The Boxing Day Test (Brought to you by the letter C, and the numbers 4 and 0)

26 to 29 December 2013, Cricket, The Ashes, Fourth Test, Australia v England, Melbourne Cricket Ground

I love the Ashes. When I was growing up, I got a tape player with a radio for my birthday – I think it was my 9th or 10th birthday. It must have been before 1989 because it was the winter of 1989 that I would stay up and listen to the radio when Australia played in England. I’d follow the matches as we did the unthinkable and wrested the urn back from English hands for the first time in ages. When I finally went travelling overseas in 2005 I went to Day 3 of the Second Test at Lords. Katich hit the first ball for 4, McGrath made runs and took wickets! In 2006 I went to days 3 and 4 of the Adelaide test where Australia made a tremendous comeback on day 5 to win – but I was so hung over after a night out with the Barmy Army I missed it! In 2009 we went to all 5 days of the Lords test including day 4 in the MCC Members Pavilion where we stood in the Long Room listening to Ricky Ponting being sledged by the English elite. In 2010 we sat (very briefly) through the horror of watching Australia get bowled out for 98 at the G.

This time around, while I was hopeful that the MCG test was where we would recover the urn, I didn’t mind that we got them back in Perth. This test was stage one of the victory party!

Courtesy is overrated

It took only 3 deliveries for one of my pet hates at the cricket to re-emerge. People who push past you to find their seat during an over. The number of times that this has occurred in recent seasons has really annoyed me. Is it so difficult to show some courtesy? Wait until the end of the over, and then when you push past you won’t be causing anyone to miss the play!

Crowd Record breakers

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There was discussion before the match that the crowd on day 1 might reach a world record for a day of test match cricket. This was obvious even before the game, as we shuffled along in giant queues at Richmond Station trying to exit the platforms and touch off our Mykis (public transport ticket smart cards, for those who may not know what that word means). It was a clear safety risk as people pushed and shoved in the hope of being next to the machines and getting to the ground quicker.

Inside the ground was just as packed, especially in the bars and restaurants. We were very grateful for our reserved seats and sit down lunch!

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(Our mates enjoying lunch on day 1)

The attendance was 91,092, the record was achieved. Some were sceptical about whether the record had been achieved, but having been part of bigger crowds (including Anzac Days and this year’s Grand final) I think it was on the money. It shows Melbournians love an occasion, or it just shows we’ll turn up to watch two flies crawling up a wall if it’s well promoted. Also hopefully it shows South Africa that they won’t be able to host us in a Boxing Day test until they draw bigger numbers!

Unfortunately the play was slow – England finished 6/226. Pietersen had dug in for England and was their best to date.

Chucking away wickets

That was not the case on day two. Pietersen started the rot with a disgraceful swipe and was bowled. The stoic nature of his innings was gone. It then seemed that the Aussie batsmen followed the Day 2 Pietersen lead, rather than the Day 1 example. Starting with a weird shot from Warner, there were a series of silly shots by batsmen, including a swipe by Bailey that he claims he didn’t hit, but the Decision Review System said he did.

My respect for Brad Haddin increases with each innings. He was solid in the face of the English attack. He batted well with the tail and showed some discipline that a few others could learn from. When we were in England in 2009, our main memories were of Haddin giving away byes and Johnson being uncontrollable. How times have changed!

Crass… (Aka the negatives of drinking in the MCC…)

At the end of day two, we retired to the Blazer Bar in the MCC members reserve. Hey guys, there’s plenty of toilets in the ground. If you need to fart, you shouldn’t just do it in a crowded bar. We had to bail to an outside garden to escape the stench.

Classy

On Day 3 I was fortunate enough to get an invite to a corporate area. Hopefully slightly better than where we finished day 2! I had no qualms about wearing a suit, even though the predicted temperature was 38C, because I would get great food, drink, company, and one of the best views of the game!

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The morning should have been a formality, with England, having reduced Australia to 9/164, needing to get the last Aussie wicket before extending their lead. Not so. Haddin, ably supported by Lyon, threw the bat at almost everything, adding a crucial 40 more runs to reduce the English first-innings lead to only 51 (Australia was all out 204, chasing 255). I joked “Oh well, wouldn’t it be nice to see the Aussies batting again today? That seemed a million miles away when Cook (and a slow moving Carberry) added a further unbeaten runs making for a total lead of 116. About this point, most people would have been expecting 3-1 going into the
Sydney test, including me.

Then, while I was sitting down to a lovely lunch including a large chunk of Salmon, it began. First Cook went, then Carberry 6 overs later, then Root a few balls after that, and then Bell! Suddenly we were back in it. We wanted to go outside again to watch, but the superstitious members of our table didn’t want to move! We went outside and watched but no more wickets fell up to tea. Maybe they were right about superstition?

Come on…

Tell em they’re dreaming – the fake scoreboard on the wall in our dining room.

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Crap flying around everywhere

In the third session I stayed indoors (at the front window) to enjoy a bit more of the hospitality. It was a 38 degree day after all, and I was in a suit. But, soon after tea the cool change arrived. The wind that came with it blew up a lot of the litter in the ground, and suddenly plastic and pie wrappers were finding their way onto the surface. The umpires produced a heavier set of bails to stop them blowing off in the winds, but it didn’t make a difference. So, when Tim Bresnan was bowled, he stood his ground, believing the wind had done the damage, not Nathan Lyon. On replay he was shown to have been bowled. Then, the stumps fell when Pietersen was batting and Haddin celebrated, but replays showed Pietersen was a long way from the stumps and the wind had done the damage. KP was again England’s most solid batsman, but even he threw it away when batting with the tail enders

C-Bomb

Before KP lost his wicket there was an interesting exchange between him and Johnson. Johnson was coming in to bowl, Kevin backed away, and Johnson hurled the ball at the slips. He then said (if my lip reading skills are correct) “watch the f@&$ing game you c@&$”! Pietersen was apparently distracted by someone getting near the huge white tarps that acted as extended scoreboards.

Now, Mitch, I think Kev was being precious too, but let’s steer clear of the c-bomb next time. As for you channel 9, there’s no need to repeat it so that amateur lip readers like me can try and work out what he said!

Clutch

The star of the second innings was Nathan Lyon. Hopefully he’s settled the “who will be our spinner” debate and guys like Agar and Maxwell will need to concentrate on also improving their batting to fill that number 6 spot that Bailey only has a tenuous hold on.

The Aussie batting innings commenced and we had a bit of a guessing game about how the Aussies would finish. One person said 0-26, one said 1/28. I said “0-30”. A few Chris Rogers and David Warner runs later, and it turns out I was exactly right! Why oh why don’t I gamble more?

Cookie, catches win matches!

When day four started the equation was simple. Australia needed 201 runs, England needed ten wickets. Given Australia had only made 204 in total in the first innings, this was a tight match, and early wickets would be crucial. Well, they would have been, if Cook had held the catches. There were two chances that came to him. One was a tougher chance which Bairstow, the wicketkeeper, should have gone for and would probably have comfortably taken, but his feet stayed put and he didn’t move. The other was straight into Cook’s guts, and was spilled.

I felt sorry for Alastair Cook. He will surely be under the pump now to retain his captaincy as the English press and public bay for blood.

Chris Rogers

Warner did not take his chance and succumbed, bringing Shane Watson to the crease. Both Watson and Chris Rogers took their opportunities, with Rogers scoring quickly and brining up a well deserved hundred. The roar was sensational when he got there, as the crowd cheered the adopted Victorian. Rogers has been solid without getting a big score this series, and it was great to see him deliver under pressure. Another guy who performed under pressure was Watson. This was not a “we’re 400 in front so throw the bat at everything” innings like in Perth. This was a great innings from a bloke who has now showed he can bat under tough conditions. I hope he’s fit to play in Sydney!

A trend I am noticing from this series is that a number of the pitches play better as the match goes on, especially the drop-in pitches on footy grounds. The lesson Aussie fans is that we should never assume any total is out of reach!

The four-nil lead was wrapped up mid afternoon.

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Conclusion – part one

As we waited patiently after the match for channel 9 to finish a block of ads so that Mark Nicholas could commence the presentations, we could see Mark Taylor and Michael Clarke in a bit of a heated discussion. At the presentation Clarke revealed that Taylor had a go at him about the decision to bowl first after winning the toss! He admitted that he would have liked to have wrapped up the English Innings on day 1, but noted that the poor performance of the batsmen was more to blame about the dire state of the Aussie chances during days 2 and 3.

And now it’s off to Sydney to see if they can create history with a 5-0 clean sweep, and the rest of us had to find something to do the next day.

Conclusion – part two

As for me, this is the last sporting event I would watch or participate in during 2013. Thanks for the comments, feedback, ideas and support. What started as a bit of a project to give me something to write about that wasn’t work related has turned out to be a lot of fun, even though I couldn’t always get around to posting the blogs as promptly as I’d like. I’ll blog again on this site in 2014, but not on a “every event gets a mention” basis. I’ll still have plenty to say about sport, including a planned trip to the US Masters, and (maybe) my first crack at a half marathon. Keep in touch with me on twitter at @josephryan79 and if there’s something you think I should write about, be sure to let me know.

Have a happy new year, and may your team win except if they’re playing mine!

Yours in Sport

Joseph

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