Sunday, July 19, 2009

Best day's play ever?

No matter what happens tomorrow, Day 4 of the 2nd Ashes Test at Lord's, 19th July 2009 will go down as one of the best day's cricket I have ever seen. I wish I was there to see it live.

This is why the Ashes is such a great spectacle. Ever since 2005, when England breathed life back into Ashes cricket with their famous 2-1 win, I have followed every ball I can of England-Australia series. Unlike the previous seventeen years when England looked beaten before they even set foot on the field, since 2005 there has been a belief to their game that has made each test well worth watching. Even the 2006/7 series in Australia was a fantastic series in my book - despite the fact that Australia won 5-0, England were "in" every game except for Brisbane, but just couldn't land the killer blows when they counted. None more so than in Adelaide which they came oh-so-close to winning, but somehow contrived to lose.

As I type, Adelaide is on my mind, for more than one reason. First and foremost is the result, with Australia winning from a seemingly unwinnable position. The other is because of what I can remember as possibly the greatest partnership I've ever seen, in the form of the 192-run stand between Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, that took Australia from the absolute brink at 3/65 to the relative comfort of 4/257. I watched nearly all of it before I couldn't keep my eyes open - I was watching it in England - but can remember watching every ball, completely riveted, and marvelling at both players' powers of concentration. Even though good batting was still to come in the form of Clarke and Gilchrist, you knew that if another partnership failed Australia were surely doomed, and so every single ball counted. Both players played within themselves and scored runs when they were available - the only thing that disappointed me was that Hussey didn't reach the ton he so deserved. Ponting said afterwards that his innings was "not one of his best" or similar, and that it was more about occupation than anything else - for the very reason that he had to play against his natural attacking instincts and still succeeded, I thought it was an absolute masterclass and his best innings to date.

There was similar feel to today's 185-run stand between Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin, although there was no sense of Australia being doomed if this partnership failed - it was clear that they were already doomed, and any sort of a resistance was only going to delay the inevitable. Clarke started brightly and dominated the strike, and when he saw the ball Haddin played well - but the talk was still about poor umpiring and how Australia were going to bounce back from what was obviously going to be a humiliating defeat. Mike Atherton, who has recently shed his dry impartiality for a one-eyedness that I'm finding very disappointing, even started talking about Ricky Ponting's future as captain.

And yet the partnership carried on, and seemingly without anyone noticing, started to become quite significant. 50 runs were brought up in 58 balls. 100 in 157. 150 in 242, until finally when bad light was called, 185 had been racked up in 47.2 overs at a rate of 3.90 an over. Utterly phenomenal when you consider that next-highest Australian partnership for the entire match was 93, and that the entire Australian team could only manage 215 for the first innings. Michael Clarke, not my favourite player and someone who I've thought has underachieved in his career to date, seemed not to put a foot wrong and played brilliantly for his 125 n.o., and Haddin, some late risk-taking aside, was equally impressive with his 80. They have now batted Australia into a situation whereby victory is not inconceivable - unthinkable when they came to the crease at 128/5.

Naturally, the day wasn't all about Clarke and Haddin, even though they played together for more than half of it. You can't talk about Day 4 without bringing up Katich, Hughes and Hussey, and the diabolical luck they had. Hughes in particular has got to be wondering what he can do in England so far this series - a bottom-edge in Cardiff, the unluckiest of dismissals down the legside in the first innings at Lord's, and now the catch that wasn't in the second. I've posted it below - I don't know how long it will be before someone takes it down, but here it is in glorious technicolour. The title is not mine, nor are the speech bubbles.

I for one don't happen to think that Andrew Strauss cheated anyone. I think you can see why he thought it was out. Essentially, the ball met the ground at the same time his hands did, and to him it felt like a catch. The other, and more obvious reason I don't think he cheated is because he's not that stupid - just the same as any international cricketer worth his salt. Why would you claim a catch like that when there are cameras everywhere, unless you really thought it was a clean catch? You'd get run out of town - and he still might. I doubt it, though - his name isn't Ricky Ponting (more on that in a later post).

All of that said, I don't think it was out. There's no way a third umpire would gave given it, and as Shane Warne says in the clip, how can Billy Doctrove, from 40 metres away, POSSIBLY say it was out? The umpiring has been shocking all match, and this is the worst example of it. It's so disappointing when things like this happen, and for three bad decisions to go against the Australians in what was a fantastic day's play was hugely frustrating. I'll be the first to stick my hand up and say that with or without Haddin and Clarke's partnership, England have been the best team in this match and daylight has been second - but that doesn't mean that things like this should happen. The only thing to say apart from "arse" or similar, is that in pressure situations, umpiring decisions will tend go with the run of play. 2005 taught us that if nothing else.

What I loved about today though was that it was ALL on a knife-edge, and every ball mattered. Even the above controversies contributed to that. I was enthralled when Katich and Hughes started the innings, I was enthralled when Ponting came to the wicket, I was enthralled (and incensed) when Hughes was dismissed, and.... well, you make up the rest. And when Clarke and Haddin batted so well in the last session, I can't remember being as excited watching a game of cricket in a long time. Maybe Langer and Gilchrist's partnership against Pakistan at Hobart comes close.

I'm actually seldom more interested in a game of (Test) cricket unless Australia is losing. I take no pleasure from it you understand - but its purely because of the occasional bolt of brilliance like these partnerships that make me want to watch it more. When Australia lost to South Africa in Australia late last year I was in the UK and watched nearly every ball. As it was, South Africa won easily. But they might not have. Something INCREDIBLE could have happened to turn around the game - and I never want to miss that.

And the best thing about the current situation is that it's not finished!! Anything could happen from here - it could still rain, and we'll get a draw! I really hope it doesn't rain, though - I want to see this to the bitter end. I just hate to think what will happen if we lose a wicket with about 150 runs to go, and then someone has to bat with Johnson, and then the tail. What if we need, say, 40 runs, and it's Johnson and Hilfenhaus at the crease? Will we see another Edgbaston?

Anyone got a spare defibrillator?

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