Gabba Test: Day 2

Australia took the points on Day 2 of the First Test at the Gabba. But in the tight struggle which took place in showers-always-possible conditions England would have had her arm raised had it had a knockout blow, and had Michael Hussey not been such a counter-puncher. He played one of his finest innings.

When the rain came in the final session, the covers were secured, and clearly the umpires were ready for a gin and tonic. Australia had reached 5/220. Given that is just three balls away from 8/220 (more on that later) the match looks evenly poised. Relatively few demons lurk in this placid wicket, although, as is the case with any Gabba wicket, the very best bowlers will find them. As will the mediocre batsmen.

By the time Katich and Watson made their way out to the middle I was back in Melbourne having enjoyed a wonderful first day’s play. I can make a tradition out of many things (Friday night beers at the North Fitzroy Arms is a time-honoured tradition), but the gathering of old uni mates at the Gabba Test each year is one of the most important.

This year we were separated by the tyranny of ticketing, a problem never experienced in the glorious days of the Hill; days which (without exception) contributed to the body of memory upon which these traditions are built. In my group: Spud, Otis and TG. A couple of groups in another section. And Sparrow and Nathan in the Gabba Trust area.

However most of us made the time-honoured lunch at the Thai Rose, where consensus suggested Sheeds had aged the least in the 12 months and I was given a podium-finish.

Inside the ground the atmosphere was just brilliant; an atmosphere of Poms on tour and needing to wear Pommy paraphernalia. The new Barmy Army touring shirt features Rolf Harris, Dame Edna, Ned Kelly, Steve Irwin and Warnie which shows how we are perceived in the Old Dart.

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Lots of Poms wore their soccer kits, and many their local cricket club shirt although where we were (smack-bang in the outer on ground level at the Stanley St at about third slip) the fitness levels of those wearing club shirts gave some insight into the plight of English cricket over the last 30 years. We could have run a book on which Pom in the row behind us was going to have a stroke first. They looked like those Poms on the beaches of south-western Turkey, a spot they visit to drink heavily and rescue their hangovers the next morning with that well-known Turkish fare: the fry-up.

Many women had also made the trip and the girls-on-tour types had that wonderful girls-on-tour look. The woman just near us had clearly been influenced by Samanatha Fox and had cultivated the page three look rather successfully. She was proud of what could only be described as a rack, and led with them in all social engagements. (TG nearly had his eye taken out). One chap was overheard to say as she forced her way past, “I wouldn’t like to be paying the postage on that.”

Like all those in Section 24, she knew her cricket. So the mood of uncertainty was palpable. As obvious as it sounds this crowd was genuinely wondering what was going to happen. Because anything could.

Strauss won the toss and got himself out nervously. The Poms began to bat formulaically, as if a decision had been brought down at the team meeting that all had to take a take a long stride forward on what was a slow track for the Gabba. And then work it out from there. The decision was to prove costly. If ever there is a wicket where you play the ball on its merits it’s the Gabba.

The Australians bowled with equivalent artistry. Except for Watson who, like Beefy Botham of old, was trying to find a way to get the batsmen out. He got through Trott. And then the game meandered along with the Englishmen getting into a good position only to find a way to get out.

Then the moment. Alastair Cook had scratched around forever and the Australians were frustrated they couldn’t dislodge him. Siddle kept banging it in from the Vulture Street end, but finally worked out this was a length wicket. He had found the right length to Pietersen whose premeditated footwork got him into an awkward position. Now he found the right length to Cook who nicked to Watson at slip.

The crowd stirred. Post-lunch, now into the rhythm of beer-drinking (XXXX Gold), it applauded and hoped for another breakthrough. As Prior approached the crease it found voice. When the ‘keeper played all round one it rose instinctively and cheered wildly. Prior trudged back to the pavilion and, as if in tune with the moment, the umpires left the off-stump tilted back, for a long time. I kept watching it, listening to the crowd, now riotously alive. It was like a scene from a battlefield.

Even those who had been on it since breakfast knew that the wood-chopper Siddle was on a hat-trick and that realization had the crowd in a frenzy. Siddle charged in and when their was a flurry of feet and over-balancing and no sound of the bat the crowd  (at least half of the crowd) went up in instinctive appeal. The finger was raised. Pandemonium. Then the challenge. More pandemonium after the showing of the replays. The decision stands.

And so the Poms were under more pressure, which Ponting did his best to release at various times. Bell played some nice shots but his tail eventually fell and England made just 260.

Having survived the evening Watson and Katich looked to dig in on day two. Watson also had front-foot disease but the English bowlers, knowing they had to get the ball up there, put a few in his slot and he punched them back up the ground. Meanwhile Katich danced about. Only he could make Alastair Cook look like David Gower. But he survived as well and the runs started to accumulate. Then Anderson, who had been unlucky (when Hawkeye showed that the decision to give him out LBW was misguided and that the ball was going over the top) had Watson in no-man’s-land and he was caught by Strauss at slip.

Ponting looked uncomfortable, his footwork and hands rather jerky. He made it through to lunch but then found one of the worst ways to be dismissed, caught glancing.

Finn bowled well for a young man, getting a few to go away off the seam from the right-handers in a fashion which was too good for Michael Clarke (and most who have ever held a willow). When Katich presented him with a low caught and bowled chance the big man got down quickly and snaffled it.

This brought Hussey to the crease. He has not had good publicity in recent times, and it might have been worse had an early nick carried a few centimeters further to Swann at second slip. Having survived that he set about waiting for the bad ones which he dispatched, driving and pulling capably, and later confidently.

At the other end Clarke played a nothing swat and was caught behind and North did nothing for his future or the current task by capitulating to a gentle off-spinner from Swann. This was a great relief to Swann who was being belted around the park until then, but started to bowl with zing (if off-spinners can ever bowl with zing).

Haddin owed the team plenty after an awful dropped catch the day before and he seemed to play with a guilty conscience. It was a disciplined supporting role to Hussey who kept the scoreboard ticking over.

At 5/143 the Australians had been in real strife. This partnership, under much personal and collective pressure, should not be under-estimated. Both players should be applauded, but particularly Hussey. Names like Hussey and Haddin don’t have the gravitas of Ponsford and Bradman. Nor do we write about innings, nor remember them, the way they used to be considered. The reasons for that are a discussion for another day. But this was a significant innings for Hussey.

And how long it continues today will do a lot to decide this Test match and, dare I say, the series.

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 - Theo10, Anna8, Evie7. 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. I am calling you Nostraharmus from now on. 307 runs and you get the feeling that the game and series are swinging Australia’s way.

  2. Andrew Starkie says:

    is she going to Adelaide?

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