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.

Exemplary over rate

Exemplary over rate
North Adelaide, Australia

North Adelaide, Australia

On this trip I have picked my accommodation by how it sounded more than location, but have been very lucky, with the starts of both Thai and Malaysia races, the Gabba and parkrun within walking distance of wherever I was staying at the time. Here I am several miles from town and with all the venues in the North of the neatly arranged area (Adelaide has a very organised centre, CBD, shopping area, venues in the North, all ringed by parkland), I need a bus. But the bus stops almost outside the Oval, so today’s trip was easy.

I joined a duff ticket pickup queue which delayed my entry long enough to miss the first over, but I was there in time to realise heading for my seat was pointless, as rain was falling, the seat was in the open, and the players were off.

View inside the Oval of pitch and stands
Chappell stand, Bradman Pavilion, Edwin Smith Std.

Worse, it was cold. Actually cold – the high today was under 20, and in the shade it was cool, with a sharp cold wind gusting through. Very English – when the sun crept round later, it was warm, any cloud cover made it cold again. I was in the new East stand; looking at it, with the upper tier under construction and swathes of the lower covered, I think they have released tickets wherever they can. Perhaps that’s why I was able to buy tickets just a couple of weeks ago, new ones released. Cool to be there, and it meant I was side on to the action but quite near the front. Even better, I was just near enough to pick up some sun in the afternoon. With another rain delay we had an early lunch and I got back to my seat to see the sun had crept from row D to row R. I was in S, right under the lip, and it took another half an hour to warm us up.

The cricket was good. Attendance was over 33,000, not many fewer than Brisbane, though it was much quieter. Apparently the Barmy Army were warned whenever they started chanting, and there was no Courier Mail campaign to get Broad booed here. England had a decent day, just about, but dropped a couple of chances. Plus Australia are already on a score that was more than enough in the first test.

Seats mostly empty in the shaded areas, full in the sun, and sun shining on the pitch
The Oval.

The ground is lovely, new and shiny where they’ve finished, and with the same ‘quick check and in you go with a smile’ service at the gates. I hope the audio system is a work in progress, because I couldn’t hear a thing. I don’t think that’s just because I was in the new bit, where there aren’t any speakers, it seemed to generally be echoing rather than broadcasting. The big screens work well, though, and the ‘traditional’ scoreboard is visible from most of the ground. It not being electronic means it doesn’t have the sponsors’ message obscuring crucial info during overs, unlike the Gabba.

And the over rate! Despite delays, England piled through overs – by test standards, at least. It was announced that the new close of play would be a very exact 6.09, with a possible 30 minutes extra to get through the overs. No danger of that – thanks partly to an hour with both spinners operating, England had to bowl 10 overs in 50 minutes. Easy. It shows how used we are to not getting the right number of overs that few spotted what would happen if we bowled the requisite 90 early – as soon as the 90 were up, most of the crowd were out of their seats, eventually sitting down when they spotted Panesar was coming in for one more go. The Essex bore behind me had seen it coming, and happily talked to anyone who could hear about what might happen when we ‘finished’ with five minutes to go. Yawn.

Two days at the Gabba later; South Bank parkrun

Two days at the Gabba later
Brisbane, Australia

Brisbane, Australia

“It’s not the despair, I can deal with the despair. It’s the hope.”

Covers on at The Gabba, as rain falls
Not enough.

There was hope, for a couple of sessions, as England lost just a wicket in each, though helped by the rain in the second. But England have lost, and the end came quickly. The tails look mismatched, strong on the Aussie side, a mild annoyance on England’s. Australia even had room to screw up a basic skill, failing to run out the last wicket thanks to Lyon forgetting the rules of the game. Overall, it hasn’t been quite the masochistic experience I thought it might be. The atmosphere has been fantastic, particularly during the afternoon session on day 2, when I had the word “febrile” in my head the whole time. The way Clarke came out on day 3 was something to see, he immediately looked to be on to something good. As soon as he was in, Broad was brought back on, bounced him and saw the ball pulled to the boundary – superb. Even with half the upper tier empty on the Sunday it was noisy. I could have picked up tickets on the day, which bodes well for future tests where I’ve only one ticket booked so far. I turned a corner on Saturday to find Gladstone Small in front of me, being grabbed by fans as he made his way back to his seat – in amongst the general population, I think. It seemed strange that he’s not so small at all, taller than I am.

Sign: Gabba Collision Repair Centre
An omen?

Some Aussies got particularly loud in the afternoon today, but if they were very drunk they couldn’t quite hold back and got themselves thrown out. We had a thunderstorm, but despite hail and gusting rain that made the crowd squeal and head up the stadium in search of cover, it only lasted half an hour or so and they were playing within an hour or so. Last night was a much bigger storm, but it wouldn’t have saved England. The worst thing was their retreat into their shell in both innings-runs were irrelevant in the second, but at least turning the strike over keeps the opposition busy, and only Pietersen seemed to want to get busy. Carberry, ultimately in the side as a corrective to Compton’s tendency to score slowly, doesn’t yet look like an answer to that problem.

It was also slightly sad in the house. Saturday night we’d had a few beers, to celebrate Fabien and the racist braggart Eddie leaving. We’ll miss Fabien. I have a room to myself, and just the three of us there for the week, unless we have any surprise bookings. We had one this week, turning up just as I was about to leave, recognising that he needed to get into the house before I escaped and being a little surprised to have arrived unexpected.

South Bank parkrun route
South Bank parkrun route. Anti-clockwise.

I made it to South Bank parkrun on Saturday after another early start. Being out at 6am doesn’t feel natural to me, but it is to the locals, the paths and pavements are full of people out running and cycling, it’s wonderful. I was expected at parkrun, as my new friends Steve and Anne from Intraining are normally event directors and had briefed he crew. I met Scottish (well, of course) event director Moray on my 2 mile jog in and was introduced on the start line.

“He has run 176 parkruns”

“That’s more than the score in the cricket, isn’t it?”

It’s a pretty flat course, with two bridge crossings, the second of which takes you up some steps and then a climb to the middle of the bridge. I picked off the first lady before the bridge and a couple of people on it. Coming off the bridge, several people were using the wheelchair ramp, but luckily the triathlete ahead of me went straight down the steps. I followed, more quickly, overtaking soon afterwards. It was hard work, and slower than last week, but a bit better paced than that so I was pleased despite a last minute loss of position to younger legs on the sprint. Mission accomplished, in that I made it into the top ten, and that despite counting at least 15 ahead of me after a mile. Lots of Ashes tourists there – I feel a little guilty to have picked up a personal mention, but that’s what you get for putting in the hard work with a local running club.

Outside the cricket I was intrigued to hear that “American director David Frankel was looking for authenticity with his inspirational new film about Britain’s Got Talent winner Paul Potts…” I have advice; when looking for authenticity, not making a film about a ‘reality’ TV show would be a huge step along on the way.

Results from South Bank parkrun, event 54, 23/11/13.

Possum, on the table, on the verandah, next to a bottle of VB
Possum.

The Moustache and Cricketers

The Moustache and Cricketers
Brisbane, Australia

Brisbane, Australia

That’s the name of my pub. I’m not sure where it’ll be opened, even to which country it’s most suited, but it will be magnificent, the ice sculptures legendary. I had a feverish night and woke up feeling better, if not fixed. I took some time to do my admin – which in the absence of anything harder to deal with means toenails and washing – and made my way to the South bank park area for mid afternoon.

Beach by the river, with cricketers posing behind a sand moustache
Aussie trio, with sand ‘tache.

Sat minding my own business I was content, interrupted only by a drunk Irishman checking everyone was alright – quietly, mind, no rampage. A flurry of activity on my left made me sit up, and there were (Australian cricketers) Johnson, Warner and Lehmann. I figured it for a charity shoot, realising belatedly that the sand sculpture I’d written off as arty was actually a large moustache – November is grow a moustache for the same charity every year month.

1.1384841479.johnson-the-interview-focus

Interest was… muted. I’m far from having a representative sample, but people are not overly optimistic about their team’s chances. Thinking about it, though, no one has said England are good, just that Australia are “**** now, mate”. Warne and McGrath are a recent enough phenomenon that memories take precedence over rating the current team. Although, equally, the problem “isn’t the bowlers, mate”. Back at the beach, it was great to see the respect given to the trio, no one interfering beyond the occasional handshake and ‘good luck’, but with only 1s of people making their way over to take a picture, it would be fair to say the beach wasn’t stirred beyond a factor of 1.

Creeket

Creeket
London, United Kingdom

London, United Kingdom


Thanks to running club mate Fast Legs, I had a ticket for the second day, first test, NZ v Eng. FL had suggested we’d meet at 10.15, which was a bit early for a new parkrun trip, so I headed back to Ally Pally – a great course, and also a place I could drive to and leave the car for free. I’d run there twice before, but both times were in winter, with their alternate course in action and the conditions muddy and difficult. Totally different in May, with the park green and beautiful, and the ‘official’ course was just a bit more interesting. Having run cross country there as well as two parkruns on the winter course, none of it was new, but some parts run the other way round to XC. And I had a nice progressive run, making my way through the field. On the first lap, after the hill, I caught a youngster on the flat, only for him to run away, so on the second lap I made sure to catch him again. He seemed to flag at that, but it needed only a short vocal encouragement to have him on my tail. I was sure he’d beat me, but still did what I could, deciding that younger legs would be devastating at the end and so raising my pace with 600m or so to go. He stuck to my tail even so, and galloped off – encouragement job done, handshake bonding ensued.

As for Lords, I was there by 10.15. FL, though, has a new girlfriend, and they weren’t there till 11.30. It sounds like a long gap, but with a book to read, the sun in the sky and every tube arrival disgorging a new raft of people to gawk at – Lords’ clientele is particularly good for that – it just flew by.

And on with the cricket. In the end we saw both teams batting, and while England pushed on in the afternoon, a flurry of wickets (it’s always a flurry) meant the game was nicely in the balance at the end of the day. Perfect, and FL’s new girlfriend was new to the whole thing, as was her friend who joined us later, and so we could entertainingly* explain what exactly was going on. We even picked the right time to be exploring the bars, drinking through the end of the tea break and onward, with no wickets falling as Root and Trott produced what was, as it turned out, the match-winning partnership.

*well, you know.

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