Sydney Test – Day 3: Travelling well

Sunday, sunrise(ish). A Parkes motel. We have broken the first rule of motel selection: unless in Mexico, avoid all hacienda-style accommodation.

But it has done the trick. We are rested.

The morning is simply magnificent. Clear skies. Fresh air. The universe feeling like it goes on and on like a timeless Test. They should think about putting a telescope here to see whether it does.

We pack the car (again), and shove the kids in. The Handicapper requests a trip back into town to Coles – for (sensible)supplies. While she buys cheese and bacon rolls, chocolate milk and nectarines, we do a lap, climbing the steep hill, up past the St George’s Anglican Church where the worshippers are gathered outside for a post-service chat.

The BSC (Big Silver Car) heads south towards Forbes, and on to West Wyalong, through parched stubble country which suggests it’s been a big farming year for those around Ardlethan and Ariah Park and beyond, all those little towns which have produced their share of League footballers.

We stop at Grong Grong to give the kids a run around and so I can formulate my argument regarding access to the BSC’s sound equipment: it’s been on CD but it’s about to go onto the cricket. This could be delicate.

Pre-kids, The Handicapper insisted I use my little Sanyo radio with ear-plug while driving. This was precipitated by our driving tour of Tassie in 2003, which she calls the V.V.S. Laxman Summer because every time we turned the radio on VVS was batting.

The kids do some of their own singing. They had spent a hot afternoon at the Oakey farm watching Mary Poppins and they’re singing about spoonfuls of sugar and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Set in 1910 when the Empire was strong, and the colonial cringe stronger, Mary Poppins captures a time when cricket was secure in its meaning. Not so now. But more of the BBL and that another day.

Heading towards Jerilderie I sneak the cricket on. Rogers is consolidating. Bailey needs a score. Australia lead by heaps, and it sort of doesn’t matter if we listen or we don’t. But it does. Because I cannot be within reaching distance of an on-knob without tuning in when there’s a Test on. And it’s England. And I’ve been doing this since I was eight, when Stacky got a double ton, and G.S. Chappell made his debut, and Melbourne was washed out, and W.M. Lawry got the flick. You know the story.

Allan Border, whose commentary I like on radio (more than TV), is being very Allan Border. He cannot understand the Australian impatience. “There’s so much time,” he keeps saying. “Just bat normally.”

“What’s the rush?” he says.

He wants to set them 720 and give Harris and Johnson two overs each this evening. Forever the Depression captain.

I like his commentary for its humility (a rare thing) and that his nature shines through. You would never guess he is the one who turned things around for Australia in the late-80s. Even his voice suggests speculation rather than overt confidence.

He’s always been like that I reckon. I remember when he first arrived in Queensland from New South he was playing in a Sunday club match at St Lucia No. 1 against Uni. He made 7, and came and sat on the park bench where I had parked myself. He was wearing a pair of footy shorts – South Sydney from memory. He just chatted away.

The Australians keep blazing. Aggers tells a very poor story which Skull rightly lampoons. “Is that it?” he asks. It is not a Geldoffian existential “Is that it?” More the Australian punter, you’ve-created-the-expectation-held-the-floor-and-that’s-not-remotely-funny “Is that it?”

The tribute to Skull at lunch is very entertaining, and makes you wonder where the last 13 years has gone. Remember when K. O’Keeffe was released to the world on The Fat in the days before Rebecca Wilson became an authority and the producers hadn’t been seduced by the Channel 7 cash? Dr Turf was a star. They had a segment with Ben Perkins – one of the great characters of Australian sport (taught John Eales and Warren Tredrea to kick) – which lasted two episodes. Early on, asked to comment on Adam Gilchrist Kerry said, “It’s a victory for those who have been pulled from the womb by their ears.”

That’s a long time ago. One of the illustartive things about Channel 7 snatching The Fat was that they made Tony Squires a key figure in the Sydney Olympics coverage – only most of Australia didn’t get his humour (which says that Australia tends more towards David Warner  than towards Tony Squires).

We stop again at Toke. The kids want to dip their feet in the Murray, which they do. They’re supposed to run around on the kikuyu until they are starving, then eat and sleep, so I only have to fight The Handicapper for the radio. They run around until they are red-cheeked and itchy. They eat salad sandwiches. But they decide not to sleep.

We are hurtling south. They want the CD Damian Callinan has given us for the trip; especially Track 1, Run Rabbit Run. When Flanagan and Allen recorded the number in about 1938, they wouldn’t have expected such popularity among a car full of kids traveling down the Newell.

The radio is on again. The Poms are struggling. Within minutes Pietersen – he who appears to care little – is dismissed. And more wickets fall. It’s five for not many. The game is over. England are rabble.

I recognise their plight. I have played in rabble sides. Sides of reasonable cricketers who can’t take a trick; whose confidence is shot. Wests reserve grade in Toowoomba was one of them. I remember getting belted every week until  Geoff Folker and I, boys against hardened men, finally batted together for three hours at the picket-fenced 7SD ground, to put on about 70, our side making 130 on what seemed like a minefield. Then their openers strode out and picked the runs off before stumps, making it look like the Adelaide Oval track. Or our Union College side where balls just short of a length (not too bad) were dispatched onto the mound at Women’s College by the gorillas of St Leo’s. Yet, when they were bowled at us seemed to fly past our chins?

How does this happen?

It’s an appropriate end to a disappointing series. A contest would have been better. But you have to hand it to the Australian bowlers, and fieldsmen, and the skipper who was in rare form with the baton.

I have not seen anyone bowl as quickly as Johnson on day 2 at the Gabba for years. And then again in Adelaide. Harris’s ball to Cook was the peachiest of all. Siddle did what he had to (on a diet of bananas as we were told about five times each day). And Lyon did a lot more than the scorebooks record. He bowled superbly at Carberry early in the series, and was letting them rip with confidence after Christmas. He wasn’t dismissed for the duration, so I am starting a campaign: Lyon For a Century Average. He has been dismissed 18 times only, in 38 Test innings. He averages nearly 17.

Add Watto to the bowling mix and you have an attack which can get through a top order and beyond. Under pressure, what happens to that attack? How close is a top team from demise? How fine is the line?

The batting remains brittle. But, just as Alistair Cook may claim his batsmen were in poor form, you’d have to say the Australian top order were scratchy and patchy as well. Apart from Haddin (at No. 7!) no-one had the feet, the timing, the flow of a class player at the top of his game. Rogers fought. Warner was hit and miss, but tried earnestly to build an innings at crucial times (like the Gabba). The skipper was only properly in a couple of times. Watto is irrelevant. Smith is still thinking about technique and the vagaries of idiosyncrasy. Bailey’s good-blokeness, and catching, was handy and will need to be quantified by the mystics who take on selection duties. (Good luck! But I would have him). But England had Australia on the ropes many a time, which makes Haddin’s performance even better. And it should never be forgotten that the post-Tea runs of Johnson on Day 1 at the Gabba may be the most significant moment of the whole shebang.

So much to think about as the kids play pillow soccer across the back seat prompting me to take the truck bypass around Shep. We’d had 40 degrees through Moree and Narrabri so to come over the range at Seymour to 14 degrees and a sou’wester is something of a shock to the system.

We are on St George’s Road by the time Jim Maxwell clumsily farewells Skull. No doubt Skull has been entertaining, and astute over the years.  And maverick.  A career summed up in his “Stand up” and “Five-nil” chants as Michael Clarke took the catch to end the series. That was K. O’Keeffe.

For me, Johnson’s performance was the most memorable element of the series. It ranks him with the very best all-rounders. It should be talked about forever. He made runs when it mattered. He supported Haddin when it mattered. He smashed through the English batsmen.

Unpacking the car is always a drag, but it has to be done.

The kids crash. I water the garden.

 

John Harms is on Twitter @ratherbeatlunch

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About John Harms

JTH is a writer and broadcaster. He is the 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 and The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story. He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - the oldest is six. 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. SR6_ai5ph956w5PCouxzpzZeAU_eFhdsnACjqusEhfU. says:

    You overlooked the Tenterfield oration but I’ll forgive you for the oversight! Having done the Qld to Melbourne recently I was with you all the way. A great summary of the cricket and fluctuating fortune. It seems to me that Craig McDermott has been overlooked in terms of the bowling turnarounds particularly wrt Mitchell Johnson. Summer has finally arrived in Melbourne and the tomatoes are coming into their own – should be a fruitful season all round.

  2. Peter Schumacher says:

    You are far more generous to your family than I was to mine, In my many Adelaide Brisbane, Townsville Brisbane, Canberra – Brisbane trips I used to insist on driving for four hours after a petrol stop and see what happened after that. For some reason they got sick of this and I had to back down. I even shared the driving duties, changing over every two hours. What a legend! The cricket was never on or so it seemed when we traveled. Probably this was due to the fact that most times we traveled through the footy season. I do remember though being introduced to “A Prairie Home Companion” and “The Hobbit” (as a serialised version) on the I think the then styled “ABC Fine Music FM” when it carried such things, during these trips. The family went for these.

  3. Classic Harms

  4. beautiful, harmsy.

  5. Mickey Randall says:

    Enjoyed your recount John. There has not been a better named cricketer than VVS.When we return home from Singapore one of my big aims is a summer driving holiday.It will be an excellent way to stretch our metaphorical legs after life here.
    Caught a little of the 5AA/3AW cricket coverage when home, primarily to hear one of my favourite callers, Tim Lane. He remains economical, and assured, but the ads at the end of each over seemed to grate more than they do on the tele. The ABC is still surely most people’s choice. Thanks for your yarn.

  6. Ian Hauser says:

    Harms,

    My favourite “listening to the cricket while driving the Newell” story happened in a previous family incarnation in the 80s or early 90s when the kids were young. We were somewhere south of West Wyalong when a rain interruption to play had the commentators filling in with stories from yesteryear. One recalled a John Arlott moment from a county match when the South African Clive Rice bowled five consecutive balls to a batsman who played each delivery sedately to the cover fieldsman who happened to be of Irish lineage. When the sixth ball followed the same path, Arlott’s commentary was, “Rice bowls, Paddy fields.” Can’t you hear Skull chortling?

    And on that note, a fond farewell to Skull about whom Paul Simon might have written his song, “Still crazy after all these years” – and thank God he was!

  7. I had the toughest kangaroo meat I’ve ever eaten at the café next to the Parkes Dish.

    Good pubs in town as I recollect.

    Fair point re: Johnson. He is an all-rounder.

  8. Mickey Randall says:

    Dips- Rule no 1. Never order meat at a cafe located near a radio telescope as it as already been surreptitiously microwaved to death!

  9. haiku bob says:

    classic Harmsy.
    The Newell is an old stomping ground for us.
    Some hairy moments including Dad’s incredible one-handed driving at 140 clicks while the other hand whacked indiscriminately in the back seat at me and my ducking and weaving brothers who were probably arguing over who had the most fruit tingles or marella jubes, while mum steadied the steering wheel with her spare knitting hand….

  10. Thanks John. A good read. I had a similar experience.
    By my reckoning, we were crossing the Hay Plain east to west on Day 3 of the Boxing Day Test. I pre-empted the high demand for “Mr Whiskers” and packed an aging Walkman with modern noise cancelling headphones. This stayed tuned most of the time as long as it remained close to the windscreen pillar affixed with a collection of colourful hair bands to the hand grip.
    I feigned a sociable attitude by turning to the umpire and squabbling kids with a beaming smile every half hour or so. When I found them to be asleep, I tuned the car radio to the ABC.

    While I’m at it, a story I told in my wedding speech. I was on a road trip with my bride to be and she was fiddling with the radio. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Trying to find the station where those guys chat away all the time” she replied. “You mean the cricket?” I asked. “Really” she replied as I deftly tuned the radio to the cricket. To this day I don’t know if her reply was genuine or a sarcastic retort, I must ask her.

  11. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Great stuff Harmsy yes the joys of family driving when your the only 1 who wants to listen to the cricket is always a interesting experience . Johnsons batting in general in his career has at times been disappointing he should be universally regarded as a all rounder he has a v good technique only his impatience costs him big scores consistently . It Is incredible at the age of 32 he seems to finally have arrived
    Mickey agreed re the radio I swapped over when Drew Morphett came on , enjoyed
    Tim Lane and Bluey in particular but bloody adds and Harmsy with you re Border far better on radio than , TV Thanks Harmsy

  12. Mum is from Parkes.

    nice work John…yes long Australian summer holiday drives will not be the same if we have to listen to Drew Morphett

  13. qP-yasoSzBS2vTighecGVeEFabck0hk0w4dskjNtSNg. says:

    Great read John. If Siddle had got Pieterson out one more time he would have earned the right to sing him off with “Run Rabbit Run.

  14. E.regnans says:

    beauty

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