There is something comforting about the Adelaide oval, without any cricket being played, the commentators would still be able to fill many hours of their time here.
Thus, I have devised a game. A drinking game, a beautiful and traditional game, to entertain you as you are drowing in commentary cliche.
Mention of the hill, cathedral, AFL, renovation
If Les Burdett is uttered by Ian Chappell
Any time the word beautiful is used when talking about the ground
Short square boundaries
Batting friendly pitch
Any reference to Darren Lehmann in any way
Every time the scoreboard is mentioned with any of the terms ‘classic, heritage listed, pretty, olden’ (from @ABRFOTO)
If Les Burdett is mentioned by someone other than Chapelli
Anyone reminiscing about how the ground used to be (three fingers if they say the word traditional or proper)
A mention of the out the back of the members and fun
An image of someone drunk with the boof or dizzy statue
Mention of Nathan Lyon being the former groundskeeper, two fingers (from @_halshaw)
Glenn McGrath catch, one finger. Two if it’s mentioned that he caught it in the wrong hand. (from @LiebCricket)
Long straight boundaries
Les Favell’s name
Victor Richardson’s name
Drop in pitch talk
A mention of the grass banks
If someone brings up Chapell’s bar (if it’s followed by Chappelli saying how he’d rather have a bar than a stand named after him, that’s another 3 fingers)
The phrase ‘South Australian legend’
A sighting of Graham Cornes.
Victor Richardson gates.
If someone tells the Paul Collingwood super slide story.
A mention of Warne and fifth day’s. Or England’s first innings total in that Test. (both is downing your drink).
Moreton bay figs (@tomcstandard)
Down your drinks
If Chappell mentions both Les Favell and Les Burdett in the one anecdote.
All appearances, or mentions of, Nugget.
A mention of the out the back of the members with the word marquees used
For River Torrens or Memorial Drive references
Drink a bottle of something you’d never usually drink
Any reference to David Hookes in any way
If someone says Newlands is prettier.
George Dobell and I are driving between the first two tests, and talking nonsense while doing it.
The 2011 series between India and England was supposed to be a heavyweight contest for the No. 1 Test ranking. But had England played Ravi Shastri on his own holding a microphone, they would have got stiffer opposition. England won 4-0. England were No. 1.
Until today, England were unbeaten in their ten Tests this year. It is not a record to be mocked. A closer look does show that five of those were draws, four against teams with far worse recent records and low rankings.
It would be foolish and idiotic to say this England team is shot because they have lost this one Test. First Tests are not England’s speciality; they outlast and win over teams in the long haul. That might still happen; they could come back in Adelaide and win this series. But despite that fact, England have certainly not been at their best since they demolished India at home. Something is not quite right with this team.
Jonathan Trott’s second innings shot might be the one people remember, but the sight of a well-set Alastair Cook nicking Nathan Lyon behind might be the real story of the last two years of English cricket. A lack of daddy hundreds.
In 2009, Andy Flower picked Graham Gooch from commentary duties and got him to look after his batsmen. It started as part-time but soon became a full-time position. In 2010, Alastair Cook was an edgy, flawed mess at the crease. A year later he was a batting like a lizard God.
Gooch may have fixed, tweaked and encouraged better results, but what the world heard was “daddy hundreds”. A hundred was okay, but a score of 150 and over was a daddy. Gooch wanted Gooch-style hundreds, he wanted England players to approach the 333s, he wanted them to control the game, grind the bowlers into the ground and cash in when they were on top.
It was almost as if anything under 150 was seen by Gooch as flirting. An inconsequential occupation of the crease. The hundreds he wanted were the ones that bat companies use on the stickers of their bats. The kind that you tell your friends you were at. The ones that win series and kill bowlers.
England responded by scoring many of these hundreds. They ground bowlers into the turf, they won series after series, they became the best side in the world. The daddy hundred was their foundation.
The idea was simple enough; England wanted to bat for the longest time, blunting the new ball, setting up the game for their batsmen to tire out the bowlers for this Test, and the next, ensuring that their bowlers were fully rested between innings. Opposition batsmen would look at scores of 500, 600 or 700 and be mentally defeated.
It’s not a radical plan, although it was different to the more attacking smash-the-opposition-bowlers-around-the-head-and-mentally-beat-them style of Australia and West Indies. Most importantly, like a team of well-programmed robots, England did it almost perfectly.
They lost to West Indies at the start of 2009. They were bowled out for 51. It was a low point. Andrew Strauss was the new captain, Flower interim coach. But in their next nine Test series, they won eight and drew one. And considering the one they drew was in South Africa, it was a pretty great time to be an England player. In that period they played 31 Tests and they scored 16 daddy hundreds. When their players got in, they didn’t leave until the opposition bowlers were completely defeated.
By the time India arrived in England, they were entering a machine of efficiency that they couldn’t compete with. They handed their No. 1 crown straight over.
England blew past them and started talking legacy. Being No. 1 was nice, but this was a team that wanted to be the sort of side that people talked about for generations to come. With only Strauss nearing retirement, No. 1 was a step on the way to cricket’s next dynasty.
You had to be at the Gabba in 2010 to know how complete Cook, Strauss and Trott’s domination of Australia was. England had stuttered in the first innings. They’d very nearly broken Australia with the ball, before being smashed by Haddin and Hussey. All the hope and expectation that England had coming into the series had already started to evaporate for all but their most fanatical fans. Then came 517 for 1.
Strauss made a normal hundred. Trott was on the way to a daddy. Cook made a daddy. It was solid, clinical and sweatless. Mitchell Johnson was embarrassed. Ben Hilfenhaus was milked. Neither would play in the next Test. If Steve Harmison’s first ball was a symbol of how weak and ill-equipped England were for the Ashes in 2006-07, then 517 for 1 in this series was a statement they were absolutely ready.
It was only a draw. But that innings changed the dynamic of the two teams. England weren’t afraid, they weren’t useless, and once they got in, they weren’t moving.
A week later, in Adelaide, Cook made 148, practically a daddy. Pietersen made 227. Dougie Bollinger, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris bowled 88 overs. From that moment onwards, even with the freak win in Perth, Australia were never going to win that Test series.
The series after beating India, England lost their first series in ten attempts. They went to play Pakistan in the UAE with a clear plan to sweep. Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehmann tormented them. England’s bowlers did very well and did everything they could to keep them in the game but their batsmen couldn’t find any runs, and Pakistan struck down the No. 1 Test side.
Soon after, England went to Galle and lost to Rangana Herath. In Colombo, in the second and final Test against Sri Lanka, Kevin Pietersen made a daddy hundred. England drew the series. It was a good end to a horror winter.
Perhaps it was a hangover from becoming No. 1, maybe just a blip, or even a weakness against spin. But England had rightly been favoured to win both series and won neither. They bounced back by beating West Indies, and Tino Best’s innings aside, they were okay.
Then South Africa arrived and there was something not quite right about England. The South Africa batsmen were playing the way England used to, and the English batsmen had become cavalier. Strauss was in a funk that would end his career. Cook started nicking off at balls he wouldn’t previously have given the time of day. Trott was loose. Ian Bell never got going. Matt Prior was good but couldn’t make a ton. Only Pietersen, who played one of the great innings, and caused off-field carnage, looked anything like his best.
For South Africa, three daddy hundreds were made. Amla’s (a family patriarch 311) was the one that set up the whole series. It was only three Tests, a woeful playoff for world No. 1, but England never looked like the better team. They almost stole the Test at Headingley, they were close enough not to get embarrassed at Lord’s, but South Africa were just better.
Coming off a loss to South Africa, with an ordinary result against Sri Lanka, and a beating by Pakistan in their minds, England were hammered in Ahmedabad. Almost no sides would have come back from that. And they might not have, had it not been for Cook, the new captain.
Much like at the Gabba, they were massively behind in the game, and looking shaky, when Cook batted for 556 minutes and made his daddy 176. England were still humiliated by nine wickets. But Cook had shown them that they could score in India, and when they did, they could do it for a very long time.
The next Test, Cook made a normal hundred, Pietersen made a daddy, England won by 10 wickets. The third Test Cook made 190. England won by seven wickets. The fourth was drawn, largely because of Trott’s 143.
England had won in India for the first time since 1984-85, coming from one Test down. After losing their No. 1 crown and the ast series against South Africa, it was an amazing effort and a historical win. Perhaps the other series were a temporary blip.
Graeme Swann missed the trip to New Zealand, Pietersen came home during it, both with old-man wear-and-tear injuries. A New Zealand team missing a few players as well shouldn’t have been a real challenge for the recent No. 1 and conquerors of India. It turned out that the best England could do in the series was hold on to a draw, with Prior and Monty Panesar holding on to lifeboats. They only just managed to lose a series they should never have been in a position to lose. But they atoned back in the UK with an easy win over a now-hapless New Zealand.
Against Australia earlier this year, they were never at their best. They went very close to losing the first Test, smashed Australia in the second, were in a very dangerous position when the rain came in the third, founded an inspirational Stuart Broad to win the fourth, and almost stole the fifth before bad light spoiled the party.
For the batsmen, Bell was outstanding, but no one else was. Pietersen was good, Root had one amazing innings, but without Bell, the entire series might have looked different. The Australian bowlers were never pushed into the ground. The Australian batsmen were never kept waiting for hours on end. England just won almost every important moment in the series.
In their eight series since becoming No. 1, England had won four, drawn two, and lost two. It was hardly a collapse, but it was a long way from 517 for 1.
The early Flower years had 16 daddy hundreds. The last two years had only five from five fewer Tests, three of which were in their amazing win over India. Back in the old days, even Broad was making daddy hundreds.
In the last two years all their regular batsmen are averaging below their career averages. Cook is minus five, Prior minus four, even Bell minus eight despite his magical Ashes. Trott is down eight runs, along with Pietersen, even though he has made two of the best Test hundreds ever in that time. The story has been one of deterioration.
In the two years before that, Cook averaged 12 runs above his career total (17 more than in the previous two-year period), Prior 1 more (an increase of five), Bell 26 more (an increase of 34), Pietersen 1 more (nine ahead), and Trott 11 more (19 runs better). That was a whole lot of improvement.
But with poorer individual numbers have come lower totals. England have not passed 400 in the last 18 attempts. And it’s hard to grind the opposition down when you don’t pass 400.
None of the other batsmen have fared much better. Strauss retired. Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara are now perceived as limited-overs specialists. Samit Patel was a horse for a course in Sri Lanka. James Taylor and Nick Compton are out of favour; one might come back, the other probably never will. Jonny Bairstow never really got going but should be back. Root oozes talent, and has a decent record so far, but he needs to find his position and be trusted for a while. Other than Strauss, none of the above average over 40 in Test cricket.
Anderson, Swann and Broad haven’t had the same drop-off. They are all the same or better than their career averages in both periods. Even without the rest and the psychological advantage that their batsmen used to provide, they are still players who have been constantly winning matches for England, or keeping them in them.
The only weakness in England’s bowling in that time has been the fourth man in the attack. Tim Bresnan, once presented as a novelty good-luck charm, was actually averaging 23 with the ball in that period, and often bowled the hard spells to rest the strike bowlers. He had the ability to keep the run rate down or take the wickets.
Then Bresnan picked up an elbow injury. Because it was Bresnan, and everything about him is so low key, it was barely talked about. But from that point on, Bresnan never looked like the same bowler. In the last two years, he has averaged 45 with the ball. Some of that was on Asian pitches but his average at home is also 40. Currently Bresnan is out of the team, his recovery from a stress fracture not yet proven.
The other fourth bowlers have not been much better. Chris Tremlett was brought back much on the form of three years ago and looks like a bad artist’s impression of the Tremlett from then. Steve Finn is deemed too expensive and cannot consistently stay in the team. Graham Onions dominates county cricket but couldn’t get in the squad for this tour, let alone the team.
England’s newer options haven’t looked great. Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan were average and poor respectively at The Oval, but they at least have youth and, in Woakes’ case, batting on their side. Panesar will be back, possibly as soon as Adelaide, but his form in county cricket won’t have Australia scared. A long-term answer for the fourth bowling spot is not that apparent, unless Finn learns the discipline Flower craves.
That England could not win or save the Test at the Gabba was always inevitable. None of their batsmen stepped up, none of them ever looked remotely unmovable, and at no time did two men get together and become the rocks that at least would bring England some respect. There was no fight, no runs, and no hundreds, let alone a daddy.
The key men are changing. Strauss is gone. Geoff Miller has announced his intention to stand down as chairman of selectors. Flower might be next. The core of the team is still almost all there – because you don’t fluke repeated double-centuries and totals of over 500 – but will this lot of quality players be able to lift England to those heights again?
The legacy they were trying to build is now secondary to just trying to regain their best form, and chasing South Africa as the best team on earth. There was a time when a missed run-out of Cook would have almost certainly cost you a daddy hundred, and any chance of winning a game. This time it cost Australia 65 runs and an earlier finish.
The definition of funky captaincy seems to only be truly known by Shane Warne. But moving all the fielders back to ensure that Michael Clarke is on strike to Stuart Broad should surely be considered funky captaincy. It is psychological, innovative and attacking.
Surely when Clarke came in, he wasn’t expecting to be treated like a tailender? Clarke was expecting England to poke his flaw with a stick, but maybe not so hard.
What was more predictable was Broad coming on. It could have also been funky, but it had to happen despite the fact Broad had just finished a spell of bowling. Broad had a short leg and a leg slip, so Clarke knew what was coming. When it did, he pulled it.
Clarke has a pull shot, but he wouldn’t generally play it to the tenth ball he faces. The next ball he was at it again. Two fours in two balls. It was a bit different to how he played the short ball in the first innings when he looked like an osteoarthritis-riddled octogenarian who walked into a game of cricket by accident.
The first pull had authority, the second one nervous energy, but he’d conquered something. Perhaps not his back, as he still didn’t need to be twisting all the way, but he no longer looked like the target that Broad has been flicking darts at for six Tests.
The next over he played a back foot push as pretty as anything you will ever see, or at least as pretty as any three played in Test cricket this year. Broad bowled three more balls at him, one short that Clarke pulled to the sweeper on the boundary (a decidedly less funky move by Cook). James Anderson was taken off as well and Clarke was set.
The problem with Clarke is once he is set, you sort of have to wait for him to leave. At the last Gabba Test, had it been timeless, he’d still be out there batting. At the Gabba he’s averaging over a hundred with five centuries. The short ball didn’t work, he wasn’t tested enough with full balls outside off stump, and the next best way to get Clarke out is when he walks down the wicket and misses a spinner when he’s scored well more than a hundred. That is how England eventually got him. By then, any hope of a miracle victory was well gone.
It was Graeme Swann who took the wicket, it was his first. After 20.5 overs, Swann had 1 for 112. At the declaration he’d improved that too 2 for 135 off 27. Swann has travelled the world and been very successful. But in Australia, like many offspinners before him, he’s not the same creature. Australian pitches eat up the best finger spinners, and other than success at the Adelaide Oval, Swann has been another casualty so far.
Clarke, and David Warner, played him like he was a part timer brought on to improve the over rate. When Swann finally removed Clarke, he mocked the fact he’d taken a wicket. As he took George Bailey’s wicket, he seemed to say “two-fer”. But Bailey’s wicket probably deserved more than Swann mocking himself, as it was his 250th Test wicket, making him the third quickest there for England, and at an average of 28.
Yet in this match he’s been out-bowled by Nathan Lyon and even at times Joe Root. At one stage Swann was so desperate he asked for a review of a ball that Warner had middled.
Swann’s form at the Gabba is really the anti-Clarke. His first four overs here last time went for 34 runs. In the first innings of that Test he ended with 2 for 128. It’s as if the Gabba doesn’t like him. Some have suggested using more over spin, but it’s not as if that’s the easiest thing for a spinner to do. Although at times trying that might have been preferable to just looking disappointed that his fielders couldn’t cut off the runs almost every single ball. It’s not as if Swann is the only offspinner to have struggled at the Gabba. In the whole history of Test Cricket here, only six offspinners have taken produced five wicket hauls.
The combination of Clarke finding his feet, on his favourite ground, against Swann bowling on a pitch that hates him, when he was in a shocking mood, while his team was losing, against a guy who plays spin really well, meant that Clarke raced to his hundred and Swann had the sort of day Clarke did on day one. Clarke overcame his flaw, and rubbed salt in Swann’s at the same time.
A full toss down the legside is as bad a ball you can bowl in cricket. It is a ball so bad it is almost as if it was designed just so it could not get a wicket. It is how Mitchell Johnson started his day.
After three overs of few good balls, extra nervous paces in his run up and some shocking balls down the legside, Johnson was off. The new ball was being wasted. The only ball that showed that a good day was possible was a very full ball to Michael Carberry that swung late and beat him. But the seam told a story. Instead of being straight like Ryan Harris or James Anderson would present it, it was all over the place. The ball seemed to swing more because it felt sorry for Johnson, rather than anything else.
The second spell only happened because of Harris’s controlled probing of Alastair Cook. But as Jonathan Trott came in, Johnson was reborn. Again.
Australians don’t see the IPL. So performances there don’t count for much. Five wickets in one Shield match doesn’t change much either. Australians often don’t watch tours, especially one-day tours. And the Champions Trophy is often, and easily, ignored.
But the talk of Johnson continued to grow. Of course, anyone can pick up a few IPL batsmen and scare them. Often a foreign quick is the first they’ve seen. And as a white ball bowler, in Australia and otherwise, Johnson has often had series and years where he travels from ground to ground scaring the hell out of any poor batsmen who have to face him. It is not often happened like that in Tests.
He can talk up his form, Brett Lee can talk up his form, Allan Border can talk up his form, David Warner can talk up his form, and hell, even Sachin Tendulkar can talk up his form, but this is Test cricket. A form of cricket where Johnson has spread his absolute worst around many times. He would not be bowling to a skinny kid from Karnataka who has never seen a quick bowler before, or bowling with a white ball that swings if you get the seam roughly in the right place. This was the real deal, the place he had been and failed many times before.
The last time England were at the Gabba, Johnson was at his worst. And his worst is something that is almost special in its completeness. The ball turns into his enemy, his head almost retracts into his chest, and he has the perfect facial expression that combines gormless confusion and utter despair. 0 for 170 and a dropped catch were what he gave.
The next Test he played after being dropped/rested, Johnson was man of the match.
“The television does not do any justice to the physicality of Johnson” is how Ed Cowan described what it is like to face him. It’s not immediately obvious as he walks up to his mark what a brute he is.
Ryan Harris walks to his mark like a man about to pick up a truck and beat his enemy to death with it. Johnson has polite, eager, controlled steps, like an office worker who wants to go to the far sandwich shop to get his falafel wrap, but is worried about how long it will take.
When finally at the top of his mark, Johnson’s flick of the ball to himself is effete, coming out of the back of his wrist. It is not going to intimidate anyone.
Then it all changes when he comes in. The crouch and power run-up start are much more intense and the massive step and sling (which according to Ed Cowan “takes an eternity for the ball to be launched towards you”) is pretty intimidating. On a bad Mitch day, none of this is that big of a problem; on a good Mitch day, all of this plays into his force.
And his force looks increased. Maybe it’s the masculine moustache, but his face looks tougher and his body looks stronger. He was never not well put together. Now he looks even bigger and more brutal. One journalist described his calves as practically exploding. And maybe he is wearing a tighter shirt these days, but even his veins seem to have muscles on them.
Moustache or not, at times he had a boy’s face that made him look like a cuddly fast bowler that you could almost feel sorry for. Today he did not.
The spell that was supposed to be at Trott started with 12 straight balls at Carberry. At one stage, four out of five of them were bouncers. He also put a few down the leg side, perhaps to get Carberry off strike, but more likely he just had no control. A leg slip was brought in, but a second, finer fine leg could have helped as well.
When he finally got to Trott, he was different. Cook and Carberry had played him without much trouble. With Trott he just assumed the batsman would struggle. Straightaway he slammed him on the gloves. Mitch stared at Trott in such an intense way; the old Mitch would have been afraid. Trott’s defence was to hop across his stumps and scoop the ball away. It showed a fear and frailty in Trott that you almost never see.
Next over, Mitch bowled an innocuous ball down the leg side, Trott continued to jump to the off side, and this time got some bat behind to Haddin.
It was clearly a plan, and it was clearly intentional, but the actual plan was for Trott to receive a ball flying up at his ribs from around the wicket that he could not get out the way of, not just feather a ball he should not have been able to reach. In many ways, Mitch is master of the accident. He created the mistake, but had he bowled a better ball he probably wouldn’t have got the wicket.
Fast bowlers have such a reputation that one admitting to getting counseling to get over ribbing from the crowd (even well-organized bullying) would usually seem out of place. But no one was surprised when Mitch said he got some counselling to overcome what the Barmy Army put him through. His frailties have never been hidden.
The Barmy Army were never going to let him off easy this time, and a few good showings with the white ball weren’t about to stop them chanting their well-known rhyming verse.
This time he almost seemed to want it. He was talking about attacking throats and targeting batsmen, this from a man seemingly on the verge of tears at many times in his career. If he could not get England out, he was happy with putting them in hospital. He had even noted they had flown left-armers in to prepare for him. England, being the arch planners they are, would always do that. But he saw it as a personal victory. Another confidence boost for the new improved Mitch.
There is a theory that when Johnson bats well, he bowls well. It does occasionally happen. His only hundred was in a game where he took 4 for 148. And one of his 10-wicket hauls came when he scored a pair. So it is not science. But no one who has even casually glanced at Johnson would see him as anything other than a confidence player.
When he bowled to Carberry around the wicket, he looked like a completely different bowler to the one that Carberry had blunted easily all day. The first ball crashed into Carberry; he jumped in anticipation as George Bailey scrambled for it. There was no bat on it, but it seemed to excite Johnson greatly. The next ball was a very quick bouncer, and a terrible attempted hook from Carberry. Next ball Carberry was out.
Root’s wicket was just a standard full and wide Johnson ball; it could have happened on any day, even one of his bad days. Swann’s wicket was granted by a guy who was thinking of short balls when he got a full one, and despite Johnson trying to decapitate Broad and Tremlett, he couldn’t get the fifth wicket he obviously deserved.
At the end, Johnson had taken nearly half the wickets and gone for nearly half the runs. Johnson upset some batsmen, frightened others and roughed up almost all of them. He has been more brutal, on pitches just as lifeless, but he had not done it much when people had talked him up to this extent. He had never looked as brutal for so long. And he had almost never done it when people really expected him too.
Days like this do not forgive him for the many bad days, they just make him even more frustrating. Also exciting, as you know you’re probably going to get something quite newsworthy from him, one way or another. There are few players who can win a Test so quickly. For either team.
Johnson might not win Australia another Test this series. He might not win them this one. He might get dropped before the end of it. He might never win Australia another Test. And this time next year he might have played his last-ever Test match. All of that is possible in the career of Mitchell Johnson. His future is as unpredictable as his next delivery.