The fact that there was any play on the last day at Old Trafford caught me completely off guard. I had spent the day wondering whether I could write an article about a day of non-cricket that could come vaguely close to Craig Little’s 2009 magnum opus.
Stormy weather had been forecast for day five for several days and that had reminded me of my favourite version of the song Stormy Weather, sung by ELO’s Jeff Lynne of all people, from his 1990 solo album, Armchair Theatre, which is little known – unfairly so in my opinion.
So I decided that in the absence of any cricket action I’d mount a case that Jeff Lynne is a great songwriter who is vastly underrated because once ELO’s popularity died away, they were seen as a cheesy fad group.
Let me make it clear that my argument was not going to be based on Lynne’s lyrics. In general, they really were cheesy and he himself admitted that they were not often his first concern when coming up with a new tune. ELO drummer Bev Bevan once spoke of Lynne coming back to the studio from months of composing with enough music for more than a full album. Bev would mention to Jeff that the music was fantastic but “what about the lyrics?”, to which Jeff would respond, “ah yes, the lyrics…”
It was all about the melody for Jeff and he pulled it off magnificently many times over, or so I would argue in my day five piece. With no play I’d have plenty of time to build a watertight case.
In no need to hurry, I headed off to do some grocery shopping at about 7:15. I was distracted by a corrupted version of a once great Status Quo song as I meandered up and down the aisles. Jeff wouldn’t let this happen to one of his fine tunes, surely?
As my mind wandered while trying to decide what size, brand and quality of essential item I needed (An entire supermarket aisle devoted to toilet paper? Really?), time slipped away from me. It was 8:10 by the time I returned to the car. A quick look at Twitter suddenly had me in a lather. Rain had cleared and play would begin ay 8:30. Shit!
I raced home. No time to prepare a proper meal. Not even enough time to get all the groceries away, just the fridge and freezer stuff. (Incidentally, what happens to potato gems if you don’t freeze them? Can they really go off?)
With weather still likely to be a factor, Clarke had declared and England were batting, chasing 332 for victory. That outcome was unlikely and it was going to be all about whether the weather would hold off for long enough for Australia to take 10 wickets. I missed the first two balls of England’s innings and Ryan Harris was kind enough to bowl those two wide of off and leg stump so that I didn’t miss any good bits.
He found his line with his third ball by the time I sat down, having fixed myself a quick sandwich. It wasn’t quite the meal I’d planned.
Starc opened from the other end with a bit of Mr Blue Sky on display in the background. (That’s another Jeff Lynne/ELO reference for you young `uns who have no idea what I’m on about.) He annoyed me by bowling a maiden in which Joe Root didn’t have to play a shot. This might be great Test match bowling for days one, two and three but on a deteriorating day-five pitch with weather threatening, you surely need to make the batsman play every ball.
Harris knew where I was coming from. He was at Cook’s body and/or his stumps and soon enough, both, as he trapped the England skipper plumb. It was one out with no runs on the board and game on!
That brought Trott to the crease and with Root at the other end I wondered if the Root/Trott partnership is the most economical in Test history, in terms of number of different letters required. (It’s even more efficient than Brett Ebert’s name.) Further good Harris bowling went unrewarded until he strayed one down leg and got a lucky nick from Trott. Probably his worst ball but he deserved that wicket.
Siddle came on soon after and got a nick from Root that Clarke would swallow 99 times out of 100. He dropped it. Someone on Twitter said, “You just dropped the Ashes, Clarke.” Time would soon tell if that was true.
Unperturbed, Siddle kept attacking and Pietersen got a faint nick to Haddin. The umpire gave it out and KP shook his head, then asked for a review. Nothing showed up on hotspot but a faint noise was enough for everyone’s favourite third umpire Dharmasena not to overturn it. KP fumed off and England were 3/27.
Common sense dictated that, with rain forecast, the first session – having started half an hour late – should continue for another half an hour beyond the scheduled lunch break. But common sense and cricket law governance have rarely been seen in the same room together and the players trudged off while it was still dry, with England teetering at 3/37.
Inevitably, the rain came. It stopped briefly, allowing Siddle to bowl three more balls, then set in for good. Not long before 2am Melbourne time, the Test was abandoned and the declaration ENGLAND RETAIN THE ASHES reverberated around the various media. For those that had drifted off, I thought that was appropriate, given that that’s an anagram of THE RAIN HAD A GENTLENESS.
Jeff Lynne wrote quite a few tracks about weather in his heyday. In fact, the aforementioned Mr Blue Sky was part of his “Concerto for a Rainy Day” which occupied one side of ELO’s Out of the Blue album. Another one of the songs in that concerto is Standing in the Rain, which features these lyrics:
The good intentions and the pain
Lay drowned now in the pouring rain
I imagined Michael Clarke singing them in the rooms after the match. Maybe some of Jeff Lynne’s lyrics are more poignant than I’d given them credit for. I’m not convinced about that but I am about his music. Next time we have a play-free day, I’ll present my case in full.