Boxing Day test

Boxing Day test
East Melbourne, Australia

East Melbourne, Australia

Cricket! One of the biggest sporting events in the world! A series won for Australia, but still the hope that England might show some fight. Much as talk of ‘momentum’ ignores the small shifts in pattern of a game, this doesn’t look like an Australia side for the ages – too many older players and question marks over the middle order, so if England could finish the series with hope, they might remember that in the next.

A wide shot of the inside of the stadium, over people's heads in an almost capacity crowd
MCG panorama from Great Southern Stand.

I was woken by a strange noise, ignored it because it was still a bit early to get up, but it woke me again at just the right point a little later. I must sort out that clock radio, I figured as I checked my iPod for the time. Oops, no, it’s my brother returning my video call from the day before. Or evening on the same day for him. We’ve not used it before, so he didn’t spot my call coming in on Christmas Day morning, I didn’t recognise the sound of his on Boxing Day morning. We made contact – I missed, and continue to miss, the littlies, but have seen the rest my closest family, and have a diary date. A cousin’s wedding next year. Mid May, why does that seem significant? The 12 hour relay I’ve signed up to is the fourth, this – ah, green belt relay. Which I missed this year. So I either make it a double-cousin-wedding-miss, having missed Neil’s in November, or a double-green-belt-miss.

Potential fines:

Ejection from the ground for being drunk or disorderly, on the spot fine of $1,083.
Eviction for encroaching on the playing area, fine of up to $8,661.

Nice and precise. Not really “bizarre” as someone behind me put it – only as bizarre as focusing on round numbers.

Home for the week is just a 20 minute train ride away from the stadium. The supermarket – cheapest I’ve seen here, as it goes – is a five minute walk away. Lunch from the former, on the train and in the ground by ten, for the anthems and a general warm feeling that “I’m really here!” That feeling has got me at every ground, even now when England have lost the series.

It was an odd day’s cricket, really – and I can’t help feeling that England would have played differently if this had been the first, even second match, and their brains weren’t filled with what had already been. Finally they got to bat first, though not through winning the toss-maybe a decent toss to lose, if it was a margin call as to whether to bat or not. The first session was okay, Johnson pulled off after two quiet overs-both on the pitch and off, he wasn’t clapped to the stumps every ball yet-that were expensive, Cook out early, wafting, but England grafting. Second session was slow, and Carberry was out to Watson’s best ball, which moved in but may have been helped in doing so by Watson taking a wider-angled run in at the stumps. Carberry had just looked like he was going to play with intent, too-possibly a change of approach and that didn’t help him. Root kept waving at balls outside off stump and went that way, and honours were about even.

That left Bell and Pietersen together, and they put on a decent partnership. Root’s dismissal had broken the short line of 48 run partnerships and this one was higher but slow, slow, slow. Pietersen seemed to have figured he’d reign himself in, and gone completely the other way from his usual high-energy self. It has been noticeable that Australia have several players-Warner, Smith, Bailey-who are always looking to score quickly, England only really Pietersen, and they have ended up occupying time at the crease without scoring. At least here every run puts them ahead, rather than narrowing a gap when batting second.

Two England fans hold up their flag in front of a statue of Shane Warne, in his bowling action, up on a plinth
Posing with Warnie.

Despite the slow scoring, the stats say England hit three sixes. The reality says they were an odd three: Pietersen should have been out, but the sub fielder took a comfortable catch then turned on the move to get a horrible surprise as the boundary rope beckoned and he had to step over it; Stokes smoked one straight before getting out to the new ball, next over and then Bairstow edged one high and was out two balls later. At least Stokes continues to look like he will always have a go, though arguably you’d put him at 7 behind Bairstow if he hadn’t just scored a century. With that, England were six down, the crowd scented blood and the atmosphere for the last few overs was back to febrile, clapping (slow-medium-fast, just like for a long jumper) the bowlers’ run up, a sense of expectation as Johnson came in and of ‘get him again’ as Siddle bowled to Pietersen. He and Bresnan survived to the end, but it seems as though England are always playing themselves in from something – the new ball, a change of bowler, a drinks break, the start of the day – and never actually getting going, so I can’t see that tomorrow will bring the 150 free-scored runs they need from here to finally put pressure on a brittle opposition.

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