“There it is” – Ian Healy, 10:49, 09 December, 2014.
Nineteen balls. That is how long it took. There had been yorker length. Full length. Length length. Back of a length. And then nothing. The pitch map just had this unofficial line in it, the Phillip Hughes respect line. Starting at roughly 63 inches from the batsman.
You could start the day with anthems, 13th men, arm bands, the number 408 or whatever you wanted, but this Test couldn’t start until a bowler hit the middle of the pitch. Until that first bouncer was bowled in an aggressive way and handled in a safe way. The rest was fidgeting.
Mohammad Shami started with six balls that never even hinted at noticing the middle of the pitch. It was clearly a plan that analysts had come up with. Full from around the wicket. The only player who was in danger was the short leg from a clip off the pads.
At the other end was Varun Aaron, he is always a chance of an accidental bouncer. But he also stuck to the pre-boxed bowling plan. Around the wicket. Full. Very full. And wide, which may have been his own twist on it, or something that Warner had ordered. It wasn’t short, it wasn’t intimidating, and it wasn’t good.
After five legal balls and three Warner boundaries, Aaron stood mid-pitch the way bowlers do when the over won’t end and the fielders are still collecting the ball. Fast bowling 101 suggests the next ball should be a bouncer. Escape the over, and let the batsman know you’re angry. Virat Kohli came up to see his bowler. One of the many fast bowlers he requested for the game. Was this the bouncer? Would it finally be unleashed? Could the crowd breathe more normally? Could the commentators pronounce the hex was over? Would cricket remain as we knew it?
Aaron flew in and bowled a back of the length ball that was pushed into the covers for one.
Six more bowling plan balls from Shami, full and non threatening.
Then ball 19. Around the wicket. Quick. Angled straight at Warner. Full enough to hit something. Short enough to hit something precious. Warner is coming forward. He sees the ball late. His head hurriedly drops. His feet struggle for balance. The bat stays up. The ball flies over the right shoulder. Warner can’t see it. It lands in Wriddiman Saha’s glove. Safely, from a cricket and life perspective.
Ian Healy almost sounds excited at the bouncer, the crowd ooohs. They were caught by surprise as much as Warner. Then they applaud. It’s a long applause, it’s not an ovation, no one seems to be standing. It comes from every part of the ground, and it sounds pure. There seems to be no bogans yelling, whistling or booing. Just sustained applause for cricket and a thank you to Aaron for delivering their cricket back.
Warner twiddles his bat. Aaron steams back to his mark. The crowd start chatting. The replays are shown. The Test has started.
Aaron follows up with another bouncer. Warner tries to smash it. It could be Richardson to Trumper. Larwood to Bradman. Adcock to Sutcliffe. Lillee to Richards. It’s just a bouncer, not even a good one.
Sean Abbott comes on at the SCG, he bowls a bouncer fifth ball, it also goes through to the keeper.
Shane Watson comes in and is bounced straight away by Ishant Sharma. It was only Sunday when Watson was talking about struggling against the short ball in the nets. Now he was facing one.
You can see Watson takes his eye off it. You can see him turn his head. You can see the potential for disaster. You can see the back of his head. You can see the ball going towards the unprotected zone. You can see the ball going past. You can see the men on the hill who are cheering each bouncer. You can see Warner looking unfussed from the non strikers end. You can see that cricket goes on.
Warner will stop on 63 to celebrate the new landmark. If 87 is the Devil’s number, then 63 is God’s number. The bouncer belongs to neither, it belongs to cricket.