A short Kumar journey

Airports during the world cup were packed with cricketers.  You literally couldn’t move for bumping into Lendl Simmons facetiming his family, a fan pushing past Rod Marsh to get Geoff Boycott’s autograph or Preston Mommsen buying a new neck pillow.

For me, it was Kumar Sangakkara that stood out the most.

Australia had beaten Sri Lanka at the SCG, I was off to Hobart, as was the Sri Lankan team.  But the Sri Lankan team had travelled in a large group.  Kumar was a part from them.  He was trying to check his family in for another flight.  He had his wife and two small children.  It was clear that they were in the wrong part of the airport for his family’s flight, so Kumar had to drag all their luggage out of the terminal and find the right place.

He also had two of those massive suitcases that only families who can’t pack efficiently have, and he was dragging both of them behind him, while his kids jumped up on them.  He never even stopped, he just kept dragging these bags with kids on them.

The night before he had made 104.  It was his third, of what would end up as four, hundreds on the trot.  He was one of the most famous cricketers alive, in some of the greatest form of his life, during a world cup where everyone was talking about him, was performing such a mundane, annoying task.

No one went up to him, no one other than me, even noticed it was him.  He was just a dad, who was tired, but still willing to do what he needed to do for his family.

There must have been times he felt much the same when batting for, or captaining Sri Lanka.  He must have looked over at the fame and adulation of Indian players, the wealth of the Australian or English players, and shook his head.

Kumar was a legend the night before as he slammed the feared Australian attack around, he was a legend as he pulled his bags (and kids) in that airport the next day and a legend when he smashed Scotland a couple of days later.

When he finally got his family away, and checked in himself, three Sri Lankan fan security guards asked for a photo.  Kumar was fed up, probably sore, and dashing for his plane.  There were four photo combinations taken, at one stage, I actually thought they’d get him to take a photo just of them.  He smiled well for all of them.  Then dashed off.

Had that been an Indian player with a Test batting average of 57 the airport would have come to a standstill for him.  But that day, Kumar took as many photos with fans in the airport as Xavier Doherty did.

An all time legend of cricket, a hero of his nation, but mostly, the invisible force of Test Cricket.

After the Scotland hundred, I spoke to one of the bowlers, I wanted him to articulate what it is like to bowl to Kumar when he is in that form.  Instead he paused and stared into the distance.  It was like he was staring at the face of God.  Then he took a long breath.

Bowlers can now breath easier.  But cricket has a lost a God.

Stand For Cricket

On Thursday the 20th August, the first day of the final Ashes Test, I’ll be outside the Oval at 10am, with other cricket fans.  We’ll be standing for a three minute silence to protest the Big 3’s silencing of the rest of the cricket world.  We’ll be standing to #changecricket. Here is why I’ll be standing.

When I was 27 I was parking cars for a living.

Then, cricket.

Three years on I’d written for Wisden, published two books, and played cricket on the Nursery Ground at Lord’s.

A few years on from that I’ve travelled around the world with cricket.  I’ve commentated the close of a Test match in South Africa.  Seen India v Pakistan on three continents.  Saw perhaps the most agile streaker ever in New Zealand.  Got smashed in the nets of Arun Lal’s cricket academy (after bowling one dream leggie).  Chatted to a Jamaican Taxi driver on Garner vs Holding. Seen Chris Gayle range hitting a cricket ball onto a Sri Lankan street.  And commentated a cricket game at the G.

Now the only two websites I have ever used as homepages in my life, cricinfo and imdb, both have my name on them.

Cricket gave me all that.  But, that’s just a job.  Cricket had always given me things.

It kept me out of trouble as a teenager.  The one time I was caught shoplifting was on the eve of a game. And just the fear that I may not play the next day was enough for me fly straight a for a while.  When I was at my lowest points, when I was told that someone who did not finish highschool would never amount to anything, and I faced a life of random jobs and constant disappointments, it was cricket that helped me not drive into the parked semi trailer on my night shifts back home.

Playing cricket, watching cricket, talking absolute shit about cricket.

This blog started in a pizza place called Pepperonis near Flinders St station in Melbourne.  It was the best place for me and my mates to meet before heading to the G for the footy, and often where we would head straight after the cricket as well.  Me and my mate Sime liked the pizza, but perhaps the best part was the fact that no matter what Joel (Big Daddy) ordered, they got wrong, or just plain forgot.  Cricket just gave us something never ending to talk about, argue about.  In a Chicago hostel on our way to the 2003 World Cup we argued about Adam Gilchrist and what they next five years of his career would produce, until someone slammed the wall telling us it was 3am.

Before that it was cricket in the backyard, the front yard, the street, the park, a school, the nets, on a concrete, matting, synthetic and then finally actual turf.

In the backyard my dad always triggered everyone, as only old bowlers can. My uncle Gary was always on the look out for a creative way to use his knowledge of the laws of cricket to make an extra single.  My uncle Ross batted like a 12 year old boy his whole life, which always amused us.  My uncle Terry had this slow and jerky style of bowling that never looked like it would go straight, but the only loose ball he bowled would be so far down legside you couldn’t score off it. My cousins were all bowlers, a couple of legspinners and a few fast medium bowlers. Our games usually had quick turnovers as no one was a really great bat.  My cousin Megan would get a second chance, and would often use that to hit the ball over the fence.  My mum played everything across the line, she had a killer cross court forehand in tennis, and that was her only shot in cricket as well.

We still play today, my mum still has surprising good reflexes at short cover.

I played at school, not often in PE, or for the school, but at morning break and lunch.  Then after school.  Behind the kindergarten in Greenbrook that I once attended there were concrete pitches, so you had to pocket every spare cricket ball you could.  I remember Kevin’s inswingers, Jase’s offcutters, Justin’s bouncers and a young kid called Jacob (before he went on to play for Richmond) who could come over when he heard the ball slam into his families fence.

It was always there for me.  On the radio, on the TV, in a conversation, out on the ground, wherever I needed it.  My last proper conversation with my grandpa was about cricket.  When my wife had a miscarriage, I threw myself into cricket.  It didn’t matter how bad my life was, there was always cricket.  There was always Dean Jones, Martin Crowe, Mushtaq Ahmed, Wasim Akram, Craig Howard, Ian Harvey, Brian Lara, Rahul Dravid, Stephen Fleming, Virender Sehwag, Bryce McGain,,my father, Westy, the Gibbs brothers, Dom, Adrian, Neil, Eddo and Housey.

There was always cricket.

When my dad and I didn’t get each other, we got cricket.  We could talk cricket.  We could watch cricket.  We always had that.

My wife and her father had a complicated relationship as well.  But they had cricket.  They had Sachin.  And my wife held on to that after her father passed away.

Our kids only exist because of cricket, without it, a hemisphere and a world apart, we would never have met. I still remember when my oldest son hit his first ball, that pure look of joy on his face as the ball hit the bat.  Surprise and pure happiness.  On my best days with cricket, I still get that.

And that’s why I will be standing for cricket, because cricket has always stood for me.  And, while your history might be different, I bet it has always stood for you.

It’s been used by sexists, racists, colonists, by Lord’s, by rulers, by dictators.  They have used and abused it.  Used it to segregate, used it to teach the natives how to be like them, used it to break down men and ignore women.  But cricket isn’t the men that run it.  Cricket isn’t racist.  Cricket is wonderful. Beautiful.  Perfect even when it isn’t. It’s us who are flawed.  It’s us who have allowed it to be used this way.

That’s why I am standing for cricket.  Maybe we should have always been standing for cricket.  Maybe we shouldn’t have waited for three men to use money and ego to bully the 102 official cricket nations and steal the game for their own self serving reasons . Maybe as cricket fans we should have always stood for cricket. But let us stand now.

If you can’t get to the Oval, stand for three minutes wherever you are.  This is our sport.  We can give it three minutes after a lifetime of what it has given us.

Stand for cricket.

Michael Clarke: greatness and love 

A clean skin and a baggy green. That is what Michael Clarke used on his home ground of the SCG as he made a triple-century.

It was a perfect cricket image. The young gun who had never been embraced, had struggled to ever make a positive impact, who had been given a failing team, was smashing India around, in the nation’s cap, with a sponsorless bat. Running up those historical SCG stairs, chatting mid-innings to the country through Channel Nine, and trying to win over a nation of doubters.

For the first time all those whispers, from current players, former players, the media and the fans, were drowned out by nothing but applause.

That is what Michael Clarke has always wanted, to be not just a player, not just a captain, but a great – a legend, loved and idolised forever. One of the golden baggy-green wearers. Trumper. Bradman. Border. Clarke.

Clarke wanted to be the hero riding the white horse. He wanted to be loved, adored, and iconic.

Eight years earlier he did what Australian batsmen for generations before him had never really been able to do, he treated India like his own personal playground. He scored 151, on debut, on one of the surfaces that Australia had spent decades treating like kryptonite. Clarke made those men look silly as he danced down to the great Anil Kumble and Australian torturer Harbhajan Singh. When facing Zaheer Khan, as he approached his hundred, Clarke took off his helmet and replaced it with a baggy green. It was another great image.

Former Australian legends had already whispered that he was a once-in-a-generation cricketer. Now we could see it for ourselves. He was called a breath of fresh air, his hairstyling became an odd media obsession. And he was the young star of one of the greatest teams of all time.

Clarke stated that he wanted to be one of those players who was never dropped. Don Bradman had been dropped. Ricky Ponting had been dropped. But here was a young kid stating that he wanted to stay in the team forever. He might as well have said, “I don’t want to be a player, I want to be a legend.”

The problem was that after the Bangalore innings, Clarke was like any young player. He had flaws, he had bad days, and teams played on his patience. He also hit the ball in the air a lot. From his third to his eighth Test series, he didn’t make a hundred. The pressure mounted. People stopped calling him a breath of fresh air, and started using “flashy”. It seemed like he was getting special treatment that he didn’t warrant. He was seen as a passenger. And while the whispers of him being dropped, and the whispers of those who turned on him got louder, Clarke continued to fight for his place, at press conferences far more than in the middle.

Then there was his real battle. Everything had come easy to Clarke. Since the age of 12 everyone had told him he would play for Australia. He was a cricketing Richie Rich. In his first three seasons he was a decent cricketer for New South Wales and hinted at something special, but there were no magical 1000-run seasons. There were no double- or triple-tons. He never averaged over 50. But with Clarke, it was, and had always been, obvious he was an Australian player. So he was promoted.

The biggest problem with this was that when he lost form for Australia, he had nothing to compare it to. He had been a teenage prodigy, a stalwart by 20 for the toughest state in the country: the pearl from the academy and then the young idol in this champion team. He didn’t know how to be the struggling batsman. And he couldn’t dig his way out of it.

His perfect career was dented when he was dropped.

Brad Hodge, Andrew Symonds and Shane Watson all played Tests in this time. Clarke was even brought back for Bangladesh, and then redropped. But when Watson’s body ruled him out of the 2006-07 Ashes, Clarke came back in. With Australia cruising past a non-existent England, Clarke strode out and did what he does at his absolute best – score pretty runs. So pretty, and plentiful, that he was never dropped again.

Clarke in form is liquid batting. He has these long, luscious drives. He has time and magic feet. There is nowhere he can’t score, no type of bowler that can stop him. Like a hybrid of Mark Waugh’s timing and Michael Slater’s feet. He was even compared to Neil Harvey, the original golden-footed youngster. It was all so pretty, but the whispers were still there.

Runs aren’t enough when you want to be a legend. You have to make special runs. Steve Waugh crisis runs. Ricky Ponting stamp-of-authority runs. Allan Border one-man-army runs. Clarke merely scored runs. Not big runs. Not attention-grabbing runs. Not clutch runs. For any other player, it would have been enough. But he didn’t want to be just another player, and the fans now wanted more from him. They demanded he become the legend they, and he, wanted. Instead he was ethereal, floating around world cricket, never making any real impact at all.

As Australia moved on from a champion team to a mediocre one, Clarke was much the same. His average was in the mid-40s. He developed a weird habit of being dismissed just before a break. The whole team was struggling, the system itself was buckling, but Clarke took the full brunt of the hate. The desperation. The anger.

The whispers about his image as a Bondi-brunching bikini-babe-dating wannabe model were now constant screams. He posed in underwear, he liked expensive cars and wore the latest fashions, while Australia plodded around international cricket. People acted as if he did all that and didn’t work on his game. As if the two couldn’t go together. He was a young, rich, good-looking Australian who was moving his way up from working class to a Sydney mover and shaker. He was a slick publicity machine. And people despised him for it. There has always been a battle in Australia between working class, and those from the working class who aspire for more.

The great Australian dream is to own your own home. Not to be rich. Not to be famous. Do your job as well as you can, don’t showboat, keep your head down, and have a cold beer at the end of the day. Michael Clarke, by no fault of his own, wanted more. While Shane Warne ate Hawaiian pizzas and smoked durries, Clarke sipped cocktails and ate at hot spots.

Australia, the sort of Australia that boos indigenous football legend Adam Goodes, couldn’t handle that.

Clarke became vice-captain, and captain in waiting, but no one in the country seemed to like him. The more he did to try and get the public’s love, the more they hated him. His high-profile girlfriend, glamour model Lara Bingle, was an Australian Kim Kardashian. And their public displays of affection, including nauseating conversations on Twitter, grated. They clearly wanted to be an “it couple”. They were clearly in love, and Clarke was willing to miss a Test when Bingle’s father passed away. But even that was used against him. A real man, apparently, is one who leaves his partner alone as she mourns her father’s loss.

Much in the same way that a prime minister’s spouse is important, so was Bingle. She wasn’t seen as the right kind of future Mrs Australian Cricket Captain. Few seemed to notice that the best run of Clarke’s career was when he was with Bingle.

But their paparazzi-friendly romance was not destined to last forever. Bingle’s past caught up with her when nude pictures of her found their way into the public, and Clarke decided to move on. The only problem was that Australia was in the middle of a tour of New Zealand. Clarke left the tour to break up with her. He then went back to New Zealand and made a quality hundred. Had any other player scored a hundred after a break-up mid-tour, they would have got praise. But had any other player broken up mid-tour, no one would have known. His life was a series of public whispers in gossip pages. He got grief for leaving the tour, he got grief for breaking up with Bingle, and he got faint praise for one of the most important hundreds of his career.

He wasn’t good enough, he wasn’t hard enough, he wasn’t humble enough, he wasn’t working class enough, he wasn’t what they wanted. And deep down, he wasn’t what he wanted, as he wanted to be loved. He was averaging 50 in Test cricket. That did not get him love. The love he craved, the love he thought he deserved.

Then there was the altercation with Simon Katich. The facts didn’t matter. Or what had brought it all about. Katich had choked Clarke in the dressing room because Clarke wanted the Australian cricket war song sung earlier. Forget whispers, this was the only fact anyone wanted to say: Katich was a man, Clarke was soft. One worried about manly traditions, one worried about dinner reservations and VIP rooms.

Those outside the Australian team were spreading rumours of how un-liked he was. Even a Cricket Australia blog by Brett Geeves mocked him. The other players whispered about how he had no real friends, hung out with his bat sponsor, and was Shane Warne’s pet.

By the Ashes in 2010-11 his batting was in a funk, his average dipping back to the mid-40s. His back was now slowing him down, making him an occasional target. As vice-captain, and captain in waiting, of an Australian team losing their first home Ashes in 24 years, he was barely seen. At the crease, or at press conferences. His all-time low came when in Adelaide in the second innings he showed some form, before letting Kevin Pietersen get him out moments before the close of play. Then not walking when it was obvious he hit it. Then standing there embarrassed as the DRS made a mockery of not walking. Then apologising via Twitter for not walking.

At the same time Doug Bollinger was one of the most popular cricketers in Australia. As a player, Bollinger never made it. As a man, he did. He was big, loud and funny -often not intentionally. Australia embraced his unpolished nature, his natural ockerness. They loved him when he accidentally kissed his beer sponsor, not the Australian crest, and when he sang badly in a cricket ad. Clarke, in his whole career, had never been as loved as Doug the Rug. A Sydney newspaper ran a poll on who they wanted as the next Australian captain during this time. Clarke got less than 15% of the vote. Cameron White got over 40% despite not being in the side. Had Bollinger been in the poll, Clarke would have lost to him. Had it been an election, Clarke would not have been the people’s choice.

Clarke was booed in Melbourne in Ricky Ponting’s last game as captain.

When Ponting did step down, it should have been a formality that Clarke took the job. There was no one else even in the line, Clarke was vice-captain, just tick the box. But Cricket Australia board member and former team-mate Matthew Hayden questioned Clarke’s character. He spoke up for the masses. He used Clarke leaving a tour to break up with his girlfriend. He used the Katich incident. He used the fact that Clarke didn’t get along with people. He might as well have talked about his modelling and where he brunched.

But Cricket Australia board member and Clarke ally Mark Taylor stood up for him. And Cricket Australia chose their only actual choice.

Clarke, in his first Test as captain, at home, was booed.

The Australian captain, by accident, seems to mirror Australian society in his time. When Border led Australia, he led a country on the move, making a mark by working as hard as they could. Steve Waugh’s aggressive patriotism and arrogance was the Australia of the late ’90s. And Ponting’s skill, frustration and anger at the little things were all there as he and Australia moved from a suburban country to a metropolitan one.

Clarke was also representative of Australia. He was the lucky batsman leading the lucky country. He hadn’t worked as hard as the men before him. He hadn’t got where he was through hard work but with natural resources. He wasn’t content with just a home of his own. He wanted a property portfolio. He was rich, and no longer working class. He may not have been the sort of Australian captain Australia wanted, lusted after, thought they deserved. But he was very much the modern face of Australia. Maybe that mirror was the problem.

Clarke made a hundred in Sri Lanka, as he led his team to a win in their first series. In South Africa, in Cape Town, on a pitch that his batsmen could not understand, he came to the wicket at 40 for 3. Many Australian fans would have written him off. Instead he made 151 out of 284. His team bowled South Africa out for 96. All they needed was a decent second innings and the Test was theirs. Forty-seven all out followed. And Clarke lost his chance to win his second series as well. Clarke had made almost 50% of Australia’s runs in the match.

Australia won the next Test, and they had drawn away from home against the world’s No. 1 team. A home draw against New Zealand was odd. But then India turned up.

Clarke, the man who had never been loved, embraced or respected, was given the warmest embrace at the SCG as he passed each milestone. It could have been Trumper or Bradman. It was respect. It was an embrace. It was love.

For the next year, Clarke kept feeling the love. He added a double-century to his triple-century against India. He scored two more doubles the following summer, against South Africa. He was now dating his high-school sweetheart. He was now writing for the paper that had slagged him off.

And the Sydney Morning Herald wrote this: “Dear Pup, on behalf of the Australian sports media and cricket fans across this sunburnt nation, it’s time to officially say sorry. These aren’t token words. A journalist finds it almost as hard to utter the ‘s’ word as John Howard did.” And then ended with: “It’s not your fault you like to wear the latest cool duds and like a good time away from the field. Your results with the cricket bat, and the decisions you make as our leader, are the only two credentials you need worry about. On both counts, you’re passing with flying colours, and that’s all that matters. You’ve started your new life with your lovely new wife, now it’s time we started our relationship with you afresh.”

To get a public apology all Michael Clarke had to do was score 329 not out, 210, 259 not out and 230 in one year.

Even then, Clarke would never win everyone over. But this was monumental. Clarke was in charge. Clarke had respect. He had climbed the mountain. He was special. Now, to become a legend.

With Clarke was a whole new team. Mickey Arthur the cheery coach. John Inverarity the scholarly selector. Pat Howard the executive general manager to team performance. And Michael Clarke, as selector.

Those good times lasted only as long as Australia were in Australia. Overseas, Clarke has never had long lasting good times. His career average away from home is under 40. It is more than 20 less than his average at home.

Clarke’s horror started in India as Australia collapsed in every single way imaginable to a 4-0 loss. Clarke didn’t even finish the last Test. Australia’s new feel-good times came crashing down as Clarke and Arthur cracked down on ill-discipline with Mitchell Johnson and Shane Watson about homework. He was trying to flex his muscle as a leader, and stamp his authority on a team he very much saw as his. And instead he, although mostly Arthur, were mocked for making Australian cricket perform school tasks.

By the time of the 2013 Champions Trophy, things got worse. When David Warner swung a punch at Joe Root in Birmingham, Australian cricket fell apart. Clarke stayed in London getting treatment on his back, and only left London for a charity game involving Warne. His team needed him, his coach was on the way out, and he didn’t take the 90-minute train to sort any of it out.

Darren Lehmann was brought in to settle everyone down. Brad Haddin was back for a bit of leadership as well. It wasn’t a great sign for Clarke’s captaincy. Arthur was off saying that Clarke had referred to Watson as a cancer. Australia were losing 3-0. They were 0-7 in their last two tours.

Then England toured Australia. And Mitchell Johnson was back. Haddin had the series of his life. Ryan Harris’ knees squeezed out gold. And Clarke added a 5-0 to his resume. That 5-0 is as iconic as the unbeaten 329.

South Africa were up next, and it was in Cape Town that Clarke did his best work. Australia were 1-1 in their three-Test series. Australia won the toss and batted. The Australia batsmen had failed twice in the previous match, only Warner had looked comfortable. And Morne Morkel was fired up.

In the 41st over Morkel started bowling short to Clarke. That over, he hit Clarke in the ribs. In the 43rd over he hit him on the arm. The 45th over he hit him on the head, hand and in the gut. The hit on the arm broke Clarke’s arm. That was an hour into Clarke’s innings. In all, with that broken arm, Clarke made an unbeaten 161 in 430 minutes. Well over 300 of them with that break. He carried a tired team to a Test win, a series win, and they beat the world’s No. 1 team to take that crown themselves.

There was no packed home crowd, no iconic clean-skin bats or baggy green, it was just surviving a monster, playing with the pain and making his team the best on earth.

The loss to Pakistan that followed was disappointing, but it was still barely a blip. Yet when he got back to Australia, there were whispers. This time from within Cricket Australia that all was not rosy. A hamstring injury had slowed down Clarke, and there were further whispers that he was getting too big for his boots. All those whispers shut down completely when Phillip Hughes passed away.

If Clarke wasn’t the nation’s captain before that day, he was on it. When he stood to give the eulogy, it was an important moment. Then he went out to bat in Adelaide, to lead. He, like many of his team-mates, used it as a public tribute to his mate. But then his back gave out. It wasn’t as brutal as a broken arm, he didn’t have to leave the tour like he did when he was to break up with Lara Bingle, but he had to leave the field. And then he came back on and became the first Australian captain to score a hundred after retiring hurt. He did it with a battered back, a battling technique and a broken heart. When he made the 100th run, he didn’t jump around, he didn’t have the energy, the body or the heart for it. His hundred was battling physical limits and emotional realities.

It was a legendary hundred, a great hundred. Iconic. After it he was so drained he said he may not play again.

Instead he commentated. After retweeting a tweet from a fan suggesting he should join Channel Nine, he joined Channel Nine. Some of his team-mates were not happy with his position of judging them on air. The whispers started again.

This was a man who had made a hundred with a broken arm, made a hundred with a broken heart, won an Ashes 5-0, yet he still couldn’t silence them. With the hamstring injury from Adelaide still a problem, and Steven Smith anointed and ready as his successor. Some started to question his place in the ODI team.

Clarke worked hard, as Warne tried to sway public opinion for him. And Clarke would play in the World Cup. On the eve of the final he would announce his retirement so that the occasion would not be about him. It became all about him for that very reason. Australia won the World Cup, Clarke was given a standing ovation at the same MCG that had viciously booed him the last match before he became Test captain.

Michael Clarke stood in that vicious coliseum a conquering hero. He had conquered the world, and the ground that mocked him. It was another of those perfect images.

When Clarke married in 2012 he released the perfect image via Twitter. It was his wife in a beautiful, extravagant wedding dress smiling down from her white horse at her dream man, who is staring back at her. It was just another perfect Michael Clarke image.

There have been times in Clarke’s history when he rode that white horse. When what he accomplished could only be called great, legendary or iconic. There are many others when he has walked beside it.

When Michael Clarke walked off the ground for the final time at Trent Bridge, he never looked up, and there was no applause for him. There was too much English celebration to hear the whispers. But Clarke heard them anyway.

No matter how hard he tried, how perfect he thought he was, how much control he had, he was never in control of his image. There will be those who call him a great. There will be whispers.


Australia’s 93 minutes of gornography

Photo by: Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

It was a haunted house. A derelict mental institution. An ancient tomb. An abandoned playground. A castle on a stormy night. There were bats. Monsters. Zombies. Flesh-eating slugs. There was a handprint of blood on the mirror. A hoofprint near the bed. Something dark in the corner.
They ran up the stairs. They ran into the woods. They tripped. They batted first.
That’s if it can be called batting, batting is an endeavour that takes time, that requires hand-eye coordination, control, reflexes and patience. It can be done for days. When done properly, it often feels like weeks.
Australia didn’t last a session. Sorry. Australia didn’t last a slightly shortened session. Australia didn’t bat. They slashed their Ashes away in a 93-minute video nasty.
There is always a monster, a force or a reason for death in a horror film. But the victims are often the cause of their own demise. Look in the back seat, don’t go into that cabin in the woods, and don’t hitchhike.
Batting is taking on a monster by making a series of important decisions based on all the available information in front of you. You read the bowler, the pitch, the conditions and the ball. And then you make what you hope is the correct split-second decision. That’s batting.
That’s not what Australia did.
That’s not even what it looked like they attempted to do. They didn’t read that Stuart Broad was pitching up, or that he was bowling outside off. They didn’t realise the pitch needed late play and soft hands. They didn’t adjust or play for the swinging conditions. And they played the wrong shots to the wrong balls. Every time.
Even to the balls they didn’t get dismissed on (which was roughly seven) there were one-handed back-foot cover drives, nonsensical wafts, fidgety pulls, sliced drives and noncommittal crease-bound hard-handed prods of nothingness. It wasn’t batting; it wasn’t even a semi-decent imitation of batting. It was self-immolation with bats.
The first batsman to leave the ball well was Mitchell Johnson, their number eight. The worst leaver of a cricket ball in international cricket. A man who in the last Test left a ball that he thought was missing off stump, and it ended up hitting his pads outside leg stump. That was the first person who left the ball well. Or often, or virtually at all.
Had the rest not played any shots, at all, it’s hard to believe they would have made less than 60. Had they not taken their bats out, come to the ground, got on the plane in the first place, they could have beaten 60. Had Cricket Australia taken a last-minute choice to replace the entire team with plush toy platypuses, they still could have scored 60. And probably almost made it to lunch.
Anyone with an Australia passport in the ground had this defeated painful face. Every couple of minutes, when the latest moment of idiocy led to the next occasion of calamity, that face. That combination of disbelief, not at the ineptitude, but at the magnitude of the ineptitude. This was their grand final, and it wasn’t grand, it was gratuitous.
They didn’t lose the Ashes, they murdered them. They hacked them into tiny little pieces. They then dipped those pieces into poison, and force fed them into the shocked, gaping mouths of the next batsman. They were fast-moving zombies who were eating each other. Intent on their own destruction, as quickly as possible.
It was gornography, a hardcore slasher grindhouse bloodfest. Ninety-three minutes of humiliating decisions and self-harm pretending to be an Ashes innings. They might as well have just walked the ball over to slips rapped in a gold bow. They should have offered to carry Broad into the crease, sing him a lullaby, buy him a boat and then placed each one of their heads on a platter made of gold. He was as brilliant as they were terrible, but they were terrible.
They tied themselves to the train tracks. They started the chainsaw. They handed Broad the rusty knife and handcuffed themselves to a radiator.
The only good news is that it was over so quick: 111 balls, 93 minutes, 60 runs. Of horror. Of misery.
But even once it was over, Sky kept showing the slow motion of Michael Clarke in pain. It was the same look as every other Australia batsman had already shown. This time it was just slowed down for effect, repeated for torture and will be etched into his Ashes tombstone. The whole shot was behind the dressing room glass, he looked ghostly. He was ghostly.
Clarke is the ghost in the haunted house who looks out the window reliving the gory final moments of their life. Haunting and haunted.


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