watto dreamily lunged forward to Herath, overbalanced and was stumped. Soporific and slumberous Watto frustrated yet again. At least he didn’t run anybody out.

The balance of the Australian side continues to irk. The inexperienced top three in the batting order seem to be doing their level best to make their way in Test cricket. It’s a tough game. Hughes and Cowan aren’t finding it easy. Will they be cruelly exposed by Anderson, Finn, Bresnan and Swann at Trent Bridge next July?

The incumbent second-drop is ‘too experienced’. Watto’s mental and physical inadequacies conspire to limit his output to frustrating Bob Cunis-like 30’s with the bat and teasing bowling cameos leaving you wanting more.

Is he fit for Test cricket? There’s no doubt he’s gym fit. Is Australia better off without him? It’s an interesting question. I’m always worried about Test players who are scared of ghosts. And I’m even less sure now where I’d bat him.

Strangely, Wade was promoted in the order to bat at five.

Hughes, cramped for room, played on to Welegedara for 16. Hughes’s footwork remains a concern. The lack of balance and poor head position that contributed to his first innings dismissal was more worrying however.

Clarke and Wade, with adroit footwork, threatened to share in an enterprising partnership. However, Wade lost his head and holed out to long-on off Herath’s bowling. It’s a reminder for the young custodian that feet and head must be in synergy.

Clarke’s annus mirabilis at the batting crease continued after Wade’s demise. After making a sparkling 57, characterised by cuts, drives and slog sweeps, Clarke appeared to tweak his hamstring while running between wickets. Will he be fit to lead Australia here and in Melbourne? Watto, Australian cricket’s version of Dan Quayle, could, unbelievably, become Australia’s 44th Test captain. Coincidentally, Quayle served as the 44th Vice President of the United States and thankfully never as Commander-in-Chief.

Australia’s last few wickets fell quickly and cheaply. On 4, Siddle nicked a cutter to the keeper who took a superb diving catch while Starc was adjudged LBW to a full-length delivery for 5. Both fell to Welegedara, who bowled with Vaas-like guile. Lyon tried to hit Herath onto Macquarie Island and was bowled in the process for 11 while Hilfenhaus was defeated by a Herath skidder and given out LBW. Herath deserved his Michelle Pfeiffer and will very likely take the most Test wickets in 2012.

With Clarke incapacitated as a precaution, Australia finished at 9/278 with Hussey remaining unconquered on 31.
After tea, and on a pitch displaying ever-widening cracks bordering on the cavernous, Sri Lanka embarked on their 393-run target. Never has a Sri Lankan outfit scored as many runs to win a Test. Thankfully for Australia, Watto entered the arena behind Clarke.

Karunaratne and Dilshan took the score to 25 before Watto dismissed the first-innings centurion with his first second-innings offering. Despite his many limitations and infuriating traits as a batsman, Watto, curiously enough, is a naturally intelligent bowler. If he could guarantee soundness, maybe he should bat below the keeper and bowl first change? That’s a big if though.

Sangakkara nicked Lyon to Clarke at slip who inexplicably lost sight of it and spilt an easy chance. As Sehwag found out yesterday in Nagpur, you can’t afford to let your concentration slip in the slips. Karunaratne taunted Warner with a number of run-out opportunities. Sangakkara, with his feet, and Lyon, with newly-found curve and subtle changes in trajectory, tried to outwit each other. Theirs was a fascinating duel. The sort of duels you don’t get in T20. Just on that, is the standard of T20 cricket any good? I have reservations.

At 1/46, Starc produced a sandshoe crusher to bowl Karunaratne. Even at a young age, I fear Starc could be as enigmatic as the other Mitchell.
The two greats, Sangakkara and Jayawardene, batted with grit and skill in the gloom to see Sri Lanka through to stumps for the loss of two wickets. Siddle’s will for the fight has greatly impressed this summer.

Australia has the advantage of bowling on a wicket that’s starting to play plenty of tricks. Several amusing grubbers brought humour to both sides late in the day. Wade didn’t see the humour. However, Australia is once again a bowler down.

It’s not going to be easy to force a win. Another draw will raise plenty of questions about the balance, nature and personnel that make up this Test bowling attack.

Comments

  1. Marvellous, Marvin.
    Loved the Felix and Oscar similie. Johnson, Starc and Hastings as Moe, Larry and Curley Joe? Hilfy and Cummins have more pratfalls than Eric Sykes and Rowan Atkinson.
    My favourites will always be Wood and Darling as the Road Runner and Wiley Coyote. Beep Beep.
    What other real life comedy acts have inhabited the cricket field?
    “Test” is to cricket, as “champion” is to racehorse and footballer.

  2. Marvin – any chance that this game could end in a Bob Cunis draw? Aussie’s excuse is being a bowler and a captain short, maybe a bit of rain, Lankans dig in and get a run an hour, and at the end of it all we are all none the wiser?

  3. Watto, a Q i have. When did he last pass 50 in a test? I’m aware of his two test tons. The most recent is over 2 years ago, but curious re his most recent tally over 50. Can you advise?

    Glen!

  4. John Butler says:

    Was down there for the weekend PF. Didn’t know you were in the vicinity.

    Watching Stark on Sunday, he only really looked to bend his back in one spell. Curious. But at least he produced the only yorker bowled in over 3 hours to finally dismiss Dilshan.

    Glen, Watto’s last 50 was 8 innings ago – 56 in April in the West Indies.

  5. Ta JB, i’d forgotten.

    Cheers,

    Glen!

  6. Andrew Starkie says:

    Clarke’s catch was a ripper. Injured hamstring and all.

    Sanga is beautiful to watch. So balanced and graceful.. balletic.

    would love to see SriL have a go at this total.

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