Third Test, Day 2: Memories of glorious day at 1975 series get crowded out by tumble of Australian wickets

By Sam Steele

I chose to do the “wrap” of this day not because of any sense that this would be a particularly significant day (although more of this later).  Rather I picked it because it was 34 years ago to the day that I attended Day 1 of the Ashes Test at Lords with my Mum.  I thought that some reminiscing might pad out the narrative if the rain set in.

In 1975, Australia was at the height of its powers and the team boasted Lillee, Thomson, the Chappells etc.  England had just come off an innings defeat at a rain-affected (how unusual!) Edgbaston and, before that, the 4-1 humiliation in Australia during the famous 74-75 summer.  They were at rock bottom.

It was therefore described almost universally as a “desperate move” that England chose to give a debut to a 33-year-old bespectacled, grey-haired batsman named David Steele for the Lord’s Test.  For Mum and me, standing patiently in the all-too-English queue outside the ground, it seemed apt that a namesake should be making his first Test appearance at the famous old ground on the same day as us.

Moreover, Steele D. defied his critics and the marauding Australian pace attack and went on to thrill the packed house with a gutsy 50 on an enthralling day that ended with honours even with the Poms on 9/311 after they’d  crashed (again) to 4 for 49 in the face of another Lillee and Thommo onslaught.  A teatime presentation to the players of HM the Queen was a further highlight for the colonial blow-ins.

(For the record, England enjoyed a first innings lead of 47 but batted on too long in their second dig to set Australia 484 to win.  We batted out the last innings to 329 for 3 and secured a draw.)

It was, in truth, an archetypal English cricket experience, from the queuing (quite literally, around the ground), to being shoe-horned into cramped primitive seating somewhere down the opposite end of the ground to the Pavilion, where we were surrounded by the genial, long-suffering eccentric English fans that make the game charm itself.

Sadly, as I turn my attention to the Ashes of 2009, my impression is that Mum and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy such a fun, spontaneous day at any of the English Test venues as we did back in 1975.

For a start, it sounds like tickets are prohibitively expensive (if you can get them).  I don’t know what it cost back then but the very notion of being able to rock up to Lords for Day 1 of an Ashes Test and simply pay at the gate is unthinkable.

Back then, the crowd was polite, knowledgeable and utterly sporting, despite the physical and psychological mauling the Aussies were giving the locals at that time.  There were no corporate freeloaders crowding out the real fans and disappearing at lunch and hours afterwards, for “lunch”.  There were no Balmy Armies or Fanatics to give the normally genial Ashes rivalry its now harsh, parochial edge.

This could have turned into a lengthy reflection on the state of modern Test cricket but, surprisingly, they’re actually starting on time.  Resuming on 1-126, Australia’s simple task today is to bat and bat and bat and grind these Pommy upstarts into the soft mushy Birmingham turf (now what was that I was saying about harsh and parochial?)

All the blogs I’ve been reading have been highly sceptical of Watson’s promising start yesterday, suggesting all sorts of bizarre physical mishaps that would remove him from participation in Days 2-5.  None of them tipped a first ball dismissal at the hands of Graham Onions.  But blow me down, there it is – LBW straight away.  And blow me down again if Mike Hussey doesn’t leave the very next ball – a straight one – and find his castle in disrepair.

This is incredible.  I thought I was in for a quiet night, or at least a comfortable one, at least while the nondescript Onions was operating.  But no, like Shrek’s analogy that “ogres are like onions”, this one “has layers”.  A nervous Michael Clarke survives the hat-trick ball, just missing a glove down leg-side, but he and Ponting are jumping and sparring at apparent hand-grenades.  I’m going to have to take my scribing duties seriously, it seems.

This is a joke.  Onions is a typically weedy looking Pom and like onion weed he thrives only in damp gloomy conditions.  He’d be a 0-100 bowler on a 30-degree day in Adelaide, but here, he’s bending it in all directions.

Half an hour on and some form of order has been restored. Our senior batsmen are playing confidently, Flintoff is off his game and Onions is surely getting to the end of his spell.  But suddenly he drops one short and Ponting falls for it, feathering an attempted hook through to Prior.  He looks daggers.  Australia 4-163.

Moments later, Clarke is plumb LBW to another beauty from Onions, according to all and sundry – but not Aleem Dar.  The Poms can’t believe it.  Aleem Dar – you’ve given Clarke a lifeline.  Can he use it?

In his ninth straight over now, Onions prompts a completely involuntary shot from Clarke that flies to Flintoff at slip … and he drops it.  Freddie – you’ve given Clarke a lifeline.  Can he use it?

It looks like he will as Stuart Broad, looking like the lonely little petunia in the Onions patch, gets spanked for six runs off his first two balls.

But no, he can’t.  Jimmy Anderson traps him LBW with a big inswinger.  Hawkeye says too big, but Rudi Koertzen gives him the long slow finger anyway.

The rest of the session degenerates into chaos for Australia. North struggles in these suddenly hostile conditions and is brilliantly caught behind.  Johnson shoulders arms and is LBW first ball – again a poor decision by Koertzen, but not as poor as Mitch’s (non) shot selection.  Hauritz survives the second hat-trick ball of the session but a dreadful (series deciding?) session ends with Manou clean bowled by Anderson, who’s taken four in the blink of an eye.  8-203 – unbelievable!

In the irritating manner that they do, the tailenders make the batting look far easier than the top order, surviving post-lunch for over an hour and add 60 runs.  If Australia thinks it’s going to run through England, they’d be worried that Ben Hilfenhaus has scored 20 runs.

Ponting doesn’t surprise in opening with Hilfenhaus and Siddle rather than Johnson, but it’s Siddle combining with debutant keeper Manou to remove Cook for a duck that gets the pulse racing surprisingly early.  Sadly for Australia, there’s no follow-up and England crawl (by their standards) at three and over through to tea with nary a chance offered by Strauss or even the flaky Bopara.  Australia aren’t bowling badly.  There’s just no spark about them.

The hour after tea follows the same pattern.  Bopara falls to another loose shot, chopping Hilfenhaus onto the stumps.  At 2-60, there’s a glimmer, but again nothing from the bowlers to press home the advantage.  Even with another flaky batsman at the crease, Ian Bell, the home side gradually consolidates and Strauss is looking very much settled.

Shortly after drinks, Johnson, bowling a bit better but still clearly lacking confidence, traps Bell comprehensively LBW with a beautiful swinging delivery.  For the third time today, Koetzern gets it wrong, this time embarrassingly so.  Please – retire and give a younger man a go!!

With their position looking sound at 2-116, England are offered the light soon after and accept.  The weather forecast is grim, apparently, so this match may yet be drawn, but England are in the box seat and I think I’ve drawn the decisive day of the series.  Unlike 34 years ago.

About Sam Steele

Stainless (aka Sam Steele) started following Richmond in 1970 when he was 6. This occurred when his mother, under instructions to buy him a Melbourne jumper, found they were out of stock and purchased a Richmond one instead. Despite the decades of heartache and turmoil this fateful decision has brought on Stainless, he is grateful to his mum as he has at least seen his side win a couple of Premierships.

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