The world’s pain is often etched on Peter Siddle’s face. Every groove and undulation tells the story of an extinct animal or a lost city.
That is just when he is bowling, and even being successful.
Today one of those lines would have been for his team’s batting performance. It is barely possible to imagine his grimace as Australia dived off a cliff with bats in their hand.
Whether you’re in the camp that Australian bowlers are overrated and lucky, variously worse than New Zealand’s attack or better than the rampant West Indies of old, it’s pretty clear the bowlers aren’t Australia’s problem. Their problem isn’t even their collection of random flawed spinners. It’s not even that they have a rugby manager. Or that they can’t even throw punches straight.
Their problem is their complete and utter lack of the ability to make runs at Test level with any kind of regularity or consistency.
Remove Michael Clarke – and in general he probably wants to distance himself from this batting line-up – not one player in this side averages more than 36.
It’s therefore not all that surprising that they have set up their team so that they bat to 11.
A total of 215, so low that it also gave England a bite at them in the gloom, was always going to be tough for a line-up devoid of Test runs. What happened next as predictable and exciting.
Shane Watson thrust his front pad out like it had high-priority marketing on it, because that is how Shane Watson bats. He also tried to dominate like he did in the tour games, the way he was born to play: big, bullish, and buggering. Instead he was late and out. He wanted this opening spot so badly, but all his desperation did was put him in the firing line of Steve Finn.
When Darren Lehmann shook up the Australian batting order, Ed Cowan bit hard onto Lehmann’s arm and wouldn’t let go. He’d been the least embarrassing of the top order in India, he’d spent months playing county cricket. He was ready, he could do this, and maybe he still can, but today all we saw was one rash attempted cover drive and a quick walk off.
Clarke was beaten by a ball so perfectly deadly it was as if it was made of solid kryptonite.
Chris Rogers came back from 62 Tests off looking fresh and frisky. There is nothing pretty about Rogers. His arm guard seems to have been used in fights with homeless people. His technique is brought together from a collection of techniques he has found in the changerooms of the world. But he plays late, and he’s careful. It’s effective, and he was unlucky on his lbw. But his wicket meant that Australia had given up all of Peter Siddle’s work.
This left Australia only with the eager, technically-flawed, fidgety Smith.
When your team is 22 for 3, this is not the man you want coming to the crease. Smith is many things, but he’s not John Wayne or Steve Waugh.
What Smith lacks in technical ability he does make up in three key areas. His eye is phenomenal. He could spot a raccoon a mile off on a foggy night in a dense forest. His confidence is remarkable. For a player that everyone else has written off, Smith just refuses to believe he isn’t good enough. And then there is his fight. There is a bit of the mongrel in him.
Early on he played a ball to point that his hips were playing to fine leg and his bat was playing to midwicket. The England slips needed drool buckets. Somehow he survived Anderson. He punished Finn every time he made a mistake. And he decided to greet Graeme Swann by putting him back into his own members stand
Smith scored over half of Australia’s runs at a strike rate of 74 and looked as likely to make a fifty as any batsmen on the day. Yet, there will be Australians who wake up, check the scorecard, see that fact, and assume they’re heaving a weird dream which will probably end with ants coming out of their hand.
England only made 45 more than they did that first day at the Gabba, but at the end of that first day at the Gabba Australia’s batting entrails weren’t scattered all over the floor like today.
You may not believe in Steve Smith, and he’s given you plenty of reasons not to, but Darren Lehmann does. And it appears like everyone believes in Darren Lehmann. Darren Lehmann didn’t just pick Steve Smith, he batted him at five: a proper batting position.
It was probably a decision on blind faith, and when only one of your batsmen average over 36, blind faith and the cult of Darren Lehmann is all you have.