I’m a bit dishevelled today. I endured the whole night, seeing every ball on Day Four, and judging by the calls and text conversations I had with numerous others it’s likely I’m not the only one feeling fifteen years older than normal. A shout out for my mate Brad who played wingman last night. After sharing in the spoils of several amber ales, a couple of bottles of red, gin, bourbon and an early morning concoction involving espresso, Cointreau and vodka, he is probably ruing his choice to have children today. Shout outs must also go to Damo – who is hosting 20 four year old girls for his daughter’s birthday – and for the group of reprobates down in Sydney on a buck’s night (I don’t know the stag). Their conference call, while consuming the last few overs of day’s play at 0300 this morning, was an interesting experience.
Who remembers Steve Harmison’s ball at the GABBA in the 2006? The first ball of that series was so far wide it went to the slips and has been recalled as a reference point of humour on many occasions. Well, it could be time to forget it, or at least supersede it in the list of bad balls to recall. Mitchell Starc’s first ball last night, the first of the day’s play, was worse. It nearly hit first slip in the head, on the full, and went for four byes. This was the first part of a terrible start for the antipodeans.
Australia’s overnight public enemy number one, Stuart Broad, snicked his first ball and rather than one of our slips – I think it should have been Shane Watson at first – snaffling the regulation chance, it cut straight through and went for four runs, giving Broad his half century to boot. Then, shortly after this, a misfield at point allowed Ian Bell to jog through for his 100th run. With the match at stake, we already looked flat and uninspired less than 20 minutes in.
Finally though, we put it together and managed to knock England over, with the wickets shared across four of Australia’s five bowlers. England had set up a formidable lead of 310 and, as I stated in my analysis of Day One, their batting line up was too strong to not have somebody stand up in the second innings. Centurion Ian Bell certainly did this by playing a fine, grafting knock of the ilk we wished an Australian opener could replicate in the chase.
We began the pursuit about 30 minutes before lunch in the first session. Getting to lunch unscathed was a boost and I recall feeling that the lunch break was going to be best part of the whole match. In the sense that we could sit back, relax and wax on positively about what might happen with 10 wickets in hand and chasing to win – all without the prospect of losing a wicket every 45 seconds, which is what it was inevitably like after lunch.
When opener Chris Rogers scurried through for a single and was nearly run-out at the non-strikers end I thought let’s put things into perspective here. I mean, no disrespect to the people of Japan, but forget Fukushima. A real disaster is classed as being run out in a Test Match chasing 310 with 150 overs remaining.
When a drinks break rolled around an hour into the second session it provided nothing but an unwelcome interruption to our momentum. Drinks breaks are dangerous and there’s often wickets that fall in the over immediately following. This was no exception as Watson was trapped in front LBW, first ball after supping on electrolytes. My live, one view reaction was that’s OUT.
For some strange reason Watson reviewed it. Now, after all the talk about misplaced reviews from Day Three, this totally selfish review by Shane Watson provided perhaps one of the finest examples.
I argue, strongly I might add, that as a batsman you simply know if you’ve hit the ball, no matter how slight. He surely had to know he didn’t hit it and on account of the fact that all other elements of this LBW looked sound, to go upstairs was an act of thoughtless self-preservation resulting in another wasted DRS resource.
Forgive me for not being filled with confidence that we weren’t about to collapse when out strode Tasmania’s Ed Cowan. To be fair Ed provided a few moments of partial encouragement, and as we staggered to 1/111 things remained positive. When David “Bumble” Lloyd stated that everybody should have their feet off the ground because it was 1/111 I clearly stated “no” out loud, in a meek attempt to dispel the effect of superstition. Of course, the very next ball Ed swiped at a part-time spinner and we were 2/111 and trudging off for the Tea Break.
At some stage here, and forgive me if the chronology isn’t perfect, umpire Dharmasena gave Chris Rogers out caught behind. Rogers clarified why he had been given out and immediately reviewed. Luckily we had one left, because Dharmasena’s decision to give Rogers out caught behind was pitiful. In the words of David Gower, Rogers had missed the ball by “3 or 4 inches”. I’m not sure it was that much, but it was at least 2 inches!
Eventually Rogers did get out, weakly chipping to a short mid wicket off the bowling of Anderson, in what clearly must have been an elaborate ploy between England’s Australian bowling coach David Saker and “Oh Jimmy, Jimmy… Jimmy Jimmy Anderson”. The latter peeled off in his celebration pointing gratuitously to the pavilion where Saker excitedly returned Jim’s glee.
Things were getting tense now and if you hadn’t already asphyxiated yourself then you probably did in the next 90 minutes. I said yesterday that a Michael Clarke epic at the crease would be vital if Australia were to chase anything beyond 200. Clarke and the well organised Steve Smith looked to be digging in and things seemed to be going well, albeit painfully slowly. So when Clarke was given out caught behind when Australia was still about 150 runs in arrears I thought, damn, we are in trouble now! Should I have been surprised when the Captain chose to review the decision and stake our final DRS resource on the question of whether he hit it or not?
You know my feelings on whether batsmen know if they’ve hit the ball. You can deny it to yourself and argue with your mates in backyard cricket, but you can rarely hide the truth from stump microphones, high definition cameras, the “snickometer” and “hotspot”. All of the aforementioned providers of data affirmed that Clarke did hit the ball, and was in fact out, thereby squandering our final DRS. I know this was a crucial wicket, but again feel that this was a poor and selfishly misguided use of the system – all contextualised by the assertion that you know if you hit the bloody ball or not!
With England’s vigour now visibly increased, their pace bowlers steaming in, their fielders jogging to their positions between overs, the chatter in the middle replicating a kid’s ice cream party and a crowd – while not boasting too many real members of the Barmy Army due to the ground’s small size, Nottingham’s priority on its loyal members and a generally more conservative perspective – trying its best to sing a few songs, Australia were up against it, big time.
When Steve Smith was trapped PLUMB by Graeme Swann the place went mad. Swann had been unusually ordinary so far in this innings, struggling to find the right length, but he was back on song now. Australia were crumbling and we had two new batsmen at the crease neither of whom had faced a ball. The sun was no longer shining and the place suddenly seemed dark, the crowd became three times larger and more hostile and I began to devolve into protozoan soup once more. My devolution was complete when – going right back in his crease to play Swann defensively off the back foot – Phil Hughes was trapped PLUMB in front.
Hang on though, that’s pitched a mile outside leg stump and Dharmasena fortunately gave it not out, despite the huge unanimous appeal of the English players and fifteen thousand fans. Ally Cook immediately reviewed the decision and in an horrifically painful revelation, the ball apparently did pitch in line, but only by about one half of a millimetre. Enough, it seemed, for the third umpire to overrule his Sri Lankan colleague in the middle and send the place into rapturous celebration.
We had lost about 4 wickets for 50 runs in about 2 hours of cricket. Our hero from Day Two, Ashton Agar, was promoted up the order and sent out to survive alongside Brad Haddin, in what was a tumultuous half hour before stumps. The night before, I had hated the number 6 as it meant England were sticking it to us at only six down, but tonight 6 was my favourite number and I desperately wanted us to go to stumps at only six down. We did, and because of it you have to think we still have a glimmer of hope. We’re 137 runs behind with 4 wickets remaining going into Day Five.
Let’s just hope that nobody stands on their own stumps tomorrow or gloves one down the leg side with only three runs to win. For those not immediately alerted to the significance of these references think Ashes 2005, and our chase at Edgbaston where we were 8/175 chasing 282. With the top order gone SK Warne had a blinder with the bat, but bizarrely succumbed by standing on his own stumps, and when we were bitterly close to victory – 3 runs to win – Michael Kasprowicz (apparently) gloved one down the leg side to Steve Harmison. A gleeful Geraint Jones took the catch and the whole nation of England went Barmy. It was an epic that turned that series on its head.
What will happen tonight? How the hell could we possibly predict it?