Happy Birthday Pete

by John Butler

1st Test Brisbane: Day one-  England 260   Australia 0-25

The anticipation of this Ashes summer comes not from any great expectation of consistently brilliant cricket, such as Australian fans have feasted on for most of the last two decades. Rather, it’s the prospect of a real tussle between two evenly matched sides that holds the promise. When Australia reigned supreme, genuine contests were few. The compensation for having a side that has returned to the pack is that we can at least anticipate closer battles.

Both camps would have been eyeing the Gabba pitch warily in the last few days, no doubt aware of the carnage that has befallen first class batting sides in Brisbane so far this season. Despite the relatively benign appearance of this wicket, Andrew Strauss would still have had his quiet reservations upon choosing to bat. But he no doubt saw it as a confident assertion that this collection of British citizens and South African ex-pats, that goes by the name England, were ready for the fight. A few lingering nightmares of Nasser in 2002 no doubt crossed the mind as well.

What wouldn’t have figured in the best laid plans was that he would essay a cramped cut shot at the third ball of the series and hole out to gully. You fancy he wasn’t good company when he returned to the dressing room. His team’s mettle was to be immediately tested.

Tall and dark haired, Alistair Cook has the bearing of a school prefect about him. He could pass for one of those old time gentlemen players, except he lacks the carefree batting style you usually associate with that species. Rather, he bats in the manner of a professional seeking to ensure next week’s pay, nudging the ball around the corner, guarding his wicket suspiciously. He was assisted in survival by the Australian attack, who failed to consistently demand he play forward. Debutant Doherty also contributed by dropping him on 29. Together with Jonathon Trott, he appeared to be repairing the situation, when Trott fell to a clever Watson inswinger.

At 2-41, Kevin Pietersen strode out to widespread booing from the Aussie crowd. This didn’t seem the wisest act on the crowd’s behalf, as KP loves a stage, and villains usually get the best parts. Sure enough, he and Cook carried on beyond lunch, and at 2-117 they were threatening to put England in charge.

Enter Peter Siddle, back from a ten month test hiatus, and having fended off Doug Bollinger to make the eleven. Pitching fuller in his second spell, he straightened one off the deck and had Pietersen edging to slip for a threatening 43. Soon, Collingwood had followed in similar fashion, and England had slumped to a vulnerable 4-125.

Again, Cook set about restoring proceedings in concert with Bell. With Bell following on from Hobart triumph, and Cook entrenched, England still promised much at tea with a 4-172 score line.

The immediate post-tea period descended into an dull stalemate. Hilfenhaus and Watson, whether by instruction or poor execution, passed half an hour bowling outswingers wide of the off stump while the batsmen largely stood idle. Only the occasional wide moved the scoreboard along. Bell’s patience seemed tested, and obviously Ponting’s finally was as well, as Siddle belatedly replaced Watson.

As afternoon slumber beckoned, Siddle produced the perfect antidote. A hat-trick will have that effect. Finally finding the right length and angle across Cook, he ended a near five hour occupation at 67. Only a couple of pull shots really stayed in the memory, but Cook’s effort was vital to his team. Siddle then bowled Prior before he’d barely taken block. Broad seemed only semi prepared, to judge by his hurried entry to the field. He was further surprised when Siddle pitched full again, catching him dead in front. The umpire didn’t hesitate. Nor did the third umpire when Broad appealed. The game was transformed at 7-197.

Siddle was now relishing this full pitched theory, and Swann soon departed hitting across the line. Bell, forced to witness the collapse, now had Anderson for company. Ponting immediately adopted the by-the-book strategy for such a situation, and scattered the field for Bell. This is one book I wished was burned, for it fails as often as it succeeds. It threatened to fail again, as Bell farmed the strike effectively, and played some forceful strokes to pass fifty. Haddin dropped the only catch that came his way, denying Siddle a 7th wicket, yet he was now bowling to Bell with one slip. Sometimes I just don’t get modern tactics.

Ponting soon made amends though, by recalling Doherty. Bell took him on, and holed out to deep cover. His 76 was the best he’d batted in Australia. Anderson soon followed, and England were done at 260.

Of the bowling, Siddle with 6-54 was the hero, Doherty promising and Watson useful. Hilfenhaus couldn’t strike a consistent line, and Johnson seemed to be trying to put the ball in the right spot, rather than letting rip. As such, he failed to either threaten or contain. Tactically, the Australians took a while to find the right length, but Siddle won the day for them by pitching up. Ponting was prepared to swap the bowlers around in pursuit of a breakthrough.

Katich struck an early psychological blow by dispatching Swann’s first two deliveries on Australian soil to the boundary.

Just how much of an advantage Australia has seized is yet to be determined. The pitch had a trampoline bounce to it, suggesting it might firm up in the next day or two. This may make stroke making easier. If so, then the hosts will be well pleased with affairs.

After a thorough lead-in preparation, England will be disappointed to come off worst after a day of tough, fluctuating test cricket. They will appreciate the need for a prompt fight back. Meanwhile, Siddle has some 26th birthday memories to last a lifetime.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World's Most Liveable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has passed his 40th year as a Carlton member.


  1. Nice work, JB. Cook might have the look of a school prefect about him but his innings yesterday, slow and steady, was more reflective of a Ford Prefect.

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