Australia v New Zealand – Gabba Test, Day 1: Flaming tar barrels

Australia 2/389 (DA Warner 163, UT Khawaja 102*, JA Burns 71) from 88 overs

5 November 2015


Rituals are our touchstones. Our navigation points through an increasingly frantic and fragmented life.

Each year on 5 November, for instance, in the otherwise lovely English town of Ottery St. Mary, locals enact the hazardous and frankly frightening ritual of the flaming tar barrels. As young local Lewis Strawbridge says: “Once a year everything goes a little bit wild and a little bit crazy.”

Loosely explained, men, women and children carry flaming barrels full of tar on their heads and run through packed village streets. Why? Well I’m not sure. But it apparently has nothing to do with Guy Fawkes’ adventures of 1605, whose rebellious dynamite-charged behaviour took place and is also commemorated on 5 November. By all accounts, the flaming tar barrel shenanigans pre-date Guy Fawkes.

Like the flaming tar barrels, sporting events offer us ritual. Their scheduling can help orientate us. World Cup Finals, even when they are played between Australia and New Zealand, are not only for the winning.

Notable World Cup Finals 2015
Rugby: New Zealand defeated Australia
Netball: Australia defeated New Zealand
50 over cricket: Australia defeated New Zealand

In fact it may come as a revelation to many that, perhaps the playing of World Cups is chiefly for things other than the winning. As Auckland-based website “The Citizen” wonderfully reported this week: “As of this evening, New Zealanders are beginning to realise that nothing actually happens as a result of winning the Rugby World Cup.”


All of which begs the question, what is sport for? If winning is not really that important, why carry on about it (so much)? In this light, as Mark Nicholas points out, cricket could do with some humility and kindness.

Today, Flaming Tar Barrel day, Guy Fawkes Day, Oak’s Day, as widely reported, SPD Smith took a new look side into his first game as substantive Australian captain. In: JA Burns, UT Khawaja, JR Hazlewood. Out: CJL Rogers, MJ Clarke and PM Siddle.

For New Zealand, a shambolic lead-up game was abandoned due to what soon finished as a substandard wicket. It’s difficult to imagine a less hospitable act from a host country.


Brisbane. First Test. Chappell-Hadlee trophy.

And after winning the (frequently too important) coin toss, SPD Smith opted to bat first. And it was Queensland’s JA Burns who left the first ball; an outswinger from TG Southee. Together with TA Boult, TG Southee found early swing and seam. No surprises there.


Indeed, it was a further lack of surprise to learn that both opening batsmen were beaten repeatedly on the morning of Day 1. It comes with the job, of course. And yet, but for a coat of linseed oil here (do they still use that stuff?) or for a light sanding of the willow with grade B2 sandpaper there, the scorecard could have looked very different. Happily, Test batsmen learned to leave the teasing ball alone.


JA Burns knuckled down and got himself ‘in’.
DA Warner started to rattle like a W class Melbourne tram.
And at lunch Australia was 0/100 from 25 overs (JA Burns 43*, DA Warner 54*).

I like watching JA Burns bat. Particularly so after reading this one from the Almanac archives: ( And he batted for a long time today; first man out at 1/161 in the 39th over, caught behind (c BJ Watling, B TG Southee).


Imagine yourself recalled to the Australian team following an inglorious initial attempt. Imagine yourself named at #3. UT Khawaja could not have imagined a better position in which to walk to the wicket in his first innings having been recalled.

At tea Australia was 1/221 (DA Warner 113*, UT Khawaja 30*).

Despite BB McCullum’s canny field placings and bowling changes, today Australia’s innings roared like a furnace. DA Warner crackled and fizzed through a monumental innings before being well caught at slip (c LRPL Taylor b JDS Neesham 163).

As often happens late in the day, two handy batsmen cashed in for a final session of plunder as fielding plans came unstuck (UT Khawaja 102*, SPD Smith 41*).  ‘Twas indeed the batting of flaming tar barrels.


Today DA Warner and JA Burns weathered a challenging new ball spell from New Zealand, before growing into their innings. It has me wondering how M Klinger or EJM Cowan would have gone.

Regardless, today’s opening batsmen have set the stage for what should now be an insurmountable total. For as they say in Ottery St. Mary, “if you play with fire you get burned.” The redoubtable New Zealand swing bowlers will start afresh with a new-ish ball tomorrow. They will need quick wickets.

And for of all this, today (and every day) was not about the winning. Today was about humility and kindness, ritual and memory. About a prompt to my friend, who has appeared in these pages previously under the name “Bada boom,” to tell me of her home town, a faraway village life and the people with whom she went to school . People like Lewis Strawbridge. From her home town of Ottery St. Mary.


Flaming tar barrels – a short documentary


About David Wilson

David Wilson is a writer, editor, flood forecaster and former school teacher. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and a dog, Pip. He finds playing the guitar a little tricky, but seems to have found a kindred instrument with the ukulele. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Andy Buchanan says

    Excellent article. Gives depth and perspective

  2. Thanks for this, e.r. Most enjoyable morning read. Cheers.

    Yesterday, I was bemused by NZ commentator Bryan Waddle’s comments yesterday, frequently referring to the Kiwis as a team looking very “underdone”. I have lost count of the number of times over the past few years I have heard this lamentation from visiting analysts. I continue to be amazed that (sub-standard pitches notwithstanding) touring teams arrive on these shores and participate in ridiculous limited overs (PM’s XI) and meaningless 2-day warm-up games rather than competitive 3-day or 4-day first-class matches against state teams.

  3. G’day Andy, Smokie – thanks.
    It’s the same every year. Every tour.
    Lack of time is used to justify this mess.
    But that points to ill-considered priorities.

    Home fans probably enjoy seeing home teams winning.
    But surely there’s a responsibility to provide a contest. To provide conditions that provide the best chance of a contest. Current arrangements (worldwide) have a touch of the Roman Colosseum about them.

    I guess there’s a power dynamic too.
    Who needs whom more?

  4. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks OBP correct perspective as usual.if the icc wasn’t such a toothless tiger and the game so money orientated they would order 3 proper warm up games for all visiting sides before the 1st test .Should the toss be abandoned and the visiting team have the choice ? (I need to write a article )

  5. Barry McAdam says

    Bloody fantastic read David, but I must point out this series is being played for the Trans-Tasman Trophy, the Chappell-Hadlee trophy is played for in ODI contests between Australia & NZ.

  6. Great read David and good summary of the day as I didn’t get to watch or listen to a ball yesterday due to being at work all day.

  7. G’day OBP, Barry, N Weidmann.
    It’s an ongoing situation, OBP, that makes no sense to the contest.
    That must mean that current priorities are not geared to the contest.

    Barry – quite right. Thanks for the enlightenment.

    It’s funny, isn’t it NW, that we see more of the (working) day’s play from England than we do from Australia.
    I guess that’s where the D/N Test idea came from.

  8. Ah those crazy poms with their flaming tar barrels and inventing a game like cricket. No wonder they are the masters of comedy and self deprecation.

    And so far as rituals go, I must say it felt like there was something amiss without Watto and the flaming tar barrel inevitability of his premature demise.

    It really seemed like Day 1 of a new era yesterday. Hopefully Usman can continue to prove how silly the selectors’ revolving door policy was back when some faith in his apparent ability may have served the Clarke era much better than certain others boasting mid-30’s FC averages.

  9. Good one JD.
    Mind you UT Khawaja couldn’t have dreamed of more friendly conditions.
    In my mind, I still see him groping gormlessly against G Swann at Lord’s.
    Well played him, though.
    I agree it feels like a new era.
    JA Burns looks the business.

  10. Luke Reynolds says

    Love the flaming tar barrel link, that it has lasted over 400 years is hard to fathom.
    Great to see Burns and Khawaja do well.
    How good a player has Warner turned into. Has taken his game to a new level.
    Look forward to the NZ reply.

  11. I’m your first man in for the WACA next week, ER. Off to a day at the Test next Friday for the first time in 10+ years. Trying hard to muster the old enthusiasm. The grand writing today from yourself, SMc and Our Paddy Boy has got me more enthused than the cricket itself. Score at the Test:
    Almanac 3; Australia 2; NZ 0 (well they won the Webb Ellis and the Cup – NZ bred – and the final 2 netball tests – so we needed to get a look in somewhere).

  12. Thanks Luke. That YouTube of flaming tar barrels is further evidence of the madness of human existence and a good example of why we’ll probably be here for the short term rather than the long term.
    And wonderful.

    PB – there’s a message to stir the populace.
    Very happy to think that a spark has been lit just now in your tar-lined barrel.
    Even happier to know you’ll be bringing us your take.
    Thanks for this. SMc & Paddy Boy indeed reaching for the stars with their stories of Gabba Day 1.
    Good times.

  13. Mr Burns was excellent. Smith was unlike the eponymous band with lively and optimistic strokeplay.

    NZ was dreadfully undercooked.

    Thus far the year’s most disappointing trans Tasman contest. Hope it improves.

    E.r.- cracking job. Thoughtful and intriguing stuff. Gosh, England’s weird and brilliant! Thanks.

  14. I knew nothing of of flaming tar barrel traditions David, in fact my first thought took me to the Road Runner cartoons of a few decades ago, not British cultural festivities, dating back several centuries… I mustn’t read enough.

    You are on track though, with thoughts on ritual and sport…great topic. Re yesterday and the ritual of cricket, I must say it was soothing to the ear, listening to Gerard and Jim . Whether you like it or not , cricket is the perfect antidote to a frantic life. ( minus the breaks to transmission in Melbourne owing to tornado warnings)

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