MCG Test, Australia v India: Day Three – The struggle (within, without)

Australia 530 (SPD Smith 192)
India 8/462 (V Kohli 169, AM Rahane 147)

I happily received the latest Richard Ford for Christmas. It’s a further story in his Frank Bascombe series (following “The Sportswriter,” “Independence Day,” and “The Lay of the Land.”) I set about trying to write this story in a Frank-like way…

===
“How many old acquaintances, neighbours, former teachers, fellow marines have we all caught a glimpse of in an unexpected place and dived in an alley rather than face for a second? All because: (1) We don’t want to; (2) There’s too much unsaid that doesn’t need to be said – a Chinese wall of words that would fall on top of us and we’d die; (3) We know others feel the very same way about us. We’re, most of us, the last person anyone wants to talk to on any given day, including Christmas.”
– Richard Ford, “Let me be Frank with you”

 

I’ll walk. Today I’ll walk from home to the Australia v India Test. It’s day 3. It’s bright. Hard-edged shadows. Dog-walkers. Joggers. Some hairy. Most bright, tight, bouncing. In jeans and felt hat I’m an outlier.

I’m navigating Edinburgh Gardens. Jacaranda abound.

Then it’s onto Napier Street. Fitzroy Primary School with ‘2014 Graduation’ in cardboard cutout lettering on the inside window. All hail primary school teachers.

 

The Rose. The Napier. Fitzroy Town Hall with sign declaring “refugees welcome.” Here on the Gertrude Street corner I had a full pint emptied into my unsuspecting lap not two weeks ago (it was late – conceivably I should already have been at home). Gertrude, I learn here was the “daughter of Captain Brunswick Smythe, co-owner with Benjamin Baxter of the land sub-divided in 1839.” South of Gertrude, vaulted archways front the footpath. I could be in colonial Pondicherry. But I’m not. I’m in colonial Melbourne.

 

I’ve not been to India, and that is as it should be. Too much is made of aeroplane travel. We are flightless omnivores, after all. And I am where I should be. I was born just there, right there (I can see it), at St. Vincent’s.

 

Fitzroy Gardens. It’s 9:45am. Young people in skin-tight athletic gear carry take-away coffee. A Qantas plane banks overhead in the pure limitless blue. Men perform sit-ups. Doddery old-timers shuffle on the deck of the Pavilion cafe. Already. At that age, there’s not a moment to lose.

 

I’m on my own again today. At the MCG now. That’s how I like it. We get carried away, all of us (me included), with relationships and with community. We’re all individuals, first. And while I’d be happy enough to bump into someone here, to organise such a thing is beyond me.

 

I’m queuing at what is probably, but maybe isn’t, Tom Martin’s day 1 coffee cart. There must be a hundred people on the field. Game time 15 minutes.

 

India resume here at 1/108.

 

CA Pujara and M Vijay fail to walk united (together) to the wicket. A cameraman on a Segway zooms around precipitously. Suddenly, to the second ball of the day, BJ Haddin takes a pearler. Just as well he did. SR Watson at first slip wasn’t interested. And while it’s a spectacular dive, he hasn’t moved his feet. RJ Harris a wicket. CA Pujara out.

 

The MCG here has beautiful surrounds; Yarra park, eucalypts. But once inside all is sterile. It’s a giant Petrie dish. This phenomenon has also happened to the Gabba. Why do we not create different built forms as grandstands? One with a sail motif? Another with football as a theme? One made to look as though built from giant dinosaur bones?

 

The sun is upon me now. It will be upon this seat for the rest of the day.

 

Vijay is hit in the helmet as he turns his head.
The crowd sickeningly cheers. No.
DA Warner and SPD Smith approach the batsman tentatively. Hell.

 

The short stuff seems to be Plan A.
RJ Harris also bowling too short.
Yet anything up is driven.

 

This SR Watson, here, must be the anti-athlete. He’s a popular target, sure, but this is my annual look at him on person. Ambles back to his mark, saunters in to bowl, follows through laboriously, all with an absence of purpose or urgency. Glacial progress. Facial expression of dumbstruck ambivalence. What’s his plan for a wicket? Does he have a plan? Does he plan?

 

SR Watson has not a cricketer’s build. He’s no DK Lillee nor ME Waugh. No KR Miller nor AA Davidson. He has not a footballer’s build. You could land a Harrier on his latissimus dorsi. And of course he gets a wicket now with short crap.

 

M Vijay c SE Marsh b SR Watson 68. It’s 3/147.

 

It must help him enormously, of course, to have RJ Harris at mid-off. As a 16-year-old bowling in Banyule CC third grade, it was a source of constant wonder and admiration to have former Northcote CC elder statesman and luminary Terry Gannon (sometimes) at mid-off. Terry would analyse a batsman’s strengths and weaknesses watching only their stance and a few practice swipes.

 

“Give him your outswinger from wide on the crease first up, David.”

 

Done.

 

“Good boy. See his top hand didn’t come around at all. Same thing but this time right in at the stumps. He’ll be caught at cover.”

 

Done. And done.

 

Bingo.
It was uncanny.
Perhaps that is SR Watson’s role here; mindless drone. Tool of automatic deployment.

 

Now NM Lyon is on for the first time today. I’m excited. BJ Haddin promptly fluffs a caught behind from AM Rahane. I move back a few rows into the shade. That’s better. V Kohli is dominating. Driving, nudging, opening-the-face-ing. AM Rahane too. Australia are too full then too short. Then too full. Then too short.

3/224 at lunch. Great stuff.

===

JR Hazlewood at the Gertrude end starts after lunch. Too short. SR Watson at the railway end. Leg side.
Bet365 signs separate the public from the field of play.
And there’s the 100 partnership. Anyone get those odds?

 

Behind me three lads have moved out of the sun. One takes a phone call.
– Jonno. What’s happening?
– Yeah. Nah.
– Yeah.
– Yeah, down near the termites.
– Can you see it?
– Nah, near the creek.
– Yeah.
– Tell ‘im he can have ’em all.
– Is Brooke there?
– Ahhh, she must be at the pool.
– Nah, she’ll be at the pool.
– Righto.

Hangs up.

To the lads: that was my neighbour. Wants the tree ferns. He can have them.

We’re all passing this life, swapping junk, ownership of stuff, at an alarming rate.

 

SR Watson changes to the Gertrude end. Half volley to V Kohli. Four. SPD Smith brings himself on. V Kohli and AM Rahane pick him off. They pass half way in the chase now, 3/269, trailing by 261.

With the new ball imminent, AM Rahane coughs up an easy caught and bowled to NM Lyon. Who fluffs it. Australian body language is flat. And the new ball is immediately taken. It’s 3/279.

MG Johnson takes the edge of V Kohli on 88, and the ball flies to BJ Haddin’s right. This time he doesn’t dive. SR Watson is again unprepared at first slip and drops the catch. This is a poor fielding today. Of course SR Watson lays on his back, hands to his vanity, for an age. Moving like Uluru.

 

The bowling remains too short, too short, too short.
150 partnership now at 3/297.
AM Rahane flicks over slips to 96. Two overs later he goes over gully for his ton.
V Kohli drills NM Lyon to the extra cover boundary for his ton.
It’s 3/335 and India trails by 195. The follow on is avoided. This is brilliant.
What does a fielding side do now?
Stick to processes?
Stick to areas?
Stick to plan A? (Bowl short. There are still two back for JR Hazlewood).
Mix it up?

===

At tea it’s 3/336. At tea we have another hundred people on the field. What is their job? Why do we assume that more people equals a better outcome? I’m thinking of you, sports team support staff (how many coaches/ specialists/ hangers on does a team need?)

And thinking of you, Channel 9 commentators (J Brayshaw, M Slater the worst in a strong field of barracking inanity, all presumably having English as their first language).

One coach is enough. Maybe a physio. And a team manager. That’ll do.

Let’s have two commentators per shift. And let’s remember that on TV you don’t call the action, nor do you barrack. You analyse, speculate, play devil’s advocate. It’s not rocket surgery.

 

We’re back with the Test, where we now see the highest 4th wicket partnership on the MCG broken.

And even at 3/364 MG Johnson is sledging. It’s embarrassing. These Australians, it’s surprising to find, still require some kind of lesson in perspective. Next ball AM Rahane off drives him for four. Then whacks through mid wicket – four more.

 

The Buds are at the pool today with their mum. I didn’t ask them about a full day of Test cricket. No doubt children pick up the interests of their parents. Exposure will do that. And while cricket may be a slow (lifetime) burn, I was thrilled that each of the Buds (unprompted) wrote a story to give as Christmas present. (Oon gave Yum a story called: “Yumoon Flat,” Yum gave Oon: “Super fart face never wins”). They’re pretty good.

 

JR Hazlewood’s turn to bowl short and wide now. AM Rahane cuts four more. Is there an answer? This is a common enough question in a thoughtful life. The answer is usually: probably not, though this plays havoc with our desire to control every-little-thing.

 

I wonder how Brayshaw and Slater are barracking now. It’s 3/402. And this is rapidly moving from being an impressive rear-guard action, to being one of those I-was-there days, when many years later one (or both) of these guys is declared a National Living Treasure.

AM Rahane sweeps NM Lyon for four.

Tries again next ball… and… He’s out lbw.

4/409. A Rahane 147.

 

So now it’s KL Rahul on debut. Australia have been flat. Last year their blowfly in the field was GJ Bailey, skipping, jumping, laughing, cajoling. We all get our energy from somewhere. Not our kilojoules, but our spirit. Our vivacity. Today’s Australia is missing a GJ Bailey character.

 

KL Rahul inexplicably goes the hoick and is inexplicably dropped.
Next ball: KL Rahul inexplicably (it can happen like this) goes the hoick again and is caught.
5/415 KL Rahul 3.

 

Still India are 115 behind. Still behind. Still, despite it all. Yet, in some ways, you could argue they are ahead. It’s much like everyone here watching. It’s entirely true of course that in our lives, we’re all of us constantly behind (catching up, falling away) yet also in front (and winning).

 

The fellow behind me now lives in the US. Talking with two old boys from Sydney.

MS Dhoni caught behind now for a scratchy 11. 6/430.

Ten overs left.

 

“We’re both married 45 years. Are you married?”
(Why do the married always assume other people seek their status?)

“No mate, I’m single. Do you think I could come back here for Christmas and cricket every year if I was married?”
(Guffaw, guffaw)

“Look at us. We’re here.”

“We’re only here two days, though.”

“Yes, and we pay dearly for it.”

In front. And behind.

 

There’s something especially jarring about this conversation. Perhaps it’s this idea that life is better away from the life partner?

R Ashwin caught & bowled Harris 0. It’s 7/434. Trailing by 96.

 

But we persist. In this life (most of us).

Just as V Kohli (151*) and RJ Harris (4/68) persist. I guess KL Rahul (0) and MG Johnson (0/126) are also persisting. And their very results show that sometimes, despite your best efforts, you flat out lose (there’s no denying it). And so it can never be about the result. It always has to be about the journey.

 

Last over of the day here. It’s been monumental. V Kohli goes at a wide one and is well caught here by a tired, diving BJ Haddin for 169. A shame for him. Fine catch, though (if you don’t value wicketkeeping footwork).

8/462.

 

On leaving, here’s W Ponsford, and DK Lillee, both immortalised as statues. Why them? What separates them from us? Persistence, probably.

 

Walking off home. Prospect of a summer stroll through Fitzroy. Amid the persisters. Look at them all. Father and daughter playing catch. Couple hand-in-hand. Solo walkers (we’re around; have a look). The crowd is thinning. Well thinned by the time I stop for a pint at The Rose. The Brunswick Street Oval is a late summer evening picture (infused with eucalyptus). By the time I’m home, I’m imagining our family characters immortalised as statues in the front yard. They struggle well. As today did India and Australia, both. Great day. Struggle on.

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 is married and has two daughters and the four of them all live together with their 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.

Comments

  1. Well played Frank/Dave/ER/Richard. Who will we pretend/aspire to be tomorrow? Always a better version of ourselves (as if that were possible).
    You know how to test an editor. I nearly segued your Segway. Thanks Dr Google.
    But when you went waking off home, I guessed you walked. Seemed more you than the alternatives.

  2. Luke Reynolds says

    Awesome Dave. Gee I’d love to be able to walk to the MCG. Without living in Melbourne of course.
    Would GJ Bailey offer better and more enthusiastic back up leadership to SPD Smith than BJ Haddin, and at least as many runs as SR Watson and SE Marsh? Probably.
    “Yumoon Flat”, great title for a book. ” “Super fart face never wins”- sounds like a best seller!

  3. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Dave

    Similar to you, I decided on Saturday night that I’d go yesterday. Couldn’t get any interest at home, so I was a solitary spectator too. Again, probably could have shouted out to the online world, but was happy to perch up high, read a book, take in various aural commentaries at my own pace. But I’m now annoyed that I didn’t sing out.

    I got to my seat for the third ball, and left at tea, but I learnt a bit about myself in the process. I had expected that It would be a day for the Indian bats. I found myself pleased with the prospect that Australia was not as good as many had made them out to be (and India not as bad).

    Haddin’s non-attempt at the one that Watto put down tells me that his mind is wandering. Expect an announcement soon.

  4. PB – Turns out “Segway tour” is a viable option for the leg-weary tourist in western European cities. Hop on, lean a bit, balance a bit (apparently).
    Luke – hadn’t walked before to the G. But I’ll do it again.
    Swish – “learned a bit about myself in the process…” Solid day out.
    cheers.

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Good stuff , OBP I totally agree re Haddin lack of footwork and agree re Swish above should have gone for the catch , Watson dropped . Interesting comment re Bailey it certainly looked flat . Lyons dropped catch terrible wonder if the no show , Maxwell thought he had to do something more bizarre . I to like to go by myself at times it does give a different perspective than being with others .

  6. There’s always a story in the Fitzroy Garden walk.

    Most engaging.

    And in the cricket.

    Frank Bascombe is a character for the age. Sportswriter is a must-read. The section on what an athlete is thinking when you are interviewing him is brilliant.

    I spent the 1998-99 Ashes tour in the crowd – so didn’t hear a Channel 9 word. Interesting to back your own eye.

    Spent yesterday with Channel 9 commentators. My sympathies to Bill Lawry and I M Chappell.

    Thanks for the thoughtful piece, and comments.

  7. Brilliant, E.r.
    I have read a bit of Richard Ford in my time…you have harnessed the moods of both Ford and the Tests extremely well, my friend.

  8. Thanks ER II. Solo cricket watchers are like solo walkers. No companion trumps the wrong one every time.

    On marriage and the licence to attend the cricket – day one with the wife tells me I wouldn’t want it any other way. By way of just one example, she insisted we stop at the Shane Warne statue to show me all the flaws in the likeness.

    On the MCG Drew Petrie dish – Adelaide Oval a rare exception, with the Moreton Bay fig trees at the scoreboard end a beauteous backdrop. It’s a pity that these giants only live 150 years or so. The Adelaide Uni Blacks are already gathering signatures for a gigantic Bob Neil banner as their temporary replacement, to fill the gap while the next lot grow.

    On the proliferation of coaches – some collective nouns: a carriage, a bus, or a confusion, subject to the state of the series.

    On MCG coffee carts – they’re all the same!

  9. ‘dumbstruck ambivalence’ – very fitting! Poor old Watson…

  10. OBP – it’s tightening up today. The solo trip has a lot to recommend it.
    JTH – Thanks – always good to back your own eye. Groupthink is a powerful force (too powerful for any of us).
    Smokie – very kind. Enjoyable activity.
    TM – that all reads well to me. Particularly like your top point.
    DaveB – indeed. Will he be dropped (now, or indeed any time at all)?

  11. Thank God for Sean Marsh. We need someone reliable to hold the middle order together.

  12. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Shane Watson very excited celebrating tonight keeping his career average of 35 intact mind you the big no show makes him look like a brain surgeon . S Marsh mmm we all no he has ability let’s wait and see . Interestingly poised game tonight

  13. SE Marsh. He should never have been selected, of course.
    Yes, he can look a million dollars. That’s lovely.

    But a Cormac McCarthy applies here (used it last year (Perth v England)): “A goodlookin horse is like a goodlookin woman, he said. They’re always more trouble than what they’re worth. What a man needs is just one that will get the job done.”
    – All the pretty horses, Cormac McCarthy
    https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/perth-test-day-1-a-goodlookin-batsman-is-like-a-goodlookin-horse/

  14. Good to see you are taking cricket selection advice from Americans now.
    “There is no God and we are his prophets” CMc, The Road. (Thanks Dr Google).

  15. He’s 70ish not out now. Yer man there is like any of us given an unexpected (or even unworthy – but who’s to judge, really?) opportunity.
    Struggling on.
    Trying not to hope (there’s little point).
    Seeking to do (which is where the horse and the getting the job done comes in).
    He’s doing right now.
    And that’s enough.

  16. 69 overnight.
    Out for 99 after giving a chance.
    Today reflected his average of a chancy 30 odd.

  17. Great read e. I love a good solitary stroll too. And I could almost taste the pint you had in The Rose.

    I went to the G on Boxing Day and took in no commentary at all – radio or TV. I really enjoyed the chatting and analysis that went on between all the blokes there. Our own view of the world and cricket went from sublime to ridiculous. Superb day. Then I went for a surf on day 3 and listened to the cricket on the way back from the beach. Some horrible, self indulgent radio. The exception is I. Chappell who is improving with age. Struggle on and hope to improve.

  18. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Was up in E.r territory today, parking the vehicle opposite said Town Hall (what a ripper joint, hidden from the whole world), passing the other landmarks mentioned, on the way to the way too expensive furniture joint.

    The whippersnappers behind the desk, sensing that we were both North of 50 and South of the Yarra, gave us scant attention. We left with our pride and wallets intact and wandered through Dimmeys instead.

    Mrs Swish thought she could hear the ghosts of past inhabitants as we returned via Greeves St.

  19. Thanks ER.
    Sounds like your approach and retreat to and from the day at the cricket matched the test match tempo!

    I spent most of the last day at the Adelaide Test on my own. (Artfully dodging others to protect my liver) and had a great time, always bemused returning to my prime position seat to find no one had snagged it.

  20. John Butler says

    E Reg

    This is just outstanding.. Thank you..

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