Third Test, Day 1: Dysfunction, thy name is Pakistan

3rd Test Australia v Pakistan at Bellerive Oval, Hobart

Day 1, Thursday 14 January 2010

[Stumps score: Aust 3/302. Ponting 137*, Clarke 111*.]

by Tony Roberts

Preview

My return to work having blessedly liberated me from reliance on Channel Nine or the ABC’s deteriorating radio commentary, I followed the first day of this match via Cricinfo.

I had previously considered visiting Hobart to attend in person, because for the first time in two decades, Cricket Australia had released a schedule that gave Test cricket a chance to flourish at beautiful Bellerive. And I would have regretted my decision to drop the idea – had Pakistan chosen at appropriate stages in Sydney to engage the three lesser forward gears, rather than relying solely on top, neutral and reverse.

Australian cricket in high, school-holidays summer has of course long since been given over to Channel Nine’s favoured night-time, limited-concentration demographic. Test matches are usually dismissed from our presence by early January. Unless our season starts with a single series (England, always, West Indies, formerly, and latterly India and South Africa), Australia’s lesser cricketing visitors – in the eyes of CA’s marketeers – have had to make do with a token two or three Tests wedged into November. Such has been the appetising fare of Bellerive’s eight Tests to date: three against cheerfully despairing New Zealand; two each against patronisingly dismissed Sri Lanka and, in recurring disarray, Pakistan; and one against a West Indies team in deep depression.

To no-one’s surprise, the current results tally is Australia: 6 (usually by a street); opponents: 0; drawn (which to say, the chill rain squalls of Tasmanian spring): 2. To all of which, I’m afraid, the Island public has reacted with thunderous indifference – a Hobart Test has yet to draw so modest an aggregate crowd as 30,000, and less than half that number watched a couple against New Zealand. A pity really, as the Gilchrist-Langer partnership against Pakistan in 1999 won one of history’s classic Tests, and recent efforts by Bravo, Ramdin and Sangakkara also passed without due notice.

Facilities obviously help attract crowds. Though its glorious views deteriorated, Bellerive’s attendances improved after the opening of the Southern Stand in January 2003 – during which seven-year period CA saw fit to schedule a bare two Tests. But decent opponents and weather surely count for at least as much. Put mildly (in every sense), January in Hobart is warmer, sunnier, calmer and drier than November – better for cricket, better for crowds. (Bellerive’s record daily crowd of nearly 17,000 attended an ODI between Australia and England when the Southern Stand opened.) And more debatably, Pakistan is currently a better Test team than the West Indies, in bowling at least.

So then, how would Pakistan approach a Test match that just eight days ago held limitless promise…but now offers only insights into the psyche of a state owned by its army and managed by mountebanks? Dysfunction, thy name is Pakistan. Would wickets be kept by Kamran Akmal, he who stoppeth none in four? Or would the views prevail of the PCB and Intikhab Alam – generally regarded, as team coaches go, to make an excellent umpire of net practice? And what of all the other inevitable late replacements like Mohammad Sami, who weren’t really needed but came over anyway, or former captain Younis Khan, who most clearly was needed by all but chairman of selectors, Ijaz Butt? Let’s ask Shane Watson: he has all the answers (well, all between 0 and 89).

In the event, Pakistan turned over four players. Akmal bowed to authority (married on this rare occasion to logic) and was dropped – or stood aside, according to one’s sensibilities or agenda. Younger brother Umar’s batting and fielding will reveal how many of his own toys remain within the cot. Sami, who sank rapidly from the stratosphere in Sydney, also returned to the sidelines along with Faisal Iqbal and Misbah ul-Haq, whose batting contributions are very much less than the sum their name parts. Of their replacements, much has already been seen and even more expected from Mohammad Aamer (the new Akram?), but the remainder have all to prove. The first name of Pakistan’s new keeper, Sarfraz Ahmed, recalls arguably the most fractious personality in its cricket history.

Day 1

Other than Phillip Hughes routinely giving way for the return of Katich, Australia made no changes, allowing an ever-growing army of termites to munch on happily behind the wallpaper of its Test team. In fine conditions, Ponting – less speculatively than in Sydney – took first strike on The Strip Formerly Known As The Autobahn.

Asif, the master of indolent deceit, might have knocked over Australia’s top three in his first five overs; Pakistan’s bi-polar out-cricket restricted him to one victim only. New boy Manzoor quickly stepped through the looking glass, colliding with Farhat to miss a gloved lob from Watson. The bowler restored parity by summoning Hawkeye to overrule umpire Da Silva in the matter of Katich’s knee-roll, whereupon Aamer promptly restored insanity by grassing a skied hook from Ponting’s fourth ball. Between them, Imran, Akram and Waqar took over 1,000 Test wickets for Pakistan; all relied upon the inswinging yorker – it neutralised the impact of their own fielders.

After morning drinks – in poignant contrast to matters preceding – point pouched a Watson slash and the young Sarfraz secured Hussey’s first snick. In theory, the needle had tilted sharply towards Pakistan. But the needle lied. Ponting’s innings, which should have been still-born, had now emerged from its chrysalis.

And so it proceeded to the tea break and long beyond, accompanied in unhurried lockstep hereafter by Michael Clarke. In an afternoon session whose temper varied from the morning’s by the width of Bass Strait, Ponting and Clarke added 112 runs from 29 overs, ruffled only (but not removed) by Kaneira’s unsuccessful challenge to an LB decision. Stumps score 3/340, anyone?

By the time that I left work for the day, this formulaic script was being played out. Ponting and Clarke both collected the bowlers for an evening milking session, sailed serenely past their personal centuries, and broke Greg Chappell and Yallop’s 30-year record partnership for Australia’s 4th wicket versus Pakistan (217).

When I was young, I had a feel for the history of such moments; then I discovered the concept of ennui. I don’t know if Sartre also philosophised upon the importance of fielding practice.

About Tony Roberts

Favourites list:
Food: whatever I cook;
Drink: whatever my doctor allows;
Music: refer ‘Soul Time’ (pres. Vince ‘The Prince’ Peach 3PBS-FM, plus Soul Au Go Go at The Laundry, first Saturday each month);
Movie: love that Cinema Nova discount card!;
TV show: call me Don Draper, if you like (or David Brent, if not);
Footy teams: Melbourne Victory (summer), Coolangatta, AFLQ (hols), Brisbane Lions (forever), Western Bulldogs (for now);
Player: refer 2009 Footy Almanac Round 18 (WB V Freo);
Pet: Ferdy (JRT – as per previous reference)

Comments

  1. John Butler says:

    Great stuff Tony

    That one dropped catch changed the whole psychology of events(and Punter’s summer).

  2. Tony Roberts says:

    John
    I recall Ponting’s first Test against England, at Leeds 1997. He came in at 4-51. England apparently rampant, BUT it should have been 5-51. Thorpe had just a grassed a midriffer at first slip from Elliot. The unfortunate bowler, Mike Smith, never took a single Test wicket.

    268 runs later…and so on. Not even a second-innings century by Nasser could stop an innings victory.

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