Almanac Cricket: A whiff of bedlam – Ashes’ Smoke to Fire of the Proteas

While the great lovers of Test cricket fold their opera glasses away and shake their heads (quite rightly) at the ghastly sight of Cricket Australia’s four fingered salute to the turgid fist of the English, there’s a whiff of bedlam in the air by way of the roaring forties. South Africa awaits a team burning with Ashes success. But before we get to that, let’s clear the air on the homefront.


I’m pretty sure you’re aware of what happened, there’s enough cricket writing around today without me to tell you that the Aussies won 4-0 and the English had an absolute disaster of a tour. Cricket Australia rolled out an ungracious victory dais that garishly crescendoed the stench of self-congratulatory content celebrating the regaining of the burnt bails.


The upshot of the win locally has been quite a bit of unsurprising praise for Australian performances despite the fact the English were largely inexperienced with Australian pitches and were unable to get their bowlers to move the ball.


Before the series, national murmurings dictated that everything stunk. Tim Paine’s selection stunk, Shaun Marsh was on the nose. After the vape cloud of what the selectors were doing gave way to the inevitable haze on sledging. Jimmy Anderson’s ruse that he was the victim despite being notoriously loose of lip himself was easily spotted despite the hanging cloud of headbutt gate that seemed to take days to clear.


Eventually, cricket could be seen happening. Performances of the Marsh brothers really did knock down the swell of negative national sentiment with a tag-team middle order suplex that had the haters crawling under their seats.


Marshes join Waughs & Chappells in scoring two centuries each in a Test series. All three sets of brothers have done it once, though the Chappells did it in one Test #Ashes

It was Cricket Australia’s time to crow given the regular faith invested in the Swamp Thing duo that finally found consistency with the bat.


More smoke was to be blown up the proverbial. Mitchell Starc benefited from the mistaken disingenuousness of Michael Vaughan’s droll description of his ‘Ball of the 21st Century’ at Perth.


The last century’s ‘ball’ drifted wide, pitched and spun past the outside edge of a former English Captain with 60 completed Tests to neatly tip the off bail.


Vaughan’s tongue in cheek hyperbole of Vince getting castled by a straight ball that hit a crack at Perth seems to have made its way into the lexicon.


The skipper in Smith has now been adorned with the moniker of ‘The best since Bradman’; a term that often trails behind the coronated like a coarse rope waiting to become taught once form eludes the King’s feet.


Usman Khawaja knows the panic of a tightening noose after the 15/16 home summer owning of New Zealand and the Windies gave way to a 55 run aggregate on the 2016 Sri Lankan Tour.


It was on very flat wickets and with a very straight ball (with the exception of Adelaide) that King Smith amassed some 678 runs for the series at over 130; a supreme effort of concentration and an incredible achievement as Captain.


It was these pitches that have been the fodder of the cricket analyst. A poor rating of the MCG wicket has provided a forum of questions about intentions for staging longer tests to make money versus the nature of the sport.

(David Wilson’s aka E. Regnans’ article is a cracker – you should read it after you’ve finished with this)


So, to the dangerous whiff blowing signals from the Cape of Good Hope.


The notion that the South African series would be one Australian fans would look forward to in a post Ashes glow has the appeal of the boudoir cigarette;


‘Smith is smashing runs for fun.’


‘The Marshes have come good.’


‘We always knew Tim Paine was going to work out.’


‘Our bowling attack is awesome.’


‘We always win in South Africa because their pitches are like ours. ‘


But smoking in bed is very, very dangerous if the South Africa v India Fourth day of their First Test is anything to go by.


Eighteen wickets fell as South Africa beat the top-ranked ICC side in a display that saw the stoic middle order of India hop, duck, nick and scramble from an attack that moved the ball slightly and subtly and at steepling pace.


AB De Villiers was the only batsman to face 150 balls for the test on a wicket that the hosts had prepared to suit their bowling attack. Despite AB’s return and the prowess of Faf Du Plessis the wicket had something in it that they would have to deal with as leading batters.


Certainly, they would have to cop the pitch at its worst before getting their chance to attack. Day three as a washout meant a day of cooking something under the covers that cost Faf’s men 8/65 on the fourth morning.


Rather than ball of the century, it was a session of top level bowling and a super contest. After Morkel took to Darwan with tall bowling that unsettled the opener, Rabada finished him off bouncing with genuine pace and a bloodlust that was palpable even in my Brunswick lounge room.


But it was Vernon Philander who starred. Tiny movements off a length brought LBW shout after shout, the bounce saving Murali Vijay until nicking one he couldn’t do much about.


Then he got the big fish of Kholi who had to change his game up to push one’s and twos knowing the dangers of going too big on such a surface. The removal of the Indian skipper at 4-71 pushed the 208 run target into the unlikely.


Philander nicked off the tail with the keeper in De Kock up to the stumps, his pace slowing to the dibbly-dobbler realm. It was the movement he garnered from the wicket that allowed him to star in a version of test cricket that potentially awaits the Ashes Victors.

Given the terse discussion around Australia’s home wickets and the ensuing ‘boring cricket’, the panacea could be closer to home than we think.  If pitches like this are served up for the upcoming South African series with the cattle of bowlers featuring from both sides we can expect to see some lively cricket. The upwind trip across the roaring forties to South Africa could provide a bitter pill for Aussie batsmen to swallow as well as a barrage that will have Proteas hopping.


Either way, there’s something in the air.


About Dan Toomey

Dan Tooms lives in Melbourne and writes fiction on his tram ride to work. He watches sport happen around him and occasionally documents the antics of his cricket club. He produced and hosted Park Cricket Radio where he talks cricket in a pub and broadcasts it to anyone that is interested. He also drops in to Whiteline Wireless to call cricket live from time to time.


  1. A great summary, Dan.
    I always felt Australia would beat England, although my pre-series prediction was 3-1.

    Now, the real test awaits in South Africa.

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Well said,Dan spot on great read

  3. What have Bill Lawry, Ian Chappell, Ian Redpath, Keith Stackpole, Brian Taber and Graeme McKenzie have in common? They’re the only Australians to have played in two losing series in South Africa.

    We have been touring there since the 1930’s and we do well on their soil. Yes they beat us 3-1 in 1966-67, then 4-0 three years later but they’re the only series we’ve lost over there. Intriguingly they’d not won a series on our pitches until 2008-09, then followed that by also winning their next two series downunder. Can we read anything into this ?

    I’m confident we can push them. Our four front line bowlers, fully fit, are probably the best attack in the world. Captain Smith is the world’s best batsman.Dave Warner: can he show some leadership and get big scores away from Australia? The rest of the upper order, what can we be sure of. S Marsh has played over there, can he and his brother retain their form of this stellar season and /or stay fit?

    South Africa’s batting has it’s ? marks. Is De Villiers the player he was 18 months ago, will Amla reach his previous heights, Elgar made lots of runs against Bangladesh, but how will he fare facing India,let alone Australia?

    One player who will be a challenge is Philander. He’s similar in some ways to Terry Alderman. Accurate; you miss, he hits, you’re out. Add to that the extra bounce he gets, Philander is one bowler we need to master. 182 wickes in 48 matches, including 12 bags of 5 fors with 2 bags of 10 for good measure, show’s a damn good bowler. Sadly Dale Steyn is not he bowler he once was injuries, very much restricting him.

    Let’s see a good series and looking forward to Australia once again doing well on the Veldt.


  4. Thanks for having a read Glen.

    I’d suggest that given the movement in the wicket from the first test and the fact Philander tends to pick up most of his scalps caught behind at home is the greatest challenge to the Aussie team after a series win from very straight bowling.

    No doubt it’s going to be a belter but the fact remains that each of Bancroft’s innings were ended by balls that moved less than 1 degree in the Ashes and the Proteas turned out this type of wicket for the number one ranked team.

    Don’t reckon the batsmen from either side are going to find runs easy to come by but we’ll get so see some genuine nip and top class fast bowling. 7 of the top 15 Test bowlers are playing and Pat Cummins.

    I for one reckon Cricket could actually get a win out of this irrespective of the result.

    (cue discussion about how test cricket is dying etc etc)

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