Gabba Test – Day 1
It is a magnificent morning in Brisbane: big, blue clean sky and light as white as you will fine. As good a seeing day as cloudless Adelaide. There’s already a bit of sting in the sun as the English Lion has found out. The young woman unpeeling her costume under the poincianas is red-faced and panting. She looks terrible. I ask if she is alright. Her friend, the Kangaroo, is handling it better.
People mill. Poms everywhere. A distinguished-looking English gent in egg and bacon tie alights a council bus on Stanley Street, his elegant wife on his arm. Barmy Army members, looking old, gather in packs. At the nets they watch Ian Bell as Gooch flings a few down. If the middle is like the practice wickets there are going to be runs galore.
I wander across to Stones Corner to buy the Courier Mail. It doesn’t let me down. The front page wrap-around invites us to celebrate Bundaberg Rum’s 125th anniversary with Dan Murphy. The wonderful Queensland organ is tending towards the Territorian. And with some reason: they’ve found a croc in the Mary River just 200km north.
Play starts at 10 o’clock; there is no daylight saving in Queensland. As I find my crew – Otis, Spud and a few of his mates from England – we settle in at the top of the stand on the Vulture Street side. The Australians make Faulkner twelfth man and, with the wicket that beautiful straw-colour of a placid Brisbane deck, Clarke calls correctly and the Australians will bat.
An opera singer in a powder-blue suit belts out God Save the Queen: he’s chosen an epic version which stirs the English crows. And there are plenty of them. Australian have the numbers though.
I am not feeling optimistic about the Australians chances – even in these conditions. I don’t like Warner’s approach. I think Australia start with a gamble.
Jimmy Anderson bowls the first delivery of the series to Rogers. It’s on a good length, right on the spot, moving away ever-so-slightly and hurrying the left-hander. He follows up with a tight over. The carry is good.
Cook throws the ball to Broad who is already copping heaps from the crowd. A bloke near us has made himself a T-shirt: “You’re a sh!t bloke Broad”.
He fires the first one in short and Warner, in no need of a sighter, hooks it confidently to the backward square leg boundary. Take that! The crowd love it. So much for the short-barrage-from-tall-bowlers approach which has gained currency in the couple of months since the Oval. Even the Poms are impressed. Warner follows up with a drive which smacks into the fence at cover.
In the fourth over Broad gets one to climb on Rogers, who has looked very nervy, and he gloves it to Bell in the gully. He trudges off a shattered man.
Warner is unperturbed and fires off a couple more boundaries so by the end of the fourth over the score is 1/23 and the match has the hint of Test/20 about it. Warner cannot survive aiming to flog these good length deliveries on the rise.
Watto moves dozily. He prods forward and then reacts. The Poms have studied him. They know he can’t play around that big front pad so they don’t have a fine leg, just a deep square leg for the front-foot swivel –pull. And two blokes pretty straight for the on-drive.
He is lucky not to be caught in the gully as he peels one over the top – a truly awful shot. But he digs in. And, to the surprise of most of us, so does Warner. The little puncher waits patiently, defending with sound technique. The battle is on.
The Australians look to be wining it. It’s hot. The track looks friendly. Swann is on early (both batsmen use their feet to him from the outset in what looks like a plan). There will be runs for the established batsman.
Watto is established when, with four minutes to go until lunch, he gets caught out by his poor footwork and nicks a shorter one to Swann who takes a fine catch falling to his right at second slip. He’s been done by length. He trudges off in a Watto-sulk.
We are surprised to see Clarke. Those of us in Row WW have assumed a lunch-watchman would come in.
“Is there time to complete the over?” Otis asks.
The skipper walks out on a hiding to nothing, and survives the three deliveries from Broad, who has his tail up as he heads into the sheds to peruse the menu.
Lunch is for beer at the back of the stand and a pie which seems to have been in the warmer since the end of the footy season. I am still not confident and suggest the Australians are a couple of wickets away from losing the Test match on what should be 350-400 track (minimum).
Then, before we can work out whose shout it is, Clarke is surprised by a lively, short one to the rib cage and fends it to Bell at short leg. The touring Poms are bouncing in the stands.
Steve Smith gets settled in that Steve Smith sort of way that makes you conclude he must have a great eye because he is very un-Bell-like insofar as organised technique is concerned. He carves a few beautifully-timed inside-out off-drives which Mark Waugh would have dispatched to the forward square leg boundary.
Warner remains patient. I am changing my tune. This is a mature and responsible innings. There is more meditation and less pre-meditation in it. He looks like a Test batsman.
Just as we are talking about his innings he loses concentration and lifts a back foot drive straight to Pietersen at cover. Broad has four wickets and is giving it to all concerned.
George Bailey comes to the crease on debut with the best wishes of the Australian crowd behind him. His feet are iffy, and again the Poms sort him out on length. It’s the one just short of a good length that has troubled the Australians and he nicks to Cook, as the ever-fidgeting Steve Smith does, and the lunch-time prediction comes true, sadly. Australia: 6/132.
The mood of the crowd is resignation. Haddin and Johnson show gritty resistance at a time when the grandstand expects another wicket. We have looked to other sources of amusement.
They bat well against a tiring attack, but an attack which maintains its accurate assault. Picking the right ball to hit – including some big, lofted shots – they post a century stand. Until Broad shapes one back into Johnson and it’s through the gate.
The Australian crowd appreciates the partnership. “The bowlers save us again,” a bloke nearby says. “Now we just have to get our batsmen to bowl.”
Siddle comes and goes. And Harris, who has the Test duck in his repertoire plays straight until stumps.
We decamp to the Lord Stanley Hotel. In the debrief we decide that Broad, like Corporal Jones, has shoved a hot one up ’em, and the short delivery has had a significant impact after all.
The Poms may have it right – again.