A different rhythm

There is a different rhythm watching test cricket in WA.  It isn’t because of the weather or the people or even magnetic anomalies caused by large hunks of underground iron – it’s because it starts at 7.30 in the morning.  I grew up here, so there is a familiarity to the experience.  I can’t say it suits me, I’m not a morning person, but it does give you permission to crack a beer a lot earlier.  Like playing golf, ‘watching cricket’ trumps ‘it’s 7.30am’ when in comes to determining the relative position of the sun and the yardarm.

I look forward to Boxing Day every year, in large part because it is the one day of the year that is officially put aside in my family commitments for watching cricket.  This year it starts with a coffee and reheated pizza about 7.10, while we try to navigate the complexities of someone else’s tv / remote control set up.  The TV warms up to ABC News 24, showing the weather carnage in Melbourne the day before, but the channel nine coverage shows the anthems being sung in reassuringly decent light and the news that Australia will bat first.

What is definitely new is contemplating an Australian top three of Warner, Cowan and Marsh.  Between them I’ve only seen a handful of shots in any form of cricket, so I don’t really know what to expect as I settle down on the couch with my brother-in-law for the opening plays of the series. Around me the extended family are demolishing bowls of cereal, while my second coffee heads off to find the first one.  My first impression of Cowan is that he looks like a bloke who intends to play a fair bit of cricket, both today and over the next few years.  My impression of Warner is that he would do well to get on the front foot occasionally.

Another mate shows up about 8.10am, having driven 45 minutes from the very southern fringe of Perth.  By the time he gets there my son and nephew have dragged themselves out of bed, and the cricket viewing has moved to the upstairs media room; while Warner has moved into the 20s and Cowan has established that he ain’t moving anywhere soon.

Khan bowls wide but dry lines, Sharma more energetically but with little effect.  Yadav comes on a first change, and we start to get an insight into the depth of Indian fast bowling.  Very shallow.  He does little with the ball, and is erratic, and Warner takes full advantage to rush into the 30s.  Then, on the stroke of drinks, a little shower hustles the players into the shelter of the stand for a few minutes, and Warner gloves a long hop to Dhoni first ball after the interruption.  Shaun Marsh then drives a wide half volley to gully and suddenly it’s 2/46 and Yadav inexplicably has the poles.  Maybe he has more than he’s shown early, but at the moment the only good thing about him getting a couple of wickets is that it should keep him in the team for another test or two.

The beauty of test cricket is all the sub-plots, and one of the biggest walks out to the centre now.  Ponting sits on the cusp – a great who seeks one last glory phase, but risks an ignominious finale in doing so.  Disappointingly boo’d onto the ground by a crowd on mixed allegiances, his early moments are purposeful but unbalanced – I’ve never seen him slip over so many times.  At the other end, Cowan looks impressively solid, but bats out his first session in test cricket for 14 not, and the question is whether he can force the pace after lunch.

The lunch break brings the start of the Sydney-Hobart and a rain delay in the cricket.  It’s a delicious and I presume not entirely accidental arrangement that the only visually interesting part of the race happens in the lunch break of the Boxing Day cricket.  How they don’t all crash and sink in the pre-race jostling is beyond me, but once they reach the heads and vanish into the (literally) wild blue yonder, that is the cue to flick back to channel nine.  Seeing the covers still on, we retire to the front yard for a little backyard cricket with my 8 year old son Aidan.  He’s keener to be in the pool with his cousins, and so I grudgingly grant him ‘last three balls’.  He learns a valuable lesson with the last of them – running halfway down the wicket before delivering a hip high full toss that is whacked back into his leg, leaving one of those epic concentric circle bruises that he’ll sport for a few days yet!

After lunch Dhoni bowls Yadav too much, and Ponting and Cowan put on 50-60 in much better than even time before Sharma and Ashwin manage to get the breaks on.  During that time, Ponting gets himself to 50, and just to underline that particular sub-plot, gets an ovation like he’d made 200.  Cowan gets to 50 and barely breaks into a smile – this is a guy who intends to do much more than get one half century in test cricket.

At 2 for 150-odd India have the situation contained, but they need a wicket badly.  Ponting starts to look scratchy again – his backlift gets too sideways and the bat is always moving across the line rather than through the ball, and it is kind of inevitable when he snicks Yadav to 2nd slip.  Clarke makes a solid looking start, and he and Cowan take Australia to tea three down and in a solid position.  Cowan has got to 58, and has looked unflappable holding the innings together.

It might be tea in Melbourne, but in Perth it is lunch.  Coming downstairs, there are even more extended family members here, some of whom I even recognise, and sausages on the BBQ.  Then it’s time to head off to my own next engagement, with a mate who is back in Perth from the US for Christmas.  Driving up to his place and listening to the ABC in the car, Khan gets Clarke to play on and then has Hussey given out next ball, and suddenly at 5/200 the fragility of the middle order is again made plain.  By the time I get inside, a beer and a chance to sneak a peak at the television, Cowan is also out, and Siddle and Haddin are holding the fort.  Sounded like Haddin was playing more responsibly than has been his manner, and Siddle with his customary grit and willingness for a battle.

Across a combination of radio, sneaky peaks of the tv, and occasional iPhone updates, they put on 60 by stumps and leave the game and the series as evenly poised as it could be at 6 for 277.  I always reckon that the ideal scenario in a test is for the team batting first to make about 350 or so by around lunch on the second day – because that almost guarantees a four innings match and a result – and that looks very much on the cards.  I’ll be interested to see Pattinson and Lyon bowl to the Indian batsmen, and I’m really looking forward to watching those guys bat.

As the first day of a series, it told us that this won’t be the greatest series from a skills perspective, but it should be pretty competitive.  Being Perth, it’s only 4pm when they wrap up just before 7pm in Melbourne – so it’s off to Freo for fish and chips and a glass of house wine in a plastic cup.  I’d wager there will be a better red later on this evening…

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