England won the toss and batted. Stumps Day 1, England 9 for 238, Cook 51, Lyon 4 for 42
Never has the phrase “not with a bang but a whimper” been more apt than the finish to the Third Test and with it, Australia’s attempt to get back in the Ashes contest.
You’d expect that most honest English supporters would, in their quieter moments, be disappointed they didn’t have a brilliant and memorable Ashes memory to end on, even if it was just the ceremonial flicking off of the bails by the umpires at the Oval in 2005, or the Swann-led sprinkler dance at the MCG a few years later. Instead, it must have been like arriving at the magnetic North Pole, with no marker or big flag to indicate you are in the spot. “Oh, we’re here, are we?” You are told to stand in a certain place and hope the navigator has remembered to carry the 1 or adjust for daylight savings. At least with Everest, you know you’ve made it.
I imagine the English players looked up from sending a tweet or taping silicone on their bat edges to be casually told by an official or teammate that they’d won the series. It’s not the same as sitting on the balcony nervously willing a teammate to score runs or stay in. What it needed was a tense rear-guard action, 9 down, Broad and Anderson at the crease, Siddle steaming in, fieldsmen crowded around, final over, the Poms stoutly defending.
There’s seems to be a certain amount of lack of anticipation therefore with the Fourth Test. Fittingly, it’s in Durham, which whilst an attractive ground, hasn’t any Ashes memories or history and doesn’t seem to fit in the same sentence as the Oval, Headingly or of course, Lords.
It’s like the old Peter Sellers routine when he enthusiastically talked up “Balham: gateway to the South!”.
The ground is called Chester-le-Street, which sounds like a name we discover was fortunately rejected by authors in favour of a character that later became famous. Would Harry Potter, Hercule Poirot or Jason Bourne been as good if the writer had decided upon Chester LeStreet instead? Doesn’t inspire fear or excitement does it.
A suave tall man wearing a white tux slips into his seat at the baccarat table at a Monte Carlo casino, orders a martini, lights a cigarette with ultimate coolness and says, “LeStreet, Chester LeStreet” to the beautiful girlfriend of the evil criminal mastermind.
No, doesn’t make me want to embrace the franchise there.
Australia make a change again, (yawn). In 9 Tests in this calendar year so far, we’ve used 22 players, two full sides, including nearly forgotten names like Doherty, Henriques and Maxwell. In our last win, Hussey was there at the crease when the winning run was scored and just 3 Tests ago, Maxwell opened both the batting and bowling. England are more settled through this series, and the dishing out of this round of OBEs at the series end will be a smaller crew for Liz Windsor to have to cope with.
Bird comes in. Sadly, England don’t select home town boy Onions, as a headline of Bird and Onions, sounds like Heston Blumenthal’s next pub or meal (or both). If the Poms played him as the nightwatchman, the order will be Cook, Root and Onions, which is a gastro version of Lillie caught Willey bowled Dilley. (although if it doesn’t work out, it’s followed by a case of the Trotts). But as he’s not in, I’ve been Lyon, so ring the Bell on this one.
England win the toss and bat and play like a team who don’t need to win. Cook is patient, but also plays and misses in the pre-lunch session repeatedly. He’s never flustered though, his temperament an example to others who wear their emotions too brightly.
Root falls cheaply, his Lord’s ton looking more like an aberration than ever. Looking at him, I think the greater issue overlooked of his incident with Warner was how he was ever allowed in the pub in the first place. If he’s even 20, I’m a banana.
Before this match, when we thought of Big Nick, AFL fans thought of John Nicholls. However, Root’s dismissal is an even bigger nick, bizarrely unnoticed by Tony Hill, who is sadly out of form. For once, the DRS proves its worth when used wisely.
Trott needs a score but the post lunch first hour is bland. Watson does the only thing he seems to do well in this series, bowl economically and Bird is proving to handle the local conditions well.
Lyon’s introduction changes the game and despite efforts to get on top off him, as was successfully done in the 3rd Test, he prevails. The patience England showed earlier departs them, with Bell’s premeditated post-tea charge a prime example. KP as ever is the big wicket, his efforts to dominate coming unstuck.
Bairstow is showing the advantages of being part of a winning team that selectors are unwilling to change and his progress makes Cook look like Warner. Prior’s batting form mirrors the umpire’s performance in the series.
Some late hitting flatters the last session, but Australia have now won the last 6 days of Test cricket played, a strange stat for a team so seemingly outplayed in the series.
So overall, a hit, a palpable hit has been inflicted. Again, the bowlers have done their job, and it falls to the batsmen on a good pitch to set a first innings lead.