Awake in fright
Australia has regained its reputation as the cricket world’s most hostile destination for touring sides.
We haven’t seen Englishmen this rattled since Phil Tufnell almost soiled himself on a light plane flight to Port Pirie in 1990-91.*
This has been the nastiest reception for an English touring team in almost 40 years. Warne and McGrath would destroy you in a cricketing sense, but this series has had the added element of physical danger posed by Mitchell Johnson.
The heat-seeking missile to hobble Stuart Broad makes a worthy companion to the seminal sandshoe crusher Jeff Thomson bowled to Tony Greig at the Gabba in the celebrated 1974-75 series.
Then there is Ryan Harris, who combines aggression with precision in a manner that has had Mark Taylor comparing him to Malcolm Marshall. Harris’ working over of Bell in the first innings — outswinger, outswinger, off-cutter — was like watching Terry Alderman mesmerise Graham Gooch in 1989, but with an extra 10 km/h on the speedo. The second-innings ball to remove Cook was a masterpiece in two acts, swinging and seaming – in different directions!
So formidable is the bowling that Peter Siddle has managed to slip from No. 1 to No. 3 in the pecking order without regressing an iota.
Combined, this hairy, smelly, caterwauling trio has shown all the mercy of a pack of rabid dogs.
The pitch, which looked like it has been dropped in from a Nullarbor salt pan, and Perth’s blistering heat and harsh light, added to the sense of isolation. Add to that yapping fielders, flies, bellicose crowds and a parochial press and it is enough to have a fellow hankering for a Devonshire tea in front of Downton Abbey.
The slipshod fielding in Australia’s second innings was a dead giveaway that this was a near-broken England side. When you look at the calibre of players in the visiting squad, that is some decline.
The final act act said it all. It was a rib tickler from Johnson to No. 11 batsman James Anderson — the least favourite Pom among the Australians, and the least capable of defending himself — who popped it meekly to short leg. Mission accomplished.
Michael Clarke isn’t any good
Forget his average. He is a flat track bully. Can’t be considered any good until he goes up the order to No. 3 like a real man, just like, say, Allan Border or Sachin Tendulkar. Hopeless at the decision review system.
What’s more, he’s a ponce. Ads for undies, Gen Y tattoos, suspicious shortage of body hair. No wonder Simon Katich wanted to knock his block off. The team will never unite under him.
What that? Out of date? Oh, sorry. Scrap that. Clarke is a born leader of men and one of the true greats of Australian cricket. That’s long been obvious for anyone to see.
We remain sceptical. So he can hit when the pressure is off. We knew that. We want to see first innings runs.
Also, his dismissal. If he was a junior, you would give him a boot up the backside.
There is nothing worse than sulking self-indulgence from a batsman who thinks he is going to be caught or run out and starts heading to the pavilion or, in the case of Watson, hangs around in the middle of the pitch like a stale bottle of beer the morning after. What on earth was he thinking?
Both the manner of his scoring and his dismissal served only to amplify what we already knew about Watto, the good and the bad.
You can file it under ‘stating the bleeding obvious’, but the conclusion is unavoidable: the Australian wicketkeeper has turned into one hell of a cricketer. Remember the important role he played after Stuart Broad had the best of the first day in Brisbane?
So far this series he has made 94, 53, 118, 55 and 5, that final hand a result of selflessly throwing his bat in pursuit of a declaration. His catching in the Perth heat, to quicks and spinner alike, has been something to behold.
It is worth bearing in mind that, at 36, the resurrected Haddin is more than a decade older than Phillip Hughes. It is too soon to give up on the oft-discarded left-hander.
This policy has confounded the critics and is clearly working well. Now that it’s gone.
Well played, laddie
Whatever else we learn about Ben Stokes, we know he has got ticker. You don’t score a century in those circumstances without it. One suspects Root, Carberry and Stokes will have a big say in any future England revival.
A kaleidoscope of memories and tradition is what makes this so important to so many people. For the players, there is the “hurt” they talk about from the past three Ashes series.
For the supporters, it is not much different. They have invested heavily in late nights watching Australia humbled by Strauss, Flintoff, Pietersen, Bell, Anderson, Cook and co. and they, too, feel redemption.
It might all be over a silly little urn, but the pony-tailed brigade marketeers promoting the Big Bash could only dream of having such authenticity associated with their “product”.
* The England team, accompanied by your correspondent, was flying to Port Pirie for an England v South Australian Country XI match. The tiny plane ran into a wild electrical storm and bounced around like a cork in the ocean, forks of lightning and the glow of distant bushfires lighting up the outback landscape and adding to the sense of impending doom. Tufnell, who had been reluctant to board the plane in the first place, clung to his seat and his teammates as though he would never set eyes on the Home Counties again. To make matters worse, when he landed he was confronted with the sort of Antipodean creepy-crawly on the footpath that haunts the dreams of Englishmen abroad. He was a jibbering mess by the time he got to the bar.