The Poms are cracking like a teenage boy’s voice. Trott hopped out of the kitchen, Swann (perhaps the king jib in the team) took a dive, and Prior has the runs; just not the sort of runs he would like. Jimmy Anderson is sulking so much that his bottom lip is dragging on the ground, Broad has a wittle bwuise on his wittle toesy wosey, and Cook’s chook looks plucked. He learned the hard way that in Australia you can be given out first ball. After his Perth Test golden quacker his Mum rang him to explain this antipodean rule as he sat in the dressing room saying, “It’s not fair” over and over again.
As Junior Soprano said of his ageing fellow gangsters,
“They’re dropping like fu**ing flies.”
And I’m loving it.
Talking of voices cracking, Liam, our youngest, is singing at the MCG on Boxing Day as part of the pre-game ceremony. It’s his last gig with the National Boys’ Choir because his voice has Swanned………….. I mean Priored……… I mean broken. He’ll be sad to leave after being accepted into the choir seven years ago. But what a way to go out, singing in front of 80,000 or 90,000 fans at the people’s ground on Boxing Day as the Aussies prepare to demolish the English castle. His great grand parents would see a certain kind of justice in that. Unfortunately I couldn’t score a ticket as part of the entourage. My job is simply to rise at 6.15am (a massive ask after a huge Christmas Day) and transport him to the required destination. That, I believe, is a parent’s life-task summarised.
But the thing I will miss most about the choir is watching Liam on stage at Hamer Hall with about 120 of his colleagues, 60 odd from the men’s choir, and a full orchestra belting out the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah as the traditional finale to their annual Christmas concert. It’s like watching a Greg Chappell century; sublime.
Clarke wins the toss. I prepare to settle in and watch Rogers and Warner go at it, but he decides to bowl. Hubris? The return of the swagger? Time will tell. Harris takes the new ball.
I love watching Rhino bowl. He looks like a splintered old plank from an aged paling fence, and plays with the intent of a shearer attacking the occupants of the south paddock, but that doesn’t do justice to his skill. His game is based on old fashioned sweat and dedication to the craft. In these days of low fat, microwaved sport, perhaps conservatives like Rhino are the new radicals.
Cook and Carberry start carefully if scratchily. The game settles into a rhythm. Johnson sprays a few and Cook finds the gaps. A quiet subdued tension takes over the game. The crowd is hunched over in expectation. This is an occasion waiting for a moment.
Clarke throws the bowlers around somewhat impatiently. He needs to justify his decision to bowl. The only bowler who causes raised eyebrows is Nathan Lyon. He gets turn and bounce. It doesn’t augur well for the team batting last. Siddle is bowling within himself, like he’s waiting for the Christmas pudding to settle in. Suddenly he lets one go, Cook’s head says no but his hands say yes. The result is a ditherer’s shuffle and a snick to Clarke at slip. The Poms are 1 for 48. Is that the moment? Root and Carberry see the Poms through to lunch. They’re a stodgy 1 for 71 but probably satisfied. The Poms haven’t threatened to tear the game apart. They prefer death by Dutch oven.
After lunch Carberry and Root try to be brisk. A few boundaries and the scoreboard is ticking over. Watto starts wobbling the ball around. Outswinger, outswinger, inswinger. Carberry plays around an inswinger that could be the third best ball bowled this summer. His stumps rattle, the bails dance in the air, and Watto celebrates mid wicket. Carberry is almost a good player; an impressive stroker of the ball who keeps getting out. Sounds familiar. Surprisingly the Poms look brittle at 2 for 96.
Inspired by Watto, Johnson starts letting go hand grenades. Root is planted at the crease. Runs dry up. Pietersen is battling his own demons at the other end, trying to see Siddle out of the attack, the man who has dismissed him 10 times in Test cricket. The Aussies are out from under the doona. They strangle the scoring. I wander if Ross Lyon has a summer coaching job. Nonchalantly, Harris trundles in and catches the edge of Root’s bat. Gone for 26. That’s what Harris does; he takes a wicket whilst no one is looking, like a thief in the night.
The Poms slip to 3 for 106. They’re scoring at 2.32 runs an over; a rate that would have embarrassed Boycott. At one point they score 15 runs across 15 overs. I picture people right across the country snoring on their couches as yesterday’s Christmas lunch and the turgid English take their toll. But whilst Bell and Pietersen are batting the Poms would still be eying off 350 plus. And when Watto leaves the field with torn elastic in his left sock, the Poms get their best break for the day.
They get their second break for the day when Pietersen hooks one down the throat of Coulter-Nile at deep backward square leg. It looks like another English disaster. But Coulter-Nile grabs the catch close to the rope and staggers towards it. Desperately he throws the ball in the air trying to avoid the rope, but his momentum carries him across the line. Pietersen survives. It could be telling before the day is out.
Bell and Pietersen begin to make it look easy; easy to stay in that is, not easy to score. They dawdle to a fifty run partnership. Pietersen looks like he has constipation. The closest he gets to an aggressive swipe is brushing the flies away. But they don’t see Harris come back into the attack. He sneaks up to the crease, the ball zips off the pitch, and Bell groans. He’s nicked one to Haddin. Rhino does it again. He steals the Crown jewels from under the English noses. The Poms have fought very hard but can’t put a score on the board. At 4 for 173 the Aussies look dangerous. Stokes, the broad Kiwi who sings God Save The Queen, strides to the crease.
Moments later Pietersen cracks one through mid wicket straight to Bailey who decks a difficult chance. He survives again, but swallows a fly whilst taking the single, and then he has a chunder on the pitch. It must have been a very big fly; one of those big meaty black ones that hangs around at BBQs. The Aussie’s keep giving KP chances. That’s a dangerous thing to give him. Breaker Morant would never have let his ancestors off the hook so easily. Like a giant awoken, he begins to swish and swipe at the ball in between dry (and not so dry) retches, and reaches 50; a grinding un-Pietersen knock. But he’s hanging in. The fly is pronounced dead.
The Aussies take the new ball and Johnson gets Stokes stuck on the crease. His bat waves at the ball like a young girl at a Beetles concert in the 60s, and Watto takes a catch a second slip. At 5 for 202, 90,831 people roar. But the day still needs a moment. Or moments. It’s a day that’s unfolded rather than seared itself into our memories. A world record crowd wants a reason to make noise.
They get it. Almost inevitably Bairstow gets knocked over by a Johnson thunderbolt and beer fuelled yelling emanates from terraces of the MCG. There is no sound in sport quite like it. Pietersen and Bresnan get the Poms to stumps at 6 for 226. Pietersen is on an ominous 67 as he trudges to the dressing room. His still looks unsettled. Perhaps the fly has reached his large intestine.
The scoreboard looks like things are about even. Having been sent in the Poms would like to be four down with 280 on the board, but the Aussies would have been hoping to skittle them cheaply. However the feeling is that the Aussies have still won the day. Some dreary batting and very accurate bowling probably puts Australia in front on points.
Cricket seldom cooperates. It has a habit of leaving the extraordinary moments for small, connoisseur crowds. If you believe the authorities 90,831 people were at the MCG today. I have a feeling that the extraordinary moments might come on day four or five, when most of them will be at the beach.
As for Liam he is already enjoying retirement. He had Pink blasting out of his room this afternoon and he was singing at the top of his broken voice.