Sunday, 5 January 2014

... and Then There Was None

37 wickets 13.97
There is an old story that goes along the line of a man so enamored of Ashes cricket, that when Michael Clarke finished his speech and the green and gold confetti littered the jubilant Australian team, he switched off the telly and spent fifteen minutes savoring the five nil drubbing his team had handed the hardest and oldest of enemies. The manner in which they had slowly demoralised England over the space of the previous six weeks was sweet indeed. It was a beautiful January day and his world could hardly be imagined this good or this perfect.

With that done, he went to the bathroom and after washing his hands on into his bedroom for a fresh shirt. It had been a while since he had taken his Australian supporters' shirt off. He popped his head into the laundry, which was strangely quiet and then went on to the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. It was during the first few sips that it dawned on him that he hadn't noticed his wife as he moved through the house.


Almost simultaneously, he spied a small note on the kitchen table. It was placed carefully in the corner of the table and the pen was still sitting across it. This usually meant an important message from the wife, so he thought he should read it immediately. Retrieving it, he read his wife's neat, slightly rounded handwriting with great attention.

"John. I can't stand your obsession with cricket any longer. Therefore, I'm leaving you."

The note was dated 22nd November.

It took just fifty minutes after tea on the third day at the SCG, for Alastair Cook's nightmare ending to an Ashes tour to come true and replace the complacent dreams which had bought him here. Three years ago, he had made a hundred on the same ground. So had Ian Bell. So had Matt Prior - not spoken of now that he had been banished to membership of the hi-viz club. Three years ago Cook scored runs so casually, that it seemed his million dollar smile was all it took for a hundred to appear before him, ready to do his bidding.

Of course, defeat was inevitable after the Gabba. From then on, England might have been chasing their tails but Mitchell Johnson, aka The Farmer's Wife, had cut them off by Perth. It didn't matter what eleven were sent out, they were all blind mice.

England broken in every sense
Before tea, Michael Carberry, a man who has batted out of character for an entire series was reversing that trend. His 43 had been laced with strong off drives from the back foot, with six of them hurrying to the boundary. Where was the plodder who had tried to be the man that Neil Crompton was apparently not allowed to be? Despite his best efforts, even the English equipment had had enough. His bat, unannounced and with no warning, simply folded in half as he defended a against from Nathan Lyon. Folded in half, straight across the blade, just below the last of the splice. Years ago, Rod Marsh sent his blade further than the ball in a ODI. That was dramatic.

In contrast, this was just a limp response symptomatic of England's summer.

After tea, Australia had caught the mood and were in the pink as England lost seven wickets in fifty minutes. Stuart Broad lashed out at the end at Nathan Lyon but trying to do the same against Ryan Harris, lost his stumps. Ben Stokes had earlier done the same. England's only bright light, the  allrounder had smashed 32 of sixteen balls before suffering Broad's fate. Harris bowls a "you miss I hit" line at the tail that any fourth grade captain would understand. Stokes looked like a frustrated man: angry at his team's showing and ashamed to know he will always be listed in the scoresheets associated with it. His seniors, particularly the best three bats in the squad - Cook, Bell and Pietersen - all succumbed like ... like Carberry's bat, limp and resigned to their fate.

Harris ended with 5-25 and the man of the match award, claiming others should have won it. Whilst Johnson has attracted the attention in much the same way Thommo did in 74/75, Harris has been the steady man all along. He was in the lead up in England. Rotation go to hell. Let the big man play.

Johnson predictably was named the man of the series. The day when batting wicket keepers who push and cajole behind the scenes as a team leader but put their face and their deeds boisterously into every aspect of a visiting teams experience ... the day when blokes like Brad Haddin get named man of the series are as far off as Australia respecting politicians again. Won't happen.

Johnson was brilliant with the ball and played one important innings with the bat. For the Englishmen, he put the "f" back into the word batting.

More impressive were the changes that have happened to him as a man and how well he has let those changes seat in him. He was dangerous but unflappable. The very definition of controlled, cold, hard aggression. In his acceptance speech, he even alluded to a time when he let things get at him ... things that could no longer hurt and deter him. He has suffered at the hands of his own as much as the Barmy Army: been crippled by destructive moods and trashed by those closest to him. Married, in love and doting on a daughter, he has risen stronger and more resilient. Impressive stuff.

Much to say about England. Much more to say about Australia.

We wait a month to see how good we really are.