Woke Saturday morning to the predictable alarm of temple and bladder. “Two beers good; four reds bad” as George Orwell famously wrote. There is no need for the radio alarm that wakes us at 5.30 during the work week. But I am viticulturally attuned to the same time anyway.
I take the 10 minute wander to the 24 hour convenience store for the Saturday West and the Weekend Oz. The only two newspapers I buy these days. Everything else comes digitally.
I pause at the bench in Beaufort Park to let Shandy the Wonder Dog off his leash for a sniff and a constitutional. Using the time to rummage through the detritus of job, house and car ad supplements. The papers are unusually heavy today, weighed down with early Christmas Sale brochures.
They all go in the bin. I wonder if the Three Wise Men followed a star, or whether a trail of fliers from the Bethlehem Bugle were blown east on the wind? Did the first Bible PR guy say “go with the star, our audience is sick of rampant commercialism”.
I come across the form guide. Harms sent an email asking who wanted to write about Saturday’s Group 1 racing at Ascot. Here is an early preview of my report “a horse won/punters lost”. The Tabform follows the furniture flyers into the park bin.
The Avenging Eagle and I are creatures of habit. Sunday is swimming morning. Saturday is lounge in bed and devour equal parts coffee, olive bread and newspapers.
The cricket starts at 8am in Perth due to the time difference. I am wondering how to break the news that I cannot linger as long as usual.
“I’m taking mum shopping today and I’ve promised I’ll pick her up at 9. Sorry,” AE suddenly announces.
I look forlorn. I have much practice at looking forlorn, and it comes in handy when glee is the inappropriate response.
“That’s ok. I’ve got plenty to do in the garden,” consoling her that idle hands will not produce the devil’s work of Saturdays gone.
And this time I am not embellishing. Our covered jarrah deck with its paved surrounds, trickling water feature, and raised garden beds full of magnolias, camellias, rosemary and star jasmine is my favourite room. We call it ‘Shandy’s Room’ and we join him for breakfast and dinner most days in the warmer months. Big glass windows open onto our lounge and kitchen so I can watch TV without ever going inside.
Most nights the Avenging Eagle goes inside after dinner for her fix of dramas and soapies. I light the citronella candles to ward off the monster mozzies, and read the web or write Almanac pieces (ain’t wifi grand) in the cooler outside air.
My cricket routine is always the TV with the sound off. With AE joining me at the outside table our accompaniment is Jackson Browne on the CD player. I periodically glance over my right shoulder, confident in the ease with which Warner and Rogers disposed of the English attack in the last session yesterday.
Soon I am shaking my head in frustration. “Bad news or is the coffee too hot?” AE enquires, ignorant of Rogers’ back foot poke. I am sure that Boof has told Rogers to keep the scoreboard moving and rotate the strike. Watching Rogers try to play expansive strokes is like watching a 14YO boy gather up the courage to kiss a pretty girl. He wants to do it, but he thinks he’s out of his league.
My favourite Martian strides to the crease looking like a refugee from a Tab Hunter beach movie. Next time I look up he is doing the standard disbelieving trudge off. I watch the replay and am struck with similar disbelief. Did he think he was at the MA Chidambaram Stadium batting for the Rajasthan Royals?
I am reminded of the hot-headed young pitcher Nuke Laloosh (Tim Robbins) in my all-time fave sports movie Bull Durham. Crash Davis (Kevin Costner pre Waterworld) is the ageing catcher sent down to the minor leagues to teach the air head some patience and strategy. When Nuke refuses Crash’s signals to mix some sliders in with the fastballs, he tells him “the trouble with you Nuke is that you got a million dollar arm, and a ten cent brain”. I rest my case.
The thought of yesterday’s 6 for 9 collapse sent me into a panic. Time to make some changes. Enough of these Jackson Browne laments: “The Pretender” indeed. I bring on Bob Dylan from the Vulture Street end, and “Ring them Bells” seemed to have an immediate effect.
Clarke clearly wasn’t going to let the Englishmen dominate him like in the first innings, and he was immediately driving crisply and pulling with authority. As a batsman I rate him with Greg Chappell at the second rung of Australian players behind Bradman. Better than Ponting as his footwork is better against spin, and he has Steve Waugh’s grit with Mark’s elegance.
He has had to do it on his own as the captain and leading light in a fading team, and he has never let the pressures get on top of him. He is the lead by example type more than the big talker, but he has stayed resolute while others have flailed around him.
Warner is a pugnacious type but he is a glorious striker of the ball, and I get the impression that he really cares for the Baggy Green despite his sometimes over-exuberance. As a test opener his instinct for which ball to defend and which to attack is improving all the time. An instinct that is totally lost on my favorite Martian, despite his much greater experience.
By now AE had departed on her daughterly duties, and Drew, Jim and Aggers had supplanted his Bobness. Initially the long delay between radio and TV was annoying me, but as a casual watcher I now find it preferable. There is plenty of warning of when I need to avert my gaze from newspaper or secateurs to the screen to watch a crashing shot or a close chance.
The delay must be less in the Eastern States as the ABC commentators would refer to a replay that was still some time off in the West. Strong headwinds across the Nullabor?
Early on there was a 20 minute rain interruption. I worried that Channel 9 might show one of their rain delay replays of Tubby and Slats opening the batting. If I went out for a while I wouldn’t know if that was a replay or the telecast delay was getting longer. Lose a whole day to rain and they’ll be showing Simpson and Lawry when we resume.
Ah well, it is the Day of the Doctor so I should get used to time travel in parallel universes on both #2 and #9.
As Clarke and Warner get into their rhythm at the Gabba, I am getting into mine in the garden, armed with tranny and earphones. Strict batting order. Front first, backyard second. Prune, trim, find Shandy’s hidden presents, blower vac, pressure cleaner, dealgify water feature.
The cricket commentary makes the day float. What could be a chore is a transcendental meander when there is cricket or footy in the background. I hear more than listen. There is a rhythm to sporting commentary that alerts me when excitement or controversy arise, so I should tune back in.
After the cricket lunch break, Drew starts to sound like a kid on bumpem cars at the Royal Show as Australia’s batsmen quickly move through the gears. Time for my morning coffee so I can watch the plunder through the feature windows. By this stage I have accumulated enough grime to turn the leather sofa from beige to brown, so the lounge room is a definite no-no.
Cuppa and toasted fruit scones (stale ones a few days past the use by date taste great toasted) while I peruse the digital edition of the Melbourne Age on the Ipad. Tony Wright’s article about coming in from collecting his rabbit traps on the Saturday (Australian time) that JFK died stops me cold.
I am 8 years old again and have come in from my back yard test to find mum crying at the laminex table. The bakelite radio has been moved from the sideboard to the centre of the kitchen table, and dad is fiddling with knobs as he turns from station to station. There was no FM band in those days but we had Short Wave, and I think dad was fiddling for the Voice of America.
“Kennedy has been shot. Someone has shot the President. We don’t know if he is going to live or die.” I remember that it seemed like an age between the first reports and the ultimate confirmation of his death, even though it is now obviously inevitable from the distance of history.
I retreat to my backyard fantasies. Twirling leggies and wronguns with a tennis ball in hope of a callup now that Benaud seems on the wane. The first test against South Africa at the Gabba is still a fortnight away, but some bloke called Pollock has just made 120 at the SCG against a full strength NSW attack including Australia’s captain.
Radio was the centrepiece of my life growing up. We had a black and white Pye television (it did not become tv for another decade). But it only came on in the afternoon and there was no satellite link, so pictures of the Dallas shooting would take days to arrive on cine film flown in from overseas before we could see the pictures of a lady crying more than even my mum.
Soon we would move to Renmark on the Murray River up near the Victorian border and radio would regain its primacy. Television required a 60 foot aerial perched on the chimney that only dragged in a watchable snowy picture from Adelaide every third night when the weather gods got the right bounce off the ionosphere.
The bakelite radio would be back on the laminex table again for important occasions like the 1966 VFL Grand Final when dad tuned into 3WV from Horsham, and we both cheered St Kilda over the line in a fevered last quarter against the hated Magpies.
I was given a red ‘portable’ radio the size and weight of two house bricks that would be tucked under the winter blankets to listen to my summer heroes Chappell, Mallett, Jarman and Freeman as they failed to regain the Ashes in a rain-sodden tour by Bill Lawry’s team.
I can’t keep dreaming, I am only half way through front yard duties and there is a test to be won, so I reluctantly leave Clarke and Warner to continue their 158 run partnership that takes us into safer waters. Both are eventually dismissed when they seem in total control. Warner is always a ball to ball proposition, but somehow I thought a double ton was inevitable given Clarke’s history. When I look at the manner of his dismissal I wonder if his innings wasn’t an even greater triumph of the will by a captain with both wounded pride and wounded back.
Smith and Bailey come and go. Neither convincing and probably guaranteed another test more by a winning side and lack of competition than their own form. One thing is that they are both good team men and good fieldsmen who caught well in the English innings. Bailey’s blinder to snaffle Pietersen at short mid-wicket was a turning point. You persist with team men because they find a way to contribute even when they are struggling.
Haddin and Johnson continue their first innings marauding and I am getting into the home straight now with my lunch break delayed several times so I can get in a solid hour’s watching with my toastie. Eventually both Clarke and I get sick of the same old, and we call the garden innings closed.
Momentum and psychology are as big a part of life and sport as skill and effort. In the winter series whenever the game teetered in the balance, the card always fell the English way. Now there are no aces in their deck.
Carberry gets solidly behind a short rearing ball from Rhino, that 99 times out of 100 rebounds off a solid inside edge into the pads. This is #100 and Carberry is perfectly nutmegged through straddled legs onto his stumps.
In the English winter every Cook and Flower plan went to hand. Every Clarke and Lehmann strategy went a metre either side with a quick ‘bugga’. The cricket gods have taken mercy on us. If you bowled the ball toward cover point, Trott would still give it a wristy flick through mid-wicket for two. This time he flicks a rising ball from Johnson like a tracer at head height straight to Lyon at backward square leg who holds a fine catch above his head. A yard either side???
That is stumps and both the Australians and myself can take pride in our toil. AE will beam at her neatened roses and gleaming pavers. Happy wife; happy life. She is exhausted from doing a tagging job of Gazza Jnr proportions on her inexhaustible mother, who is like a greyhound on the lure when she catches sight of the ‘sales’ bunny.
Despite consistent exertions my day seems strangely zen-like calm. Cricket on the radio when the gods are smiling will do that for you.
As for the future, this Test is a done deal. But I have this feeling that there is a hint of the 2010 Cats about the Poms. They are proud men, and though ageing, skill and class don’t disappear overnight. This has been a brilliant Test where the biggest joy has been a true bouncy Gabba wicket after the low, slow, miserable English and Indian fleabags.
I am in love with Test Cricket again. I am in love with my radio. And I am grateful to be back in love with life and the Avenging Eagle after some shaky times a decade ago. Bliss.
We are off to Fremantle for dinner with friends and a couple of sem-sauvs in a street café. I even smile at men in purple shirts.