First Test – Day 5: Clarke’s rubber

As published by The Footy Almanac, 14 November 2012

Round 1 of test cricket’s world championship bout took a rather odd, scenic route.  Ultimately, the Aussies stuck it to the hastily convened critics (I was one) and emerged with a moral points victory.

Australia was well and truly on the ropes at beer o’ clock on Friday, helped in no way by the poor selection of a negligently underdone Hilfenhaus (someone give Brendan McArdle a job at Cricket Australia). Whilst hindsight may say otherwise, the second day washout was a Godsend for the home team. The rain bought time (and time to absorb the dossier a little better), whilst the Saffers bemoaned their momentum stopper.

So the game, and the series, enjoyed a needed boost when a more resolute Australia held the Proteas to a commanding rather than insurmountable total. But when Australia plunged to 3/40 – possibly just one wicket away from oblivion – a standing eight count was in order.

Cometh the hour and cometh the Cowan, and his people’s century. And despite just one wicket falling for the next 487 crackingly paced runs, precious few bore witness to Australia’s finest batting resurrection since the halcyon days of Waugh. Channel 9 turned up the outside mikes so loud that a distant faaarking crow sounded as if it had replaced the warbling Pidgeon in the commentary box.

Nonetheless, come the final day the good money was on a loathsome draw. It was still a one-sided contest, though inconceivably the Aussies were in control – which makes watching test cricket a hundred times more pleasurable than the alternative death by a thousand cuts. And it was a relaxing tonic on my mental health day off, owing to ongoing sleep disorder maladies. Some might suggest test cricket, especially that commentated by Tubbs and Heals, would work better than the Temazapam prescribed to me later in the day.

The oceans of plastic chairs were unmoved as Pup continued his imperious form on the last morning. Surely Brisbane has school kiddies and disadvantaged peeps they could let in for nix?

Like previous skippers, captaincy has brought a steely resolve to Clarke’s game (but as a bonus with shots intact). In 12 months the run machine has well and truly shed his Bingle baggage and other personality misconceptions.

Hussey’s form is another boost to Australia’s fragile batting stocks. With the Ashes looming, can he keep the flame flickering a little longer? Is there actually a more compelling case being made for his spot? Today fortune flickered just long enough for Huss – plum as plum on 99 but for the DRS revelation his bat feathered the nut first.

A risky single next aggat brought up three figures. “Hussey says thankyou to the man who invented Hot Spot. Thankyou Warren Brennan, you beauty!” gushed Mark Nicholas, claiming commentary honours.

Hussey’s next ball dismissal ushered in Wade who set about channelling Gilly as Australia put South Africa to the sword. Steyn was treated with disdain, and besides Morkel, nor did the rest of the Proteas’ attack ask many probing questions. The Philander phenomenon (10 tests, 63 wickets) in particular made a disappointing first impression.

The Australian innings was declared at first drinks just 115 runs to the good, which kind of ignored the apparent ease of scoring runs on Woolloongabba Road. Yet Darren Lehmann would have had us declare 100 behind on the penultimate day. However, risking going down 0-1 in a three test series seems folly to this lounge chair expert. With Clarke on 259*, at least the old S Waugh red ink conspiracy theorists will have something to ruminate by the chilled water tap in offices around the nation.

The declaration won rapid vindication though when Pattinson caught Peterson driving at a fullish tempter. He followed up with an even better ‘unplayable’ to Amla, such is the bowler’s paradox.

With the best spring rolls in Reservoir, if not the northern suburbs, calling me to lunch, I abandoned my post and returned in time for yet another DRS no ball reprieve. This time Pattinson had Amla playing on – and predictably Ritchie intoned his disgust at the front foot no ball rule for oh, the 6,753rd time. Only one down at lunch and with Amla, Smith and Kallis still active, it would take a significant buckle to derail this test from its track.

Respected cricket journo Robert Craddock provided welcome insight to the long break filler. More please. And post lunch a fired up Pattinson channeled his aggression to extricate Smith, aided by a Quiney blinder at gully. Hopefully the former KFC addict gets another opportunity to display batting as finger lickin’ good as his fielding.

Amla continued to do his level best to nick one, and Bupa heart rates rose on average at least 20bpm. TV ratings are one thing, but if test cricket hopes to reclaim the hearts and minds of the greater public, and even some players, then such tension needs to be reflected by, and feed off more than the sound of one hand clapping and a distant faaark!

Another couple wickets fell but too far apart. When Lyon trapped Rudolph in front at 5-165, just 50 runs ahead with 15 overs remaining, the match heaved one last gasp. Alas, AB de Villiers kept his cool, and so the test was issued last rites with 11 overs to go.

This promises to be a cracking series. The teams are evenly matched, indeed the game veered wildly both directions. Peerless batting from Amla and Kallis, followed by #realopener Cowan, and of course Clarke and Hussey’s slashing returns, were all standouts. Unfortunately, the benign pitch and lack of result may render them less standoutish in years to come. In an age screaming out for characters and bums on seats, or at very least leather flingers prone to going a bit Lenny Pascoe, there was also a lot to like about Patto’s pyrotechnics.

That said, one wonders if the lack of outstanding spinners on both teams will require a juicier strip to avoid another stalemate in Adelaide.

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