This was Test cricket in all its absorbing glory. England soaked up the pressure, Australia bowled with heart and discipline and Ricky Ponting blew his stack...
I feel like I’ve let you down. This morning, 16 days into my marriage, health and sleep ruining tilt at Ashes reportage, I fell asleep. The last entry in my notes says 5:22: 347-5. Waking up in a panic at 10.25, I realised I’d done the unthinkable and missed nearly two hours of play and that this would be filed post Highlights. The door is that way. I’ll see you around.
If you’re still reading, I’m begging for clemency. The Black Dog, looking curiously like Shane Warne and Liz Hurley rutting, took me down. I have been rewinding Sky all morning, and can now decipher Australian profanity and English triumphalist dialogue backwards, forwards and at x30. Peter Siddle looks like a flick book of a pig being bled to death.
I thought this might happen. Bumble called it early doors when he said that this wasn’t going to be a balls-out, exciting crackerjack day of test cricket, but an absorbing one. Never a truer word spoken. Australia had to bowl with discipline, England had to bat for a long time and build a crushing lead that would leave them with three days to win The Ashes.
Both happened. And the commentary improved as a result.
Michael Holding was at his very best on the art of fast bowling. He might be more chuntering cunt than whispering death these days, but his disgust at bowlers over-bowling in practice was palpable. Warne gave us the full-ticket on Leg Spin and why Australia must be fucked if they are relying on Steve Smith to bat 6 and be the frontline spinner. Atherton was imperious as Third Man, dissecting the techniques of Bell and Collingwood (we’ll get to them in a minute) both caught hooking. Bumble used all of his experience as an umpire to explain the crucial reviews and Botham and Hussain dispensed with their Bert and Ernie routine to just talk cricket.
And that brings me onto Lord Gower.
You’ve got to love Gower. The 18th highest run scorer in test history is normally silent when Bumble and Botham are expressing naked delight at the paucity of Australia. But last night, when subtlety was called for, he delivered his best line for years. Spotting a fan with pie in hand he piped up…”looks like pie time in Australia…. what am I on about, it’s always pie time in Australia.” The quiet man turned up the volume.
It showed a no ball. It showed that The Ashes might hinge on one inch of air between heel and crease. It showed that you do not fuck with Aleem Dar.
For the first time in decades last night, I didn’t fell the testicle-shrinking nervousness that normally grips me. Even when Strauss and Cook went, you could see that England were up to this task. Some harsh words were apparently delivered after the third test, and to see KP rock solid in defence en route to perhaps his most important, if least exciting, test 50 spoke volumes.
Collingwood and Bell didn’t help the situation though. Colly, trying to hit himself into form, played a miserable hook off Johnson and was caught by the Bush Pig. And if that was bad, the shot that Bell played made Collingwood look like the ghost of Viv Richards. Bell does not need to hook. Never. Athers showed that Collingwood has a technical deficiency in hooking because his low backlift means he hits up on the ball. He then detailed how it must be mental with Bell because who, in their right mind, would hook a ball that was arrowing to second slip? All they did was give Mad Mitchell Johnson two wickets he didn’t deserve.
He chucked some shocking dog shit last night did Mitch.
“Don’t be chirping to KP now,” said Gower, “not after you’ve bowled three balls four feet wide of off stump. Even Lillee and Thomson had the brains to keep schtum when the batsmen were on top…”
If England go onto retain The Ashes here, it will be the 141 not out from Jonathan Trott and two reviews that are remembered alongside the bowling as the vital moments. Trott further advanced his case as the dependable anchor, and If you haven’t yet seen Ponting go absolutely bastard garraty when the appeal against KP was turned down then dig it out. It was a disgrace the way he ranted at Aleem Dar. Bumble gave him a yellow card and he has apparently been fined 40% off his match fee. Good.
Had he kept his trap shut, there’s a chance Prior would have been out for 5. But Dar, perhaps still smarting about being called every cunt under the sun, moon and stars, asked for his own review when Prior nicked Johnson to slip. It showed a no ball. It showed that The Ashes might hinge on one inch of air between heel and crease. It showed that you do not fuck with Aleem Dar. It showed that Ponting has just has his head pushed in the spitoon at the end of the bar in the Last Chance Saloon.
As he pulls his head out, tobacco, spit and schadenfreude dripping down his face, someone puts a quid in the jukebox…
Instant karma’s gonna get you,
Gonna knock you right on the head,
You better get yourself together
Pretty soon you’re gonna be dead…
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