You’re surely already aware of this, but Shane Watson’s front leg has many magical powers. It emits a peculiar kind of leather-specific magnetism that draws cricket balls towards it and it also clouds the mind of its owner, persuading him that nothing that collides with it could ever have gone on to hit the stumps.
Twice in this Test Watson was hit on the pad and given out LBW; twice he asked for a review; twice the decision was upheld. On both occasions everyone other than him knew it was out.
Watson has been given out LBW four billion times before and he’s asked for a review on each and every occasion. It’s a mindless reflex, like a plant turning towards the light. He probably makes the ‘third umpire’ gesture every time he feels his trousers gently brush against his shin.
Watson was one part of a rather wonderful afternoon collapse from the Australians which was seemingly precipitated by David Warner’s departure on the stroke of lunch. To be fair to Warner, it was a shit innings. It wasn’t like he threw his wicket away. His dismissal was merely a successful example of what he’d been attempting to do all morning.
That was when things got a bit easier for England. That’s when nearly-getting-batsmen-out turned into actually-getting-batsmen-out and once that process was underway, it never really seemed like Watson would be the man to arrest the slide.
Over the four days, it all went disconcertingly smoothly for England. Before Shane Warne arrives brandishing his broken record, it’s even worth noting that Alastair Cook had a perfectly acceptable game as captain. Whatever next?32 Appeals
Other than a fast bowler, feisty lower order batsman and a medieval knight of the outfield. These are, of course, major reasons why Mark Wood is currently our favourite cricketer, but it’s not just that. He’s also unfamiliar, so there’s a wonderful uncertainty about what he might yet be.
It’s not what he’s done, it’s what might yet happen. It’s not the wickets he’s taken; it’s the ones he’s still to take. It’s not that he has an imaginary horse, it’s that he’s the kind of person who has an imaginary horse.
We didn’t know he smote straight sixes until today, for example. That was a nice revelation. While he’s still relatively new, these sorts of things will slowly reveal themselves to us and that voyage of discovery is at least half of the appeal.
In a world of identikit cricketers, the tee-totaller who sometimes whinnies at the start of a bowling spell is a gift – not least because he proves that having an imaginary horse is no barrier to success. History tells us that there have been those who would try to expunge such deviant quirks from humanity in pursuit of a ‘pure’ race of conformists. These people are known as business executives and anything that confounds their beliefs we are fully behind.
Australia require 411 to win. English (and Welsh) men and women – bring out your pessimism.7 Appeals
Or, in English, he likes to hit the ball. It always strikes us that ‘feel bat on ball’ sounds altogether too sensual for something that’s actually quite percussive and violent. After all, you wouldn’t say about a drunken brawler: ‘He loves the feel of fist on face and the sensation of knee on balls’.
Moeen Ali’s skittering batting from number eight was probably the highlight of the day, but his caught and bowled to dismiss Michael Clarke was pretty good too. He loves the feel of hands around ball, does Moeen.
Lots of double-figure efforts from the Aussies so far, but Chris Rogers has done best with 95. This makes us think that maybe they’d do better if their batting line-up was older still. Bring back Boony.19 Appeals
The 2015 Ashes started with a hail of bouncers. Double-bouncers, triple-bouncers and a few outright grub-hunters. It was intimidating stuff from the perspective of an ankle – although the puddingness of the pitch did at least simplify things for the bowlers, allowing them to both pitch it short and hit the top of off stump.
It could have been worse however. Michael Clarke could have opened with Mitchell Johnson in addition to Mitchell Starc, which would have resulted in two left-armers bowling to two left-handed batsmen. Confronted with this, we would have employed a mirror to make the game normal again.
After three early wickets, Joe Root emerged and he was due a failure. He is now overdue a failure. Quite what the rules are now that he’s entered such territory, we’re unsure. Perhaps we just reset everything and he’s due neither a hundred nor a failure and will score entirely according to how well he plays on the day.
Arguably, it was Brad Haddin who sent the rules of duedayism all out of kilter by shelling one like a gnarl-faced gifford with non-stick pans for hands. The outside edge came off Root’s second ball after he’d inside-edged the first. Duly calibrated, he then proceeded to score 134 off the middle.36 Appeals
England’s players have been treated to an afternoon of Beefy rest day anecdotes, while Michael Clarke’s babbling on about ‘the line’ for the billionth time (“I think everyone knows where the line is,” he said this week – if not, we certainly know where we can hear about it). It’s pretty clear that no-one’s got anything left to say ahead of this Ashes series. We need some new source material. We need some cricket.
You get the impression that a few things need to go England’s way for them to win the series. Actually, that’s a mindless thing to say. Of course things need to go their way for them to win. That’s what winning involves. What we mean is that a few things need to go unexpectedly their way. If everyone on both sides performs roughly as you’d expect, Australia would win.
But this is the essence of sport. All that’s gone before is just history. Averages measure the past, they don’t predict the future. Shan Masood has just made his first Test hundred in the fourth innings to help Pakistan make 382 to win. That was far from a likely outcome.
The only people who truly have any idea how things are going to go are the experts.21 Appeals
That’s what cricketers always say, as if they received some mystical message from the cosmos informing them it was ‘time’.
Ryan Harris has retired because he’s broken his leg by bowling with a knee devoid of cartilage. You might therefore think it was ‘time’ slightly before now, but apparently not.
Harris himself implied that he took the hint after getting a medical opinion.
“My surgeon David Young, he didn’t say in as many words that I should retire but he said it was going to be very hard.”
However, the key element here is actually the term ‘my surgeon’. Professional sportsmen should not have surgeons.
‘My postman’ makes sense in that it is a service from which you regularly benefit. ‘My barber’ works for the same reason. If you are undergoing surgery frequently enough that the person undertaking the work is basically kept on retainer, you should be in a hospital, not a sports ground.
Harris then gave an insight into the self-destructive tendencies that have allowed his body to reach this point.
“I nearly blew my head up yesterday thinking there’s got to be a way I can get past this again.”
Quite what cranial detonation would have achieved is anyone’s guess, but you can only give him full marks for his commitment to playing Test cricket.9 Appeals
A number of times this week, we’ve read people questioning whether England will be able to carry their positive approach from the one-day series against New Zealand into Tests. You would think so, being as that positive approach was carried into the one-day series from the preceding Tests in the first place.
We’re no Grand Master of Memory – we only ever remember that we don’t actually need more paprika as we’re adding a fifth or sixth jar to the shelf – but we do remember England v New Zealand at Lord’s. That’s when things changed – specifically when Joe Root and Ben Stokes decided to dig in by scoring at a run-a-ball for an extended period.
It’s probably a branding problem. The new, young, fresh, exciting one-day side is synonymous with bold cricket because being only one series old, that’s all it’s ever produced. Alastair Cook’s Test team has a different reputation and nobody’s going to be swayed into thinking differently of it just because it played in a different way in its most recent outings.
A friend of ours has these two friends – one was fat as a child and one wasn’t. The fat kid gained a fat nickname that has remained with him throughout his life, even though he is now thin. The non-fat kid is now fat and yet still calls the other guy the fat nickname.
Previously-fat guy pointed out to previously-thin guy that the nickname no longer made sense and that actually previously-thin guy was now the fat one. In the face of this logical argument, previously-thin-but-now-fat guy simply replied: “Yeah, but you’ll always be the fat bastard.”
That, friends, is branding.38 Appeals
As in ‘out of the warm-up match against Essex due to a recurrence of his long-standing knee problems’. Not as in ‘dismissed’ or in that other sense.
“My body itself feels really good,” said Harris last week. ‘Good’ for Ryan Harris apparently means ‘at least a few days away from injury’. To call him injury-prone is misleading. He’s fitness prone. Injured is the norm.
So as it stands, Australia are already struggling to cobble together a side for the first Test. They’re dropping like flies. Harris is, admittedly, the first of those flies, but more will undoubtedly follow. Darren Lehmann is running scared to the extent that Brad Haddin’s being rested from this match lest he break a fingernail.
England, meanwhile, go from strength to strength. Only a few days ago, they were in Spain, a country that doesn’t even play cricket in any meaningful sense. Now they’re in England, the country which gave birth to the game.37 Appeals
Of course you do. He played for England as recently as last month (against Ireland – what do you mean you don’t remember?). But do you remember what he was? You probably remember Tim Bresnan as a diligent and accurate third seamer, but once upon a time he was an all-rounder.
Maybe that’s generous. He was more accurately a lower order batsman who could make runs and when you see a 22-year-old like that, it’s natural to predict further improvement. However, the 2007 season in which he made three hundreds and averaged 48.5 remained a bizarre aberration until recently.
Having floated away from England’s Test team like a wiry-haired buoyancy aid, Bresnan had also sunk to number eight in Yorkshire’s batting line-up like a partially deflated wiry-haired buoyancy aid. It was from this position that he made 100 not out against Somerset last month – only the fourth first-class hundred of his career.
This week, he did it again, making 169 not out in a dementedly protracted partnership with Jonny Bairstow against Durham. At the age of 30, could Bresnan finally fulfil his promise and become an actual all-rounder?
We’re wishing him all the best – although not because he’s a loveable fatty, which is what you’ll no doubt assume. Now seems an appropriate time to restate our belief that he is no such thing and has in fact gained this reputation largely because of his abnormally round head. His big tree trunk arms may add to the impression as well, but he’s surprisingly fat-free. We have previously described him as being like a burly puma and cannot currently improve on that.27 Appeals
We remember seeing a story in the local paper once where a woman had come second in some sort of vegetable growing competition despite being the only person to have entered that particular category.
Let’s say she grew a broccoflower – which is apparently a thing. In a world class diss, the judges decided that Janice’s broccoflower was only worthy of a silver medal despite unarguably being the best broccoflower on display. Second in a competition of one. Janice probably wished she’d never entered.
Sections of the Australian media have a tendency to do the reverse of this. They perceive the nation’s best fast bowlers as being exceptional purely on the basis that they’re the best available. At times like now, when there’s been talk that Mitchell Johnson or Ryan Harris being omitted from the Test team, that makes perfect sense – Australia do indeed have some very good quick bowlers. However, a couple of years ago, back when the team was rubbish, it led to a slightly delusional confusion between promise and quality.
Back then, during Johnson’s lull, a whole host of young quicks were touted as being possibilities for the Test team. They were spoken of largely because there weren’t many established players doing a decent job, but many people took the fact that they were being mentioned as a weird sort of proof of their ability.
Mitchell Starc was one of these players. He played a few Tests, and may have done a bit better if he’d ever been allowed more than one match in a row, but it wasn’t some devastating start. It was promising, but not much more than that. It rather feels as if he’s moved on from that now though.
Not much has happened in Test cricket since then, but there’s increasingly a sense that Starc is now fully-formed. Sometimes it makes sense to distinguish between one-day and Test formats, but it depends on the player. Starc is no Nathan Bracken style white ball specialist. What has made him so frighteningly successful in the shorter formats is just as relevant – if not more relevant – in the grown-ups’ game.
For England fans there’s a horrible suspicion that this summer will be when the left-armer kicks off his flip-flops and makes himself comfortable in Test cricket. He’s spent time with Yorkshire. He’s toured once before. Plenty of the usual mistakes that every foreign quick bowler makes are behind him. Invisibly, when no-one was really watching, plenty of lessons have already been learnt.
The broccoflower competition’s a bit more hotly-contested this year, but Starc may still secure first place.12 Appeals