The Ashes – Fourth Test, Day 4: Sod It 

On the train, we roll past Victoria Park and Collingwood and Richmond, each stop drawing us closer to Cook’s resumption. On other days, my eyes might’ve scanned the floor, avoiding eye contact, noticing the mud caked onto the side of old trainers and the colour of the paint on exposed toe nails and the numbers of inches on a certain pair of heels and the greatest sin committed once more – white socks inside brown dress shoes.

 

Today I look up for long enough to notice an array of hats – fedoras adorned in red and yellow, the classic floppy, sometimes tightened by a schoolboy-style cord, baseball caps, and the occasional snap back. Not quite Flemington, but getting there.

 

As we disembark at Jolimont, every piece of headgear is proven to be fanciful, worn out of habit rather than necessity. The same could be said of my sunglasses. There’s cloud cover, and a dribble of rain. There is no chance of sunburnt knees today. I really ought to have thrown a jumper in the bag.

 

Down the Avenue of Legends, we glide, past Smith and Stynes and Coleman and KB, still celebrating. In the nets, English leggie Mason Crane toils. I pause. Leg spin landing – a thing of beauty. I hope he appears in Sydney.

 

I linger too long, expecting the drizzle to hold proceedings up. I am wrong and scrambling towards Gate 7 when I hear the roar. Anderson is out from the day’s opening ball. Much ado for one ball. Funny game, cricket. Cook exits, unbeaten on 244, his whites totally clean and his gloves on for barely a moment.

 

Coffee is needed, so the third dig starts from the Lavazza line. I order a long black with a dash, causing some confusion. I wonder if I’m the only man in Melbourne who orders coffee as such. Broad interrupts my thinking by beating the bat of Bancroft.

 

Seated now, one level up, Bancroft nearly kills short leg with a thumping pull through midwicket from Broad. He follows this flourish up with a perfect straight drive, the sound as crisp as a chilly wind, waking the crowd as if one has just blown through the ground.

 

Warner edges through a vacant second slip. The sound of the crowd is sharper, more of an “Oooo” than the “Awwwww” drawn by Bancroft’s stroke.

 

Woakes replaces Broad, early. The Aussie pair now find the middle more often. Curran is brought on. If only his pace was as sharp as his haircut.

 

It is nice to be alone after the hullaballoo of Christmas, drifting and meandering along with the slow pace of the game.

 

JM Bairstow is convinced of an edge. DRS is called into action. No hot spot. Snicko is as unmoved as the on-field umpire. Root walks slowly back to his position in the slips, a slight slump in his shoulders.

 

The bat is beaten often, but Bancroft once again flourishes two balls in succession – a beautiful cover drive for two, and four from another crisp straight drive.

 

Moeen Ali is brought on in the 15th over.

 

Woakes continues, bringing another pair of happenings involving Bancroft. First, a glorious clip to the wide mid-on fence. Then, shattered stumps. The young man gone for 27 – shots and style, but not enough substance just yet.

 

Khawaja is booed to the crease by the Barmy Army. Madness. He asked for that catch yesterday to be reviewed. A cheat, he most certainly is not.

 

He begins with a flourish. Skipping down the track, he lifts Ali over long-off for six. He repeats the shot, this time along the ground for four more. Like Bancroft, he has style and shots. Like Bancroft, he lacks substance.

 

Anderson returns. Khawaja pushes, edges. JM Bairstow gathers cleanly. The Barmy Army erupts.

 

Australia are 2 for 65, effectively 2 for -99. 15 minutes remain until lunch. Australia’s key pair is now together, with a short examination still to come.

 

Sensing the heightened importance of his own wicket as others fall around him, Warner starts leaving everything outside the off stump. Bowl at me, chaps. Except Dave Warner wouldn’t utter the word chaps. Bowl at me, fellas.

 

England do not oblige, though the Army don’t seem to mind. They launch into a rendition of “God Save Your Queen”. If Australia has another referendum on the matter of becoming a republic, those in the affirmative could do worse than to recall this moment. Exhibit A, perhaps.

 

The session ends with a play and miss from Smith. The two wickets keep England in the ascendancy. The next is possibly the most vital – although I can scarcely think of a time when that statement isn’t true.

 

Afternoon

 

Smith begins the afternoon session by driving perfectly, as if to atone for his miss before the break. The pair are intent on pushing singles, making the fielders sweat.

 

Warner, perhaps sweating simply because of abnormality of his strike-rate, changes his gloves early in the new session.

 

The lights come on. Sunnies come off. Ominous clouds loom.

 

The rain tumbles down. The players go. I really ought to have thrown the newspaper in the bag with that jumper…

 

 

After (the rain) noon

 

The resumption, after perhaps fifteen minutes, brings more of the same. Three consecutive maidens are bowled. A sarcastic cheer erupts when Smith finally finds a single.

 

Warner tucks a pull over midwicket and to the fence, the outfield slow but not slow enough to save four for England. He’s 36 off 128 – dogged, and intent on continuing.

 

I begin to wonder if, even with the cricket on, if I need a crossword to mull over. Then there’s a flash point, briefly. Warner chips to midwicket. The ball floats, floats, floats…half a metre over the head of a leaping James Anderson.

 

The drizzle returns, signalled to all and sundry by the patrons on level one dashing for cover. Smith off-drives past Root at mid-off to bring up the Australian ton. The rain gets heavier. The ground empties. The bar fills.

 

Four members of the Barmy Army refuse to move for cover. Instead, they dance shirtless in the rain beneath the Great Southern Stand. One runs his fingers through his hair, as if he’s just emerged from the sea.

 

In the bowels of the ‘G, people mill about, wearing confused expressions. What is a man or woman to do when his or her day at the cricket is ruined by the glory of Melbourne summer rain?

 

Some yawn. Some disguise themselves as well-trained meteorologists. Some scroll. Some nurse pints and chat about gentle topics. Hoods are pulled up, for those with the foresight to have them.

 

Tea is taken early.

 

In the absence of the crossword, I settle in and read Noel Pearson’s essay in the most recent edition of The Monthly, on the Uluru Statement and Indigenous recognition. Here Comes The Sun comes through my headphones. There’s no sun, but the covers are coming off…

 

Evening

The covers are back on. Crumbs. A few minutes later, the downpour gathers momentum. I can hear it lashing the roof high above. A few more minutes pass before there’s a large rumble of thunder.

 

The shirtless members of the Barmy Army are still standing out in the elements, shirts off and hats on. I watch as they chat with a security guard and decide they’ve seen enough. I can’t argue with their assessment. Sod it.

 

 

 

About Jack Banister

Journalism student @ Melbourne Uni, Brunswick Hockey Club Men's Coach, tortured Tigers fan.

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    Jack for fans of Harry Potter does any one else see the resemblance between,Tom Curran and Draco Malfoy ? Huge question marks on our batting line up for South Africa will there be changes for the 5th test ? Bird is not the word thanks,Jack

  2. Not sure – don’t think Malfoy had sides quite that short!

    Bird no good – the South African series will be huge.

  3. E.regnans says:

    Love it Jack.
    Ruminations on a rainy day.
    What a wonderful sport that allows such things.

    Really enjoy your observations.

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