Well, it’s hard to know what to say about this match, being so bereft of positive points on either side that any analysis is painful.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the MCG on Boxing Day, the standard of cricket was pretty ordinary to say the least. By lunch England were 71/1 – an astonishingly low scoring rate on a good batting pitch – and dot ball followed dot ball and the maidens racked up (there were 24 in England’s first innings) and England, as they had been all series, were going nowhere. Then the wickets started to fall, which was good for both Australia and the atmosphere in the stadium, but until then the bowing hadn’t been anything to get too excited about, at least compared to what we’d seen earlier in the series. The most exciting thing up for discussion was whether Michael Clarke was right to have sent England in to bat having won the toss (answer: it didn’t matter one jot). England managed to claw their way to a pathetic 255 all out after Mitchell Johnson (again) ripped through the tail.
Australia then put on a batting display which would have made angry headlines had England not been equally crap all series and the Ashes already in the bag. Warner seemed to have no idea of what an opening batsman is supposed to do when his side is chasing a total, even one as miserable as England’s. To be fair, England bowled well and prevented Australia from scoring freely, but it was more workmanlike than mesmirising. For the fifth match in a row, Australia’s opener and No.3 failed and their No.4 was exposed to the new ball. This time Clarke didn’t deal with it, and within a short period George Bailey found himself at the crease with his side at 110/4. Do you remember Bailey, who everyone was frantically masturbating over last match when he smashed 28 off one over and broke Brian Lara’s record? Well, this time he got out for a 19 ball duck having looked uncomfortable for the whole 36 minutes. Brian Lara indeed. Australia, put under minimal pressure for the first time in the series, collapsed in a heap for 204, and only making that many thanks to Brad Haddin coming to the rescue for the fourth match in a row, with Nathan Lyon digging in admirably in the morning of Day 3. However, several commentators were highly critical of Australia’s batting display, citing the same obvious concerns that I’d written about already.
From there, with a lead of 51 runs in what was obviously going to be a low-scoring, result match, the game was England’s to lose. And they did so, spectacularly, first losing 3 wickets for 1 run and later another 3 wickets for the same number of runs. It was pathetic, purely down to poor shot selection on the part of the English batsmen. For sure, the Australian bowling was as tight as always, but there was nothing special about it and the pitch contained no gremlins whatsoever. For reasons known only to themselves, England panicked and threw their wickets away, one after another. Personally, I don’t think they wanted to be there, having never recovered from the beating in Brisbane and the departure of not one but two stalwarts of the glory years by the time the Melbourne test came around. It was a pretty damning performance from a professional sports team, and any hopes of improvement I might have glimpsed amongst the rubble of each successive test proved to be an illusion. I still can’t believe the crowd at the MCG saw the home side batting twice in a day, and I doubt they could either. I’d be surprised if any English players have the heart to stave off the 5-0 whitewash in Sydney, but in any case 4-0 is damning enough.
So with a run chase of 231, David Warner set about his task like a complete clown, egged on by Australian commentators who bizarrely thought with more than 2 days left in the match he should “take it to the bowlers”, bat with extreme aggression, and smash everything for four. As expected, he found himself trudging back to the pavilion having tried to play a shot he must have learned in the IPL. On Day 4 of a test match. I might be a minority voice here, although I know I’m not alone, but I don’t think Warner will have much of a test career. That brought Shane Watson to the crease who played the innings which he should play every game in support of Chris Rogers, who in turn scored the century which he deserves most games, this one included. I don’t know if Chris Rogers has his detractors, but I’m not one of them: he is a decent, solid test batsman and if our own version of the same experiment – Michael Carberry – had produced the same results we might have scraped a draw or even a win somewhere along the way.
Incidentally, I noticed that when Rogers got smacked on the head by a Stuart Broad delivery that bounced less than expected, the first person to run over to him to see if he was okay was Stuart Broad. There was somebody outside the MCG selling t-shirts which said “Stuart Broad is a sh*t bloke”, which speaks volumes in itself. I’m far from certain that had it been an Englishman hit on the temple with a cricket ball, any Australians would have called for the medic as quickly as Broad did.
So it was another crushing win for Australia, and another abject failure of the English batsmen. In the mix was a dropped catch at slip by Alistair Cook that he should have taken easily, and another which Johnny Bairstow – in at keeper for Matt Prior, who was partly because he remained rooted to the spot instead of diving for a catchable ball – let whizz by him as he himself stood rooted to the spot in identical fasion. It was shocking, shambolic stuff.
Now I’m enough of a cricket fan to be able to watch matches as a neutral (as I was when, later that day, I watched the wonderful Jacques Kallis work his way towards a century in his final test match) or watch them even when England are getting hammered. But Rogers’ century and some decent bowling from both teams aside, this was a match dominated by appalling cricket all round. A bit disappointing for my first live attendance in a record-breaking crowd.