Friday, May 18, 2007

Not so sweet Adelaide

From "Yes, No Sorry" Volume 6 Issue 1

Not so sweet Adelaide

The Brisbane Test had, from an England perspective, been a bit less of a debacle than it might have been. True we were thumped and we had allowed Punter to score a modest 256 runs in the match for once out and (even more annoyingly) the oracle McGrath had taken seven wickets. True we had batted like plonkers in our first innings and Steve Harmison had bowled the first ball of the series directly to second slip. But after Ponting’s curious decision not to enforce the follow on we did bat quite well in our second go – and there was a brief moment when it seemed that rain might let us off the hook and that would mean that the rabid Aussie press would turn on their Captain for not finishing the match in three days – as he probably could have done. But in the end it faded away, KP and Colly just missed tons that had fought hard for and the enemy went to Adelaide one up.

They’re a holy lot in South Australia’s capital (or judging by the number of churches they once were) and the cathedral provides a lovely backdrop to this splendid cricket ground. The cricketing globetrotter in me had always wanted to come to the Adelaide Oval and this time I was to be there. Over the years I have been lucky enough to see England win in some unlikely places- the MCG, Karachi, Sharjah, Colombo, Port of Spain, Cape Town and most recently Bombay - so I was optimistic that I might have a talismanic effect on the team. Whilst the lads were hardly on a roll at least they had turned humiliation into some respectability at the Gabba with Kev and Paul’s gutsy partnership. My private hope was that the second Test would be a respectable draw and that we could go on to Perth where our quicks could then get them in trouble on a fast pitch and force a win. Yep I had decided to settle for that. Not to mention a few days in the sun and a few evenings sampling the wonderful products of the Barrossa and McLaren Vale. Need to win the toss and bat though…

The toss was won and although we muffed it a bit at the start (45-2 in the twentieth over) and then Belly played an adrenalin driven vertical hook (after two consecutive boundaries) to be caught and bowled by Lee (158-3) things were in good shape by the close of the first day. 266-3 was respectable and Colly and KP were going well again. Would Colly (98* overnight) get his ton? Wouldn’t he just, and another as well! And Pietermaritzburg Piet got one too and we declared and Fred whipped out Langer before the close. We might nick this one – we really might and even if not at least the draw is secure!

Could it get better – you bet it could! Hoggy was on fire at the beginning of day three first Hayden and then Martyn – Aus in trouble at 65-3 and the Hogster wanted more. He was to get them, too – but not for a while. Punter scratched around a bit and then mis-hooked Hoggard to deep square leg when on 35. I can see that ball now a speeding parabola in the sky only fifty or so yards from where I was watching. It hovered a bit and there was dependable old Gilo under it – but he had to leap a bit to make sure and his leap never really left the ground… and it was gone. And so, as it turned out, were the Ashes.

By the end of the third day (Aus 312-5) there was still a fair bit of optimism in the Barmy Army camp. Punter was gone and the irritating Hussey as well. Get Clarke or Gilchrist out and we could be through the rest and a lead of 150 or so. KP and the lovely Jessica were on the next table to Mrs B and me in an Italian restaurant that night. Mrs B likes KP and I thought Ms Taylor looked rather tasty as well – although she left most of her lasagne (KP wolfed his down). Nice couple we thought and so lovey-dovey too. Kev stuck to the diet Coke and played footsie with Jess under the table in his flip-flops (which had little Flags of St George on them). Bless!

Day Four and the papers were saying that the pudding of a pitch was a disgrace and that the curator should be sacked and Geoff Boycott said that his Granny could score a hundred on it and Michael Clarke did. Then Aus collapsed from 502-6 to 513 all out and Hoggy had seven wickets! Young Cook was out before the close but Strauss and Belly looked OK and there would be a chance for some nice runs tomorrow - easy picking on the pudding.

We took our seats square of the wicket halfway up the Chappells stand (named after two of the brothers, the underarm bowling third one isn’t mentioned) and looked forward to the day. I plugged in my radio to listen to the pre-start chat. “Funny”, said Jim Maxwell, “I just saw the England boys getting off their bus and they looked really edgy”. “Oh dear,” said Aggers, “don’t like the sound of that”. “And Flintoff was limping a bit too” says Jim just to cheer us up. But they all think that a draw is just about certain as do all the know-all hacks in the Aussie press. Play begins and I watch Warney through my binoculars – he looks a bit manic. “Shit that turned a lot” says a gentleman in an MCC blazer behind me. “It does seem to be gripping a bit” I reply. And it was.

Ten overs or so into the day Strauss gets a shocking decision from umpire Bucknor. He and Bell have put on ten runs today at a rate of one per over. Well at least they aren’t taking any risks with quick runs! They leave that to Bell and Colly who contrive a run out. Well at least they weren’t playing any foolish shots. They leave that to KP who plays an ill-judged sweep to a ripping Warne leg break. Warney loved that one! Brett Lee looks a bit off the pace – until Freddie helps him by flashing a catch to the keeper. 77-5 in the 38th over. Looking dodgy. But Colly and GoJo hang on to lunch and beyond and if they can keep going the Aussies might just run out of time. No silly shots though Geraint – nice four, and another to a wide ball. Best leave those alone I think. Ah, there’s another wide one – straight into Hayden’s hands in the gully. 94-6. “Jones you’re a tosser” cries an apoplectic Pom in a Barmy Army shirt. It’s not quite a procession and Colly hangs on and even Jimmy A does his bit to survive for ten overs at the end. But the rest is history.

So how did England lose? Hindsight is great but first they declared too early in their first Innings. Then there was Gilo’s drop of Ponting. And finally, and crucially, there was the rabbit in the headlights batting on the final day. Warne bowled really well and had good support - but it was the same pitch on which he had laboured to 1-167 in the first innings. “Has Warne got special hands to do that?” asked a young boy sitting near me as the screen replayed the ball which got KP. “No son “said his Dad, “He’s got a special head.”. And so it was. The genius of Warne is to link his brain, his hands and his mouth in such a way that the batsman is afeared. It was genius at work – and in truth England never had a prayer.