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