Tag Archives: aussies

believing in Mitchell Johnson

From the outside it would have looked like any other plumbing van.

It was being driven by a bloke who had lost his state cricket contract. He was once a kid who could bowl seriously fast, but his body was not a weapon – rather, a wasteland of stress fractures. His boss, also his coach, Brett Mortimer, had given him the job as driver.

Mortimer knew there was something special there. Had the bloke disappeared right then, he might not have even been a what-if. When he crashed his van into a team-mate’s, there was no reason for it to make the papers. He was no one; probably one bad week, one niggly injury, from packing up his life and travelling back up the coast and living out his life in obscurity. But Mortimer saw him every day in the nets. And he didn’t need Dennis Lillee to tell him this was a serious bowler. Mortimer had played cricket for years and he’d never seen anything quite like this.

Mortimer had one last crack. With Brendan Nash away on state duty, Northern Suburbs had a space open at the top of the order. So the bloke was thrown up the order to have some fun, instead of being depressed that he couldn’t bowl. He scored well, and while it was never a science, it wasn’t the first time in his life that runs led to wickets. But really, it was about belief with him. It always would be.

No one would have seen that plumbing van and believed there were 310 Test wickets in there. Not even the bloke driving it.


A few years earlier others didn’t believe the speed gun. They looked at it again. There must be something wrong. The speed gun was part of a plan by Queensland to find a real quick. But this quick? Surely not. This 17-year-old kid, wearing his father’s golf spikes, was bowling quicker than the entire Queensland squad. That can’t be right.

Wicketkeeper Chris Hartley was standing 25 metres back in a Queensland Under-19 game. Ed Cowan was facing. Hartley was taking the ball above his head. Hartley and Cowan were sharing glances. This can’t be right.

Dennis Lillee saw this kid in the nets. The kid was already thinking about joining the army to “shoot guns and get fit”. But then Lillee saw this kid bowl and said he was a “once-in-nine-lives player”. This can’t be right.

After Mortimer pulled the plug on Mitchell Johnson’s bad mood, Johnson only took a couple of years to play for Australia. The white ball seemed to love him. It exploded off the pitch and into the gloves of keeper or batsman. You couldn’t watch Johnson bowl at that point and not feel the excitement.

For whatever reason, the red ball didn’t get the hype. Even in Shield cricket, Johnson and the red ball hadn’t got along. Two five-wicket hauls, never more than 29 wickets in a season. But the white-ball work, and hell, just the look of him, it was electric. You didn’t need data analysis, biomechanists and speed guns, you just needed eyes.

Johnson was now also dedicated to cricket. There was no need to drag or convince him. He wanted it. Bad enough that he even travelled to the MRF pace academy in Chennai to work with Lillee. But his numbers didn’t improve.

His early Tests involved wickets from right-handers who chased wide balls. They had to chase them, because otherwise they’d spend hours waiting for one at them. His arm seemed to get lower almost every innings, until he was bowling fast, almost accidental, offcutters. When the batsmen didn’t chase the wide ones, he just let off pressure for whoever was at the other end. After 13 Tests he was averaging 34 with the ball.

Just when the excitement was fading he found a green pitch, against New Zealand, and their tail still shudders about it.

Two Tests later he was up against South Africa on a sluggish wicket (by WACA standards). AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis had the score at 234 for 3; both had half-centuries. Johnson had a ball that was 70 overs old, with no reserve swing, but just his fast, and slightly more accurate, cutters. In 21 balls he took out five batsmen. He ended with 8 for 61. It was a goddamn Curtly Ambrose spell.

In South Africa for the following series he did something he hadn’t done for 20 Tests. He swung a ball perfectly. Hashim Amla could only stutter and lose balance as Johnson struck his pad. Immediately it became the thing his team, and the cricket world at large, fixated on. You could hear people whisper around the world, “No, it can’t be, but maybe it is, a Wasim Akram incarnate”.

In the next Test he made a hundred. Australia were always going to lose. But the way Johnson did it, with such long, fluid hitting, the ball just seemed to want to be smashed over mid-on. Parts of Paul Harris are still left in Cape Town after one over. Johnson’s hundred took 86 balls. In the series he was the leading wicket-taker and Australia’s third-highest scorer. Australia were fighting for the Test crown, and Mitchell Johnson Bothamed South Africa out of the series.

Johnson had almost crushed Graeme Smith’s hand. He’d discovered swing. Terrorised New Zealand. Defeated South Africa. He was the biggest, baddest damn thing in Australian cricket. No one needed Dennis Lillee to tell them how special he was.

And he hadn’t even played a Test against England.

You can smash all the other nations you want. Antagonise India. Destroy West Indies. End Bangladesh. But Australian and English players get their legend status from being great in the Ashes.

That was what Johnson was supposed to do in the 2009 Ashes. He was to lead the attack, continue England’s misery, and confirm he was the legend Australian cricket demanded he be.

By the end of the series, none of those things happened.

Johnson couldn’t bowl England out in Cardiff. Johnson couldn’t stop stories started by his mother. Johnson completely lost the plot at Lord’s. Johnson lost control of the attack. Johnson all but lost his spot in the team. And Johnson couldn’t win the Ashes.

By the time the 2010-11 Ashes came around he was an okay performer in an okay team. The beast that would become a legend was a distant memory. There were good matches, there were bad matches, this was just a cricketer doing his job.

The Gabba Test was a chance to do something special. Johnson took no wickets, made no runs, and dropped a catch. For the next Test he was either dropped, in his words, or rested, in those of Cricket Australia.

There was a moment during the next Test when Johnson was in the Adelaide nets as England smashed his team on the field. During his session, a ball got wedged into the top corner of the nets. Johnson spent the best part of ten minutes trying to get this ball dislodged. He threw balls at it, he shook the net, he tried to climb up, he used a bat, but nothing would do it. He was supposed to be looking to rekindle his magic, and instead he was doing the job of the support staff. And he couldn’t even do that right.

There must have been a part of him that thought he was an impostor. Even at his best, destroying South Africa with bat and ball, it was as if Johnson never believed in himself as much as everyone else did.

Impostor syndrome can hit anyone. Every single person in the world can tell you how good you are, they can praise you, they can idolise you, but some people can’t process it. Can’t accept it. Keep waiting to be found out. Think their success was all luck.

They say it comes from childhood, that sensitive children who are overlooked and then become successful never truly accept it. That even when they win, it all feels like it is a mistake and no one must find out. That the pressure to not be found out almost becomes the problem. They start to believe that because they had no control over their success, they have no way of finding it again.

Not that Johnson wasn’t trying to find it. Whether in the nets, or much more noticeably, out on the ground, Johnson was in a near-constant state of trying to fix his bowling. This didn’t look like a Test bowler who had led his nation. It looked like a teenager hoping that something would fix him. It was far more common to see him trying to fix his action on the walk back to the mark than it was seeing him terrorise batsmen.

The Amla inswinger pressure had never gone away. Being the guy who led an unsuccessful Ashes attack was part of what defined him. Now he had been dropped, one Test into his next Ashes. The pressure and failure was all around him. Johnson couldn’t be what Australia wanted, and worse, he looked like he didn’t even know how to ever do it.

The call was made to Dennis Lillee. Johnson had already spent the week working with his bowling coach, Troy Cooley. He had already watched his spell from 2008 against South Africa to psyche himself up. Now the big gun was needed. Lillee would come and see Johnson in the nets the day before the WACA Test. Lillee wasn’t even sure what he could do for Johnson, so he told Johnson how great he could be.

At the WACA, Johnson was great. His pace was great, his swing was great, and even his batting was great. Sixty-three runs, nine wickets and one Man-of-the-Match award.

But in the press conference he seemed to shrug and suggest the ball swung a bit luckily. The next Test was Boxing Day, and the luck wasn’t there.

The MCG gets into full voice like other stadiums dream of. That sort of guttural, communal, sweaty chorus of echoes. It’s the middle-aged man whose life has never been what he wanted it to be, bellowing at the moon while half cut. They had done it for Lillee. They had chanted his name, turning him from a cricketer into a beam of pure light.

For Johnson the accent of the chants changed. He wasn’t the alpha and omega but the punchline. In his own country, he was a musical joke, a wreck. Even in cricket’s biggest ground there was nowhere to hide. It was overcast during that Test, but the clouds over Johnson seemed the darkest.

After Perth, Johnson only got two massive English innings to bowl in – 2 for 134 and 4 for 168. He had played more than half the Tests he would ever play, and he was still no closer to finding out how to get the best out of himself. He was still bowling to the left. He was still bowling to the right. And now their chanting kept him up at night.

The mental problems weren’t all of it. People can claim it is the all-round skill, the sling action, or even the left arm that makes Johnson exciting, but it’s the pace. That raw, uncontrolled pace that makes the best in their game look slow. That makes tailenders cry. That makes commentators scream. Fans jump. That pace.

That pace was going. There was the odd spell, but mostly he was a fast-medium bowler with questionable control who didn’t seam or swing it. It was at its worst when he played against South Africa in Johannesburg. Johnson seemed to fall into medium pace. Slower than he had been as a teenager using his dad’s golf spikes. At the other end Australia had found their newest pace bowler, Pat Cummins. Josh Hazlewood and James Pattinson were around as well.

Johnson was battling injury, form and belief.

In almost three years since the last Ashes in Australia he’d managed nine Tests. His body and mind weren’t right.

This time he couldn’t go to the army and shoot guns. He couldn’t move back to Townsville. He couldn’t drive a plumbing van. He was Mitchell Johnson, and for all the baggage that came with, it also came with something pretty damn special. And Johnson fought for that.

With a stable home life as a new father, a chance encounter with an SAS vet and a career-affirming net session with Lillee and John Inverarity, Johnson started to get himself right. All those people played a part, but it would have meant nothing if he didn’t put in the effort. For the first time, he believed.

The first people to see this were the IPL folk. Then a few teams got glimpses in ODIs. People, Sachin Tendulkar included, started to talk Johnson up again. And, for perhaps the first time ever, so did Johnson. His words didn’t sound hopeful, like they had done earlier in his career. They sounded like a threat, like premonition. As if he saw the summer of Mitchell Johnson before us.

At the Gabba, Johnson started with the new ball. A full toss down the leg side. More full tosses followed. More balls down the leg as well. After three overs of the 2013-14 Ashes, Johnson had been dragged from the attack. There were times when that would have been enough. It wasn’t.

Second spell: Jonathan Trott faced Johnson. First ball, he hit him. He glared. Johnson had never had a good glare. No matter how old he was, he always looked young, fresh-faced, like a boy playing tough. The tattoos didn’t make him tough, nothing did. But this was different. Even without the charity moustache, just looking at his eyes, there was something going on in them. This wasn’t an empty glare. Trott and England felt it. So did every single person at the ground. Every single person at every single ground that summer.

Mitchell Johnson believed. Oh, didn’t we get to see what that meant. All that frustration, all those flirtations, all those false starts, all those injuries, all those chants, all those headlines, all those punchlines, all those days that he felt like a fraud, a lucky bastard, an impostor, they came out of his hand like the devil himself.

There is no way to properly explain what it felt like to see Johnson in full flight in his summer. You can talk about the noises, the fact that for every ball in that Test and the seven that followed, it felt like he was on a hat-trick. About the blood- and stump-lust that took control of you. That at times he looked like he was actually in flight, like some fighter jet roaring through the crease. That in Melbourne the entire ground, the entire city, shook for him like it had for his mentor. That in Adelaide he was one ball away from destroying the entire Adelaide renovations. In Sydney the fear, the excitement, that desperation to see his every ball was still there, still so strong. People were rushing to have grandchildren just to tell them about it. You could feel the pain of England like every wicket was being tattooed on your body. No one dared blink when he had the ball. Smartphones were in airplane mode. Fun times were on pause.

None of that gets it across, the fear, the danger, the pace, the excitement, the carnage. The everything. It was a roller coaster through hell. Like his hands were made of dynamite, like the world had found a new demon soundtracked by an endless death- metal musical.

No, this still isn’t doing it. These weren’t spells of bowling, these were physical experiences. There ain’t no TV that could do it justice, you had to be in it, feel it, live it, survive it, smell it. You weren’t watching it, you were part of it, some great big throbbing muscle thrusting him through the sound barrier. No, still not right.

Sorry, it can’t be fully explained. You weren’t there, man.

It was a once-in-nine-lives summer. Dennis Lillee was right.

And unlike the best of Australian summers, it didn’t end in Australia, it kept going. When Johnson destroyed England, a meme started online. It was a picture of Dale Steyn, pointing down the lens, and the writing said, “You beat the Poms 5-0. How cute.” Steyn had held the title of world’s best bowler for so long it had barely been a decent conversation starter for half a decade.

The old Johnson might have overthought it. Worried about it. This Johnson just bowled. At South Africa, through South Africa.

Hashim Amla almost lost his head. Ryan McLaren his consciousness, Graeme Smith lost his career. Steyn threw everything he had back at Johnson, but even Steyn, the greatest bowler of his generation, had to sit back and watch as another man shook up the world.

When the summer of Mitchell Johnson was over, so were England as a team, South Africa as the undisputed champions. This broken-down non-believer hadn’t just reached out and touched the sun, he had grabbed it and bounced someone with it.


Stuart Broad saw something. Perhaps he just didn’t want to look at Johnson. Not square in the eyes, at least. He pointed to a shiny bolt and turned a ravenous crowd into a screaming beast.

Johnson was already in his dream over with two earlier wickets. He had already bowled his dream ball to Cook the night before. He had already played his dream Test the match before.

Broad wasn’t delaying a ball, he was delaying inevitability. Certainty.

Johnson delivered a fast ball on leg stump. There were days, whole seasons, perhaps even whole years, when the same ball would have been flicked to the boundary. Broad would have fidgeted with his gear while Johnson put his hands to his head.

Now England believed every ball would be a wicket, and so did Johnson, so did everyone.

Broad hopped away from the ball, Broad’s leg stump hopped too.

Mitchell Johnson ran frantically down the pitch. Like he was in the world’s greatest dream.

No one watching this spell could actually believe he was doing this. Let alone the bloke bowling it. He couldn’t believe how easy it had become.

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Warner’s WACA

Shane Watson is dropped for bad form in his last ten ODIs, spread out over more than a year.

Third ball of the match David Warner gets a short ball from Dawlat Zadran. He moves back into position. The ball should fly over deep midwicket. Instead it limps back to mid-on. Warner drops his arms in disappointment and then looks at the wicket, as if it has let him down. As if this lack of pace is somehow an affront to his personality.

This is, after all, Warner’s wicket. The wicket where he scored his Test high score. One hundred and eighty runs from one hundred and fifty nine balls. With a red ball. During the day. Wearing whites. Now he was after Afghanistan.

This is Warner’s WACA. And the pitch had better wake up and recognise it.

Can Aaron Finch, or the Australian top, middle and lower order, handle the swinging ball?

Eight overs into the match, Afghanistan has two slips in place. Warner has hit two boundaries. Australia have hit two boundaries. Afghanistan’s greatest bowler Hamid Hassan is bowling on cricket’s bounciest surface. At the other end, Dawlat is bowling a very tidy spell: four overs, one wicket maiden, and only 14 runs. Afghanistan have not landed any killer blows, but they are there, still.

First ball of the ninth over, Warner crashes a drive through the off side. Last ball of the over Warner crashes a pull through midwicket. The next over Hassan touches 145kph and then crashes into Warner three times.

There seem to be only four batsmen in the Australia side, and then gamble, gamble, gamble, and gamble.

In the first five years of his ODI career, Warner was ok. He averaged barely more than 30, he struck at 83. He had two ODI hundreds, both in one series against Sri Lanka. He had been in and out of the side.

In ODIs, David Warner hasn’t always been David Warner. Trapped in this limbo between T20 Warner and Test Match Warner, he has just muddled through.

Warner could bat like he does in Tests for 50 balls and like he does in T20s for 25 balls, and destroy most teams. But it’s that pacing of innings he has seemed to struggle with. In a game of role players, he’s never truly understood what his role his.

A strike rate of less than 100 would suggest he’s not been told to smash it from the start. And a conversion rate of two hundreds in his first 50 games means he’s not really playing for the long haul.

What should ODI Warner be?

There are three knockout games to come: can Australia win all three without a frontline spinner?

Pull. Pull. Cover drive. Pull. Pull. Slap. Slap. Pull. Cut. Cut. Drive. These are David Warner’s first 11 boundaries. These are Australia’s first 11 boundaries.

It is batting. There is little slogging. Warner waits for bad balls, he puts them away. On rare occasions, he gets impetuous and treats normal balls as bad balls for the hell of it. But this is just quality batting. Quality batting at over a strike rate of over 100. He has 79 off 68. Or, more importantly, 79 out of 109.

There is Steven Smith at the other end, doing a very good Damien Martyn ODI innings imitation, but he is barely needed. When Smith scores a boundary, it’s not a slap. It’s not a pull. It’s just a tickle down the leg side. It is the Rest of Australia’s first boundary.

Is Mitchell Johnson still capable of destroying entire nations with the ball?

It doesn’t matter how good your form or rhythm is or whether it is swinging or seaming: if you are a fast bowler, and the batsman is scoring off you at the WACA, you are going to bowl a short ball to sort the batsman out. That is your birthright on this pitch.

Hassan tried this with Warner. Around the wicket, trying to squeeze those muscular little arms, he dropped short. Warner clubbed it. It was more of a broadside at the Associates than anything the ICC is planning to do. Mid-on saw the shot and turned to retrieve the ball. It clunked its way down to long-on.

Hassan barely turned around to see it.

If the rumours are true, Pat Cummins might not play again this tournament due to an injury, leaving Josh Hazlewood with a few very important games for a man his age.

When Warner brought up his 100th run with an inside-edged single, Australia had not yet reached 150. It was barely 25 overs into the match. Warner had enough time to make another hundred. Maybe two more.

A few overs later, he was dropped off the bowling of Mohammad Nabi. It was a chance, a tough one that hit Afsar Zazai on the chest behind the stumps.

Warner had been almost mute in comparison with what happened next.

He swept a six. From the fast-medium stylings of Dawlat. You know what they say about it being hard to hit low full tosses for six? Warner suggests otherwise from the next ball. The crowd catches another one. The next one almost takes the hand clean off a small boy. When Afghanistan find the yorker, Warner finds the edge and still gets a boundary. When they miss the yorker, he just hits them for six. Afghanistan try full and wide, Warner ignores the straight and leg-side boundaries and just scores fours through point.

Warner had long ago taken down Hassan. In this period he adds both Zadrans, Dawlat and Shapoor. Dawlat never recovers.

For the second time, Warner hits 10 ten boundaries without Smith hitting one. Five of them are sixes. He bests his previous best. He scores Australia’s highest individual score in a World Cup. Australia are going okay against Afghanistan. Warner is ending them.

Is this Australia team really good enough to win the World Cup?

The ball flies straight up in the air. It stays up there for a long time. Nabi is under it long enough to finishing writing a prequel to War and Peace. The ball comes down with ice on it. It hits his hands, and tries to escape. Nabi holds it with as little of his hands as you can to take a catch. Warner is out; Afghanistan will not reach his individual score.

Warner has batted Australia beyond critical questions. He’s batted them into a beautiful land of pull, slap and crash. Warner makes 178 off 133 out of 274. Afghanistan make 143 off 225.

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Monster Johnson goes missing

This season, Mitchell Johnson is not the fearsome fast bowler he was last summer © Getty Images
Last time he was here a No. 8 was feeding time for Monster Johnson.

This time R Ashwin was playing him as if he was just another bowler. A full and straight ball slipped down the leg side. There was no menace. No fear. No explosion. Just a leg bye.

Mitch was mid-pitch, shrugging, looking at his hands, wondering where the magic went.

At the top of his mark, he was sweating so much in his first spell of the day, he had to throw the ball to someone else to shine it.

The next delivery is a half volley, MS Dhoni cover drives it for three. The last ball of his morning spell is pushed through the covers by India’s stylish No. 8, without fear of injury or loss of wicket. Mitch just stares down the pitch for a while, before eventually turning to see where the ball has gone.

Mitch wanders off to fine leg. Warner runs over to tell him where Ashwin is standing in the crease, oblivious to the fact Mitch is going to be taken off. Mitch stands at fine leg, by this point last year, he was winning an Ashes and destroying an era of English cricket.

Now he is sweating uncontrollably, no one is screaming his name, he’s wicketless and fiddling with a bandage around his finger. Around him there are many empty seats.

The Gabba has blue seats, but scattered among them are gold and maroon chairs. It seems like a ploy to trick the mind into thinking there are more people in the ground than there actually are. It also does the opposite. When the Brisbane heat kicks in fully, the ground goes quieter. Vocal chords melt. People disappear to local bars.

Today, they just never seemed to turn up at all. The Gabba can’t intimidate with coloured seats. Seats don’t scream.

Last year as Mitchell Johnson bounced out Trott and KP, it felt like an angry, drunken, rockin’ coliseum from hell. For M Vijay’s boundaries, it was more an amateur Lawn Bowls over-70s event.

There are many differences from this time to last year, but nothing is more noticeable than Mitchell Johnson’s bowling. After one innings. After three. It’s different. This time it is 0 for 81. Last time it was 4 for 61. The time it is 4 for 228. Last time it was 16 for 143. This time it is okay. Last time it was terrifying.

This was the start of Mitchell Johnson’s run of eight Tests for 59 wickets at 15 apiece. Hellfire. Brimstone. Armageddon. Cook. KP. Trott. Smith. Amla. It was one of those amazing stretches of bowling in Test cricket history. It was Syd Barnes’ wickets with Thommo’s pace.

There was no way Johnson could keep that up, especially as not all wickets are Australian and South African. In the UAE, he was okay – six wickets at 29. He was not a fire-breathing dragon from space, just a fast bowler on unresponsive wickets.

Then he came home. Back into the bosom of fast tracks and good times. Adelaide might be known as a bowling graveyard, but not for Mitch. He bowls as well there as anywhere. It might not bounce and have as much movement as the Gabba, bounce as the WACA, or as much of either as the G, but he always finds what he needs there.

Not this time.

Like in the UAE, Mitch was not hopeless, he was just okay. His working over of a well-set Vijay was beautiful. But that was the only time he was that good. That awesome. That monster.

There have been glimpses of aggression from Mitchell Johnson in this series, but it has not been sustained for any period of time © Getty Images
Photo by: Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber/a
This Test he is also without Ryan Harris, as he was in both UAE games. Mitch Johnson does miss Ryan Harris. It’s hard not to, he has gravitational pull. Harris is fast, accurate, cunning and relentless. He’s essentially the human version of the truck from Duel. Bowling at the other end to him must be a dream. Having him at mid-on or off would be like having an on-field bowling coach. In three of Mitch’s last four Tests, there has been no Harris.

In Brisbane, when it got hot and quiet, what would have been better than Harris standing next to Mitch?

A scientific study of Mitch’s bowling speeds show he is down on pace. As scientific as ball speeds can be. Not to a career low, but to a new era Monster Johnson low. Two kilometres lower on average. That’s not a yard of pace, that’s a handful of inches. Maybe those inches of lost pace are that nip people are always talking about. But is 88 mph so different to 89.5?

It would seem like regardless of a fraction of a nip, or Ryan Harris’ injury, there is something else. Last time there was also the build up. It was the Ashes. And the last one hadn’t healed yet. Words were said in the media. The Courier Mail started newspaper bodyline. Mitch was raring to make a comeback. He’d missed a whole Ashes. The Test was all anyone in Brisbane wanted to talk about. He started by smashing runs in it to save Australia. The crowd was practically foaming at the mouth before Trott was out. They were whipped into a carnivorous frenzy.

This time there was a funeral.

It’s been said that deep in the bubble of the Australian Cricket Team no one took the news harder. Then to compound it was the bouncer that struck Virat Kohli on the crest. And maybe it’s too easy to say that it was that that changed Mitch, but no one else in that Test looked as shaken as he did on that walk down to Virat.

When Umesh Yadav was facing Johnson, there was no feeling of impending doom. Like every time a South African or England tailender faced him. In one full over, Mitch bowled one bouncer. Yadav twirled away from it for survival. It wasn’t followed up. There were no leg gullies. No one walked up from slip. The crowd wasn’t getting worked up. Mitch just bowled the last two balls full. One of which Yadav played from near square leg as he assumed he was going to be under attack. He wasn’t.

In this series Mitch has bowled bouncers. But there has been no sustained fire-breathing. The quickest ball in the match was from Umesh Yadav, not to him.

When the new ball was taken yesterday, Mitch took it. He bowled wide down the leg side. Then got his line right. Then got his line wrong, four. Then got his line right. Then got his line wrong, two. Then got his line wrong. Full and wide. The speed gun said 90 mph. Rahane played it like a kid had flicked down a lollipop. It was a long wide half-volley, one of a huge number.

Johnson then turned and walked very slowly back to fine leg. Warner came up to him and gave him a rub on the shoulders. Johnson didn’t even seem to notice. His hips looked sore. He was hot, or cooked.

When he got to fine leg, he had to tape up his own injured fingers. There he stood, wicketless. This time Mitch was the one putting on bandages. Last time it was the others.

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George Who: The invisible Australian captain George Bailey

During Australia’s World T20 campaign in 2012, George Bailey dined in the crab restaurant owned by Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. More than other slightly overpriced crab restaurants, this is a place of cricket. They don’t hide who the owners are, and there are pictures of other cricketers around as well. The waiters also love cricket. They were very excited, as many famous current players and legendary ex-players had been in. They were keen on meeting more. The man who waited on George Bailey was a massive Cameron White fan. He spoke of how White used to be the Australian T20 captain. When asked who the current Australian captain was, he didn’t know.

Bailey just sat there uncomfortably. With a slight smile.


The first ball of George Bailey’s Test career at the Gabba was eased through mid-on. It was from Stuart Broad. There are far worse ways of starting your career than with an on-drive for three. Interestingly, it was an empty mid-on. From the start it seemed that England didn’t rate him.

After that, every ball Bailey faced in that innings would be from James Anderson. He missed a bouncer, edged a length ball that didn’t carry, and played and missed at an outswinger. During all of this, Jimmy spoke to Bailey. His famous sledging style: through his fingers. Bailey spoke back, and smiled.

Until he nicked off to Cook at slip. His feet set in stone. His hands looking for the ball, and his edge completing the wicket. He had made 3 and was Anderson’s first wicket of the Ashes.


Bailey made an impact almost immediately in domestic cricket. Not completely as a batsman, but for his smile. He smiles a lot. There was an ad one year promoting the one-day tournament and in it was Mick Lewis, the grizzled Victorian quick, saying how much he hated George Bailey smiling. But despite the smile, and the obvious talent, Bailey never really pushed for higher honours.

If you saw him bat, it was strange. With no real follow-through, he could smoke the ball to the fence. Pace and spin didn’t seem a problem. He could play on rough wickets. What he couldn’t do was produce the sort of season that you need to get picked. Almost all Australian cricketers do it. A 1000-run season that makes everyone shout your name.

Bailey never went past 778, which he made in his second season.

In 50-overs cricket he was always pretty good, but never “lock up your daughters this guy is burning your world down” good. In T20 he was the same. He played for Scotland when they were in the English domestic cricket set-up. But it was only in 50-over games, and he didn’t do enough to make a stir.

He also played in the IPL, for the best team, Chennai Super Kings. Many Australian players had made good reputations doing good things in the IPL. Bailey was there for four seasons. In that time Super Kings won two IPLs and were runners-up once. He played four games. His top score was 30.

There were no editorials written demanding his inclusion. He wasn’t signing multi-million dollar deals. He just played a bit of cricket, mostly at home, and occasionally abroad.


After Mitchell Johnson’s first innings at the Gabba, batting got easier. And Bailey had only one over from Anderson. Australia were well in front, Anderson was soon taken out of the attack, and instead Bailey faced Joe Root, Chris Tremlett and an out-of-sorts Graeme Swann.

Bailey reacted to this like a good team man. He smashed Root and Swann for sixes. He had not yet hit a four in Tests, but he did have two more sixes than Jonathan Trott. He was keen to show how much he had listened to instructions to attack the spinners, and that he could forget about putting a price on his wicket and just get Australia the runs they needed to declare. It was not always smooth but it was a positive sign.

That was until he looked like a badly programmed robot, playing up a line that Swann had not bowled. He was out for 34.


In Ed Cowan’s book, In the Firing Line (part diary, part bromance epic with Bailey), he wrote about a conversation that he and George had about the future after cricket. Both guys had got to around 30, felt a way away from playing for their country, and now had to think about the worst thing many professional cricketers fear – getting a real job.

There is good money in playing first-class cricket into your 30s, but you have to want it. You have to be prepared to get up early, train harder than the kids, prepare like a pro, knowing that your ultimate dream is gone. There are some players who play on without all this, but they are the obscenely talented. Bailey is good but not obscenely talented. A drop off in his work ethic could have meant he was no longer automatically picked, and even a career cashing in at the lower level may not have been available to him.

So when he chose to keep playing, it was because a part of him still believed. He was willing to keep working hard. He had won domestic titles. He had chased his dream professionally for over a decade, but when you are only one lucky phone call from playing for your country, it’s a big call to become a schoolteacher or batting coach.


Neither of Bailey’s Gabba innings made anywhere near the impact that his stoush with Anderson did. England had been placed inside a brass bull, the fire had been lit beneath it, and all that was left was the last screams as they roasted to death.

Australia pushed for the last wicket, but Anderson wasn’t quite cooked. Just before the 80th over started – one where he faced up to Johnson from around the wicket in the “Imma gonna kill you” style – he was already on edge. While Johnson warmed up, it was clear that Anderson and Bailey were chatting, and that Anderson wasn’t kidding around. He walked over to Bailey, standing tall above him, and nothing he said seemed like a John Keats poem. Politeness wasn’t in evidence. Neither man even seemed to let the other finish a sentence.

Bailey smiled, Anderson scowled, the umpires walked in hurriedly, they used the international sign for calm down, and then everyone went back to their marks. Michael Clarke chatted within the stump mics’ hearing range.

“Face up”, said an aggressive Clarke.

“I’m quite happy to,” said a passive-aggressive Anderson.

“Get ready for a broken f****** arm,” said Clarke walking backwards knowing that one of the world’s most dangerous bowlers was on his side.

George Bailey continued to smile. Anderson survived seven more balls.


If George Bailey wasn’t a good captain, he probably would have been even less known. Bailey had inherited a decent side from Dan (son of Rod, not Geoff) Marsh. But he made it even better. Partly through building a team ethic, partly by smart recruiting. George was well known and well liked within Australian cricket. Anyone he thought could be good for his team turned up. Ed Cowan, Jackson Bird and Mark Cosgrove turned up. Armed with these three, two good allrounders, and a bunch of other quality bowlers, he built an empire on green tracks that he and the other batsmen tried to survive on.

They made six finals under Bailey. They won three. For a state with no real record of prolonged success, and about 35 residents, it was a brilliant effort. And when Australian cricket changed under the reign of John Inverarity, George Bailey was their sort of man.

He knew about things other than cricket. He could bring people together. He was calm. He was cool. He was worldly. He was a winner. And he was bright. Then he was Australia’s first-ever captain who had not played for Australia before.

Even though it was the least important captaincy position, it painted a target on his back.


The score was 174 for 4 when Bailey appeared in Adelaide. He was dropped. He brought up his first Test fifty with a six off Broad. And continued to hit sixes.

When he came in, Australia were very nearly in danger of throwing away a huge advantage on a flat track, with their in-form captain at the other end. Bailey batted like a batsman without a care in the world. When England bowled a bad ball, he went after it. When they didn’t, he just handled them fine. Bailey outscored his captain.

The ball made a good noise off his bat when he smacked it. He looked, for the first time, in complete control. He came down to the spinners on the odd occasion Monty Panesar wasn’t bowling short. Even the chance he offered was relatively safe. He went down the wicket and smashed the ball at Panesar, who dropped it. If you’re going to pick anyone, it should be Panesar.

His six off Broad to bring up his fifty wasn’t just a six off Broad to bring up a fifty. It was a six off Broad, who was using the second new ball, to bring up a fifty. After that, Bailey resumed his battle with Anderson. It was an over where very little happened. The only question was what score Bailey would be not out on at close.

Then he middled another pull shot off Broad. This one went lower and Graeme Swann at square leg pulled off the sort of catch that gets you a lot of Youtube hits. Australia had recovered but were not yet out of the danger zone.

Brad Haddin would change that, and Bailey wouldn’t bat in the second innings.


In 2013, Bailey did something that had a higher-profile player done it, would have been praised on talkback radio and in opinion pieces. He turned his back on the IPL and made an attempt to prove himself as a Test player.

He could have sat on the bench for Chennai Super Kings again, and then played another T20 league or two, made a fair bit of money, and had a bit of off time. Instead he chose to be in England, playing mostly red-ball cricket, as the Australian team was there for the Ashes.

It was a two-fold attack. It started as a way to prove he was actually committed to playing Test cricket. And by being in the UK, and already being an Australian ODI and T20 player, at worst he might have made the Test side. Hell, with Michael Clarke’s back a shoelace tie away from breaking, Bailey could have even been a Test captain despite not even being in the original squad.


At the WACA it was noticeable that Jimmy Anderson bowled quicker to Bailey than he had before. Now it could have just been the imagination of a sportswriter looking for narrative, or the rhythm that a bowler can get into during the day, but Anderson bowled as quick in one over to Bailey as he had at any time in the series. But he didn’t get him out.

It was Broad and the short ball that did it again. Bailey seemed intent on never taking a backward step, even when on the back foot. He wouldn’t be bullied or bombed by England. So he tried to hook a short ball and found Pietersen, who did everything he could to make the catch look awkward.

Australia were in another hole, but Haddin mopped up again.


Clarke’s back didn’t work at all for the Champions Trophy. So Bailey took over. He batted well, Australia played horribly, and it was suddenly clear, while many still didn’t rate him, that he had somehow become Australia’s most consistent ODI batsman.

With Clarke in London, and David Warner in trouble, it was Bailey who had to front the press. He did it well, while making it very clear he couldn’t wait for Clarke to come back.

Clarke would come back, and would captain with no more real problems for his back, so Bailey was never needed as Test captain, or even Test squad member. Instead he came back for the ODIs at the end of the English summer, and made more runs. His batting average and ODI batting ranking were really high for someone whom no one ever seemed to talk up, or often even about.


The second innings at the WACA was brutal on England. They walked out knowing the series was gone. They fielded poorly, Broad was injured, Anderson looked over it, Swann was fading, and it was really very hot. Australia skipped joyfully to a declaration.

Bailey rejoined the fun when Australia were over 400 runs ahead. He sat at the other end while Shane Watson head-butted the English corpse for a hundred. Bailey didn’t do much damage himself. After 24 balls he had hit one boundary (only a four) and was 11 not out.

Then he came back in touch with his old friend Anderson. What happened next seemed like it would break a few rules of the Geneva convention. Bailey tore up what was left of Anderson like he was made of tissue paper on a windy day.

When Bailey’s boundary-hitting massacre finished, there was a puddle of blood at the top of the mark where Anderson had once stood. For Bailey, that over could not have come from a more perfect opponent.


George Bailey had some fun in India. 85, 92 not out, 43, 98, 156 and 4.

Flat pitches, an amazingly weak bowling attack, and small boundaries all helped Bailey average over 95 at a strike rate of 116. People had to write about it. They had to hype it. Well not even hype it, just report it accurately, and let people moan at the numbers.

This wasn’t another series, this was a coming-out party. Every six, and there were 15 of them, rang a bell, and with the next Ashes around the corner, and a batting spot available for anyone who wanted it, Bailey had made it very clear that he wanted it.

The press could have looked at it from a detailed and analytical standpoint. Bailey had played very well in ODIs in England and India, and he was clearly seeing the ball amazingly, but how was his red-ball form? Had he made any runs playing for Hampshire in county cricket, or any runs for Tasmania in last year’s Sheffield Shield?

Who cares? Look at his hitting in Mohali.

The selectors and fans seemed to do the same. Very few seemed to notice, worry or bother with the fact he hadn’t made a first-class hundred since February 2012.

Bailey was selected with as much fanfare as a six at a Big Bash game. He had been noticed, and embraced.


Bailey faced 18 balls at the MCG. He was at the wicket with his team in trouble. The ball was reversing. This wasn’t the time to attempt to beat his world- record overs tally efforts of the WACA. This was the time for survival.

Straight dead bats. Grim determination. Last-minute adjustments. Small backlifts. Sure movements.

That was surely the plan. But Bailey was uneasy. One leave almost ended with him caught at slip, and then run out in the confusion. A huge leg-before shout from Broad was turned down because of a small inside edge. It was nervy, and nasty, and then Bailey found himself at Anderson’s end.

In the first over Anderson found a spot and just kept at it. The first four balls landed within six inches of each other. Three of them seemed to hit the exact same spot. The reverse was not deadly, it was just there. Even the smallest hint of reverse from a decent bowler can upset an Australian batsman more than most. But the second over at Bailey, now that was Anderson the chessmaster.

The seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth balls from Anderson to Bailey were all on or about the same line and length. He was keeping him on the crease, not letting him really come forward or back. None had big movement. None was meant to. They were about getting him used to the ball coming in at him from that line and length.

The 11th ball kept the same length. But it was six inches wider than the others. It was supposed to be wider, because it also went wider through reverse movement.

Had No. 11 kept its line, Bailey might have used the width to hit it for four. He certainly saw it as the weakest ball he faced. But it didn’t, it was a trap. And Bailey, who had not scored after being out there for several overs, didn’t see it and went for it.

England were convinced Bailey hit it. Aleem Dar wasn’t. The evidence was far from conclusive. But the dismissal had passed enough protocols for the third umpire to decide that it was out. It’s possible Bailey didn’t hit it. It’s not possible Anderson didn’t completely fox him.

Bailey was not needed for the second innings.


In Sydney, Bailey wasn’t just fighting Anderson and England. Another foe joined in.

There had been history between Bailey and Channel Nine. When Bailey was filling in as captain of the Australian ODI team the previous summer, he had been involved in a weird media event. Channel Nine had been bemoaning Australia resting of key players (informed player management, they call it). When Bailey was asked about it, he put a spin on the fact that Channel Nine were currently in negotiations with Cricket Australia about paying for rights, and that it may be in their interests to downplay the worth of one-dayers.

That prompted a bizarre response from Brad McNamara, Channel Nine’s executive producer of cricket. “It’s rubbish and George should stick to playing cricket and leave rights to the people who know what they’re talking about. I reckon he’s got his hands full as it is. He needs to concentrate on staying in the side. And he needs to understand where his money’s coming from. Without the TV rights deal, George is probably working in a coal mine or flipping burgers at McDonald’s.”

McNamara was rightfully laughed at for his comments.

These comments were brought up a fair bit when Bailey failed to make a fifty in two attempts in Sydney. Mostly because it seemed that no one in the Channel Nine box could make a comment about him that wasn’t negative. His feet, hands, technique and temperament were questioned. His second-innings 46 was not enough. And they weren’t always wrong. It just seemed kind of mean. Especially when at the back of the press box some seemed happy when he was out.

But it went deeper than McNamara’s comments. Bailey had made mistakes in his career. He hadn’t made enough first-class runs. He hadn’t come into the team as a young man. He came into the captaincy without playing a game. He came into the Test team because of one-day runs. He was everything old-school cricket didn’t like. A thinking cricketer who had never demanded inclusion, but who had been included regardless.

For old-school types like Ian Chappell, he was pretty much everything he didn’t like. And Chappell wasn’t just turning on Bailey because of his stoush with Channel Nine. He had not liked Bailey for a long time.

To show how Bailey never fit in, there is no better article than the one by former good old boy larrikin Aussie cricketer (briefly) Brett Geeves for Inside Cricket. In it, Geeves listed the many reasons why Bailey was not a good captain. And the piece would have had more relevance had Bailey not captained the reigning winning Sheffield Shield team when the piece was published.


Before his fourth Test, Bailey stood outside the MCG doing an interview. He stood there for a long time, and because of the cameras and the familiar Australia tracksuit, a crowd turned up. But it wasn’t until the interviewer said, “Thanks George” that most of the crowd realised who it was.

At that stage, he had been an Australian captain for two years. He had played three Ashes Tests, all won. He had fought with Anderson. But he was still not really known. Not embraced. Still invisible. After Sydney, he wasn’t really dropped, just not picked for the next series. Just sort of faded away.

At a press conference afterwards he didn’t complain, or rant. He just took the decision with a slight smile. And then left.

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Ryan Harris writes history in synovial fluid, tears, bone, tendon and blood

There is something floating in Ryan Harris‘ knee. The medical community thinks it is bone. It’s probably magic. Or a little pebble of awesomeness. Nothing else explains his last over.

In the overs before, Harris could barely bend over when fielding at gully. His hands were at the top of his thigh, not down near his knee in the customary position. When he walked, you were watching someone with osteoarthritis move, or someone who had done a whole day of rodeo. And when he stood up at the end of each ball you could hear the creaking all around the ground. Even his hip flexor had given out, possibly from the flexing he was doing more and more just to get by. Crocked. Stuffed. Finished. Another over was surely beyond him. Another Test might have been as well.

His job was to stay out on the ground to celebrate the potential Australian win. The win that they couldn’t get. Vernon Philander’s hand and Dale Steyn’s bloody-mindedness were drawing the Test. Here were two forces.

One, the South Africans, they just refuse to lose a Test series. They’re better when the primal need for survival has been put on them by their own shoddiness. This time, they had extra motivation with their captain, hero and leader on his last mission. They couldn’t have done more to draw this game if they decided to dig actual trenches at the Kelvin Grove end. Against them was a very movable force. The fluid in Harris’ knee was moving the bone quite often.

Australia thought they’d get eight or ten overs out of him in the entire second innings. The wicket of AB deVilliers was in his fifteenth. You should never call this dismissal anything as dismal as a wicket. It was a triumph of man over superman. De Villiers is currently batting like the laws of physics don’t apply to him. It is as if he has learnt to see into the future and decides on his shot as the bowler is coming in. Getting him out in this form, with his assistance is virtually impossible. Getting him out without his assistance from a busted down old man who should be on crutches should be impossible. The only thing impossible was the Harris outswinger.

Ryan Harris winces in the face of impossible.

Today he winced from leg slip, slip, gully, short cover, or anywhere else you put the guy who stopped being able to move. But he kept coming back, more broken than before.

Tasmania had tried to break Queensland during the last Sheffield Shield final. They had prepared a pitch made of actual deserts. They batted in a coma. And then when Queendlsand tried to move the game on, they picked up enough wickets to lead by almost 200 runs after the first innings. In the first innings, Queensland had bowled 173.4 overs. Harris had bowled forty of those and taken three wickets.

But in the second innings, he just kept going in his opening spell. It seemed endless. Harris, and everyone watching or playing, knew that the only chance of a Queensland victory was with him. Tasmania collapsed under his pressure to 5 for 16. Harris bowled what felt like all the overs, he smashed the ball into this lifeless pitch, he demanded that the ball move for him, and he put his entire career in jeopardy by bowling 54 overs for his adopted state in a losing cause.

It seems that Harris just cannot quit. So why would he listen to his surgeon, his doctor, his physio, or anyone, when they said he couldn’t bowl again. He hadn’t ever listened to his body. Fast bowlers don’t start international careers over 30 in already broken down bodies and take over a hundred wickets. But Harris wouldn’t listen to modern medicine, he wouldn’t listen to science, he wouldn’t even listen to cricket stats.

His second last over of the day looked like his last, well his last of any note. He bowled a short quick one that scared Steyn. It was quicker than his over the previous night where he bowled an over of Shane Watson-paced slower balls.

But he didn’t look right. Instead of bashing through the crease like a Joe Frazier combination, steaming coming from his nose, his chest daring anyone to hit him, his legs were all over the place, and his fearsome torso looked attached to the wrong set of legs. His knee wasn’t working, his hip was flexing poorly, and he was trying to play through it all and conquer a pitch that gave nothing.

On the second last ball, he slipped as he delivered. It looked, for the shortest of moments, like the injury that could end him today, tomorrow and forever. But he just went back to his mark and somehow got through the over. He was now noticeably limping. His action and run up was falling apart. He had surely bowled his last over, or at least, his last of anything approaching pace.

Nathan Lyon was tried, but had little luck. Watson came back on to wobble them about a bit. And had he wobbled them slightly better, or at least had Steyn playing at them, Harris might not have come back when he did.

When he came on, you couldn’t shake the feeling that Ryan Harris shouldn’t be bowling. Ryan Harris shouldn’t be walking. Ryan Harris shouldn’t be bowling Australia to victory. Ryan Harris shouldn’t be running around the outfield having just taken the two final wickets in three balls. Ryan Harris should be with a surgeon, showing him how when he twists his knee, the bone clicks out of the bad bit and he can walk properly again.

Where did he find the swing or strength?

In the years to come it will read 24.3 overs, 15 maidens, 32 runs and four wickets. But unless it was written in synovial fluid, tears, bone, tendon and blood, no one will ever understand how good Ryan Harris was today. Whatever is in that knee, I hope they remove it, and get Ryan Harris fit again. Then I hope they show the removed item in a museum and schoolkids are bussed in to see it for years to come.

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surviving Mornzilla

Short ball.

Ribs. 40.6.

Morne Morkel bowled two of his first three balls to Clarke full. He bowled all three over the wicket. That was a massive waste of time and effort. That over didn’t start when Steyn went off after one ball, and it didn’t start with Morkel’s over the wicket ball in the corridor, it started when Morkel came around the wicket and slammed the ball into Clarke’s ribs. Clarke didn’t play it, he just clutched it to himself like an injured bird. There was now little chance of Morkel coming back over the wicket. Or Clarke getting tested with the full swinging ball.

Short ball. Short ball. Elgar over.

Arm. 42.3

Morkel now had his aim right. It was somewhere between the arm pit and left nipple. Clarke was moving back and across and into the missile’s trajectory. He was a slow-moving target, and Morkel hit him right on the arm. It looked like, to paraphrase Clarke himself, “a broken f**ken arm”. Which is something that one of the South Africans might have mentioned to him. The super slow motion looked like a shock ad to teach you the lessons of not wearing arm guards. At the end of the over, when Clarke was touched by the physio, it looked like he’d rather not be.

Warner tried to protect his captain by keeping strike a couple of times. One ball that Warner called two on Clarke just jogged the one to get back on strike. Clarke had moved back to No. 4. Clarke hadn’t made any runs. Clarke would not hide at the non-strikers end.

Short ball. Short ball. Elgar over. Short ball. Short ball.

Shoulder and head. 44.3.

Clarke had had enough of standing upright and being hit, so he dropped to get under another ball on an armpit-nipple length. This time the ball didn’t quite get up, but Clarke couldn’t see as he had turned his head away, and the ball crashed into his shoulder. From there it ricocheted up into his jaw. Clarke tossed his bat, stumbled off the pitch and was surrounded by worried South Africans. None more so than Morne Morkel. Seemingly everyone within Cricket Australia with a first aid certificate came out to check on the captain. The cameras found Shane Warne looking worried on the balcony, an odd twist on the grieving wife shot. They decideed that Clarke is okay. After a few minutes, he faced up again.

Hand. 44.4.

The ball was straight back at him, Clarke flinched early, he took his eye off it, this time it hit his hand and flew straight up in the air. Clarke had no idea where the ball is. JP Duminy rushed in like a mad man from a deepish short leg, the ball beat him to the ground, but went very close to the stumps. Clarke could have been caught, Clarke could have been bowled, and Clarke could have had a broken hand. Clarke is under attack.

Gut. 44.5.

Clarke was now clearly over just being hit and decided to try the attacking option. The pull shot to get away from the short ball worked for him in Adelaide when England tried the same thing. This time he just sort of got hit around the gut as the ball ended up behind him.

When Warner faced a short ball from Morkel it ended up smashing it’s way to the fine leg boundary between two fielders. The difference was as great between Warner and Clarke as it was between Mornzilla and Elgar Smurf. Everyone at the ground wanted to fast forward the Elgar overs or any balls when Warner was facing. No one even worried much about Steyn’s injury.

Short ball. Elgar over. Short ball. Short ball. Short ball. Short ball. Elgar over. Short ball. Morne taken off.

Thumb. 86.3.

With the new ball Morkel achieved some sideways movement. And for a while, he pretended that Clarke was just another batsman. Clarke even pushed one through mid-on in what looked like very civilised cricket. More shockingly, Clarke smacked a pull through midwicket. But Clarke wasn’t just another batsman, and Morne went back to the beautiful barbaric nature of armpits around the wicket. Leg slip came back in smelling blood. And Morkel produced it with another ball that almost ripped the top of Clarke’s thumb off. Much time was taken to reattach the thumb nail. Blood was wiped away. And then Clarke took any chance he could to get off strike for the next ball, surviving a possible run-out and getting a well earned five.

Finally Clarke could rest at the non-strikers end. He had nothing left to prove, and nothing left to injure. He had survived.

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An afternoon in Port Elizabeth: a thorough retelling of an epic destruction

The first ball after tea Alex Doolan edged Vernon Philander behind to AB de Villiers. It could be out, it should be out, but the cameras say it could have bounced. Then Doolan edges to slip, and it doesn’t carry either. Doolan looks like a walking knicker. Finally Morne Morkel gets an edge from him that carries.

Shaun Marsh comes and goes, for a pair. He has now scored less than four in more than half his Test innings. On other days, this would be talked about much.

Michael Clarke has not made runs since Adelaide. He edges first ball. It doesn’t carry. You have to really earn a caught behind the wicket right now. Steyn’s first over after tea. He looks like that Dale Steyn. Angry and hungry. Clarke just guides one to slip after being worked over by reverse swing. Smith barely arrives at the crease and is out.

At 126 without loss it sounded like de Villiers shouting “150 for 4 here”. De Villiers was wrong, it was 156 for 4. With four wickets down, you could smell the fifth day fading.

South Africa were now throwing it all on the line, Australia’s saviour in the Ashes was allowed on strike with fielders on the boundary for Chris Rogers. Oh, Rogers, he had barely scored. He had barely looked like going out. He was just there.

Steyn could virtually taste Brad Haddin’s wicket. After four balls of strike, he removed his middle stump with a ball Haddin knew where it would pitch; with a ball Haddin knew how it would swing; with a ball that Haddin could have predicted an hour before it happened. Haddin still lost his middle stump.

Mitch came out with his massive batting average against South Africa. Mitch missed a short swinging delivery from Steyn by roughly 4.7 kilometres. Then he had a ball pole vault out of the footmarks and take the shoulder of the bat. Mitch was being attacked by ground and foot.

Smith was now so sure this was the last day he was throwing reviews away. The fifth day was dead to everyone.

Johnson stays out of the line to one from Philander. He tricks Richard Illingworth, but South Africa review anyway; damn you day five. They are right. Johnson is out.

South Africa have given up on bowling out Rogers. So Steyn bowls wide to Rogers to keep him off strike. It is called a wide. Morkel hits something down the legside so South Africa throw another review at it: not out. The umpires are staying pretty sharp despite the yelling and craziness. The clouds are now encroaching on the pitch like a Fritz Lang baddie.

How many wickets down do you need to be to enforce the extra half an hour? Everyone has a different answer. It’s not a real thing. It could be seven, maybe its eight. But Ryan Harris and Rogers look settled as the minutes creep up to 1759, one minute from the normal close.

Morkel is down the leg side again, he seems to be working to some sort of leg-side-or-be-damned plan. This time Rogers has wood on it, de Villiers has dived like a superhero. But did it carry? South Africa think yes. Has it bounced, maybe, yes, maybe no. The sun seems to be on every TV screen in the ground, the glare makes people doubt themselves. While it is all happening, it is beyond six. It’s either bounced or been foreshortened. Will that be it?

Aleem Dar decides it is not out. But the umpires on the field decide that the extra half an hour can be called. Rogers is livid, he complains uselessly. He deserves it to be the close of play. Australia and South Africa deserve to have an extra half hour.

Steyn is bowling to Harris, and there is another edge down the leg side that is almost caught. Then Harris hits the ball into the ground, it bounces high in the air (higher than any delivery in the match), it is not going near the stumps, but he hits it away, and does it very badly. It hits the back of his bat and almost goes onto the stumps.

Two balls later Steyn hits Harris high and leg side. South Africa are convinced it is out. Kumar Dharmasena takes forever to compute, then he gives it out. Harris reviews. It is still out. Only just. Harris keeps looking at Dharmasena as he walks off.

Rogers faces a full over from JP Duminy. Perhaps he’s bowling to get through the over quickly to allow Steyn a go at Peter Siddle. He cannot get off strike. The last ball he tries to take a run, but decides only a run out would happen. So he says no. The sun goes behind a cloud. It suddenly gets very dark.

Siddle gets stuck with Steyn. An inside edge happens, but safely. Then Siddle hits out on the off side, he takes the single, as Duminy stops it by flopping on the ball with his ribs. He can barely breathe. The phsyio comes out, but there is no time, he is sent back. The light metre comes out, and South Africa can’t knock that back. Duminy is in massive pain. He keeps running into the wrong position because he can’t listen to anyone through the pain. He’s taking up seconds and light.

Steyn gets angry and smashes Rogers in the back of the helmet and it goes for four leg byes. He wants Rogers on strike so Philander can bowl to Siddle. He wins. Steyn is down on his haunches at square leg after his last couple of bouncers, barely breathing. He has bowled nine overs, he looks like he has bowled a hundred. You just know he will try bowl another.

Siddle handles Philander very well. Very, very well. It now looks like Steyn or nothing.

Rogers faces Duminy, who has done well to recover, but both teams are playing like tomorrow will not happen. Rogers pushes the ball wide of mid-off, to the right of Alviro Petersen, who earlier in the session was fielding like he was in a coma. Now he is awake, picks it up, flicks it and hits the stumps. It looks out. South Africa are sure it is. The first replays show Rogers well short when the ball hits the stump. South Africa get the thumbs up and celebrate. But for drama, the bail takes a year to come off. Dar has noticed this. It takes maybe two years for the bail to come off. And in that time, maybe Rogers is in. There are about 27 replays. Dar has seen enough, he gives it out.

Rogers, who played with ease alongside David Warner, and then hung on to the wreckage of the Australian order to stay afloat has run himself out in the dark, in the final minutes. Steyn, as buggered as he is, runs over and shakes his hand. So does Smith.

It is Siddle and Nathan Lyon, better than most Nos. 10 and 11. They can bat. They are okay. They need to face less than two overs. It is now darker than before. Siddle does well against Duminy to end the over. He even pushes into the covers for a two.

At the other end Steyn takes off his hat, goes to the end of his mark. He will give it one more over. But Illingworth and Dharmasena are alternating on who they help. They decide it is too dark. Instead of facing Steyn, Lyon will face Dean Elgar. The man who called himself a pie chucker at the end of the first day. Left-arm orthodox. The very opposite of Steyn in practically every way.

The first ball is an actual pie, and Lyon had enough time to eat it. The second ball is better, but Lyon plays it well. The third is a quicker ball, it’s wide and full and Lyon just leaves. The fourth, the fourth.

It is short of a length on the stumps, it spins, it holds up, Lyon is hit on the pad. Lyon is OUT. SOUTH AFRICA WIN. DEAN ELGAR HAS TAKEN A WICKET.

Lyon stands there as Elgar mounts his team-mates, they laugh, they smile, Lyon stares. Unimportant replay show a possible edge and problems with height.

Thirty minutes later, Lyon is in the changing room, still staring, still unable to change anything.

South Africa have won. Dean Elgar has taken the wicket.

In 36.4 overs, South Africa have taken nine wickets. They have beaten Australia. They have beaten the apocalyptic rain. And they have made Lyon stare.

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