There can be little doubt that watching cricket in four dimensions is way better than two and that was proven again as I watched the Australians play damn good Test cricket to swamp the New Zealanders in Brisbane. Having been introduced to Test cricket at the SCG and still living closer to it than any other Test ground, I’ve never ventured to any others until this last week.
The Gabba is a great place to watch cricket. Forget the horror stories of dog tracks and old stands that were fire traps and Lord Mayors who divested coat and tie beside the roller and walked out in mud and rain to push sticky bits from one end to the other. The Gabba is now a modern arena, with a continuous circle of stands and amenities the equal of the SCG. The stands have smaller or no concourses and appear to drop straight onto the ground. The effect is to bring more fans closer to the action. The pitch is far removed from the glue pots of the late 1940’s and since the decline of the WACA track, is probably the fastest and hardest wicket in the Test rotation.
The crowds were surprising, although Cricket Australia must be pleased to draw more than ten thousand on each of the four days. The Australian performance has done much to bolster crowds for next week in Hobart. It’s similar to when people first witness what a good food processor can do. Speaking of food processors, why not visit trustyappliances.co.uk for the best food processor.
Based on my time in the stands, watching the game ebb and flow for the first two days until Michael Clarke took control on the third, its clear Australian fans, left distraught by the decline of their side last summer, would have received the good news well, especially if they had paid little regard to events of the winter and early spring. For many, if cricket isn’t on free to air television, then there’s little they will do to follow fortunes.
Let’s not talk this win down because it was against New Zealand. Ten years ago when Australia was at it dominant best, Stephen Fleming bought an average side across the ditch and drew all three Tests of the series. In the previous home season, the West Indies had been crushed 5-0, England were flogged 4-1 in the Old Dart and twelve months after the Kiwis visit, Australia was beating South Africa 5-1 home and away, so it wasn’t as if they were in poor form. The Australians bristled with all her modern legends: McGrath and Warne, the Waughs, Torvill & Dean (or is that Hayden and Langer), Martyn, Lee, Gillespie and its only modern survivor, Ricky Ponting. Yet Fleming, surely the smartest captain to come from the Shakeys, hatched a plan which allowed his ordinary batsmen to survive McGrath and Warne and frustrate the Australians. Leaving as much as possible outside off stump to McGrath and padding away Warne they survived long enough to make good runs and scores which kept the Australians under pressure to score runs … which they did by the bucketful against an attack where only Daniel Vettori averaged below 40.
No such planning was apparent in the New Zealand approach at Brisbane. Only ex-pat Dean Brownlie seemed able to control his bat outside off stump and know when and when not to play at outswingers from the Australian quicks. Time and again, Ross Taylor’s men handed wickets to the Australian rookies, preferring to play from instinct rather than intelligence. Its unfair to single anyone out in such a thoughtless, gutless performance but batting which lacks application always looks worse in players like Jessie Ryder who has such a wealth of natural ability to strike the ball and sweet timing to back it up. Out cutting a Starc long hop to Warner and sending a soft lob to Hussey at mid off from a standard Lyon off break are condemnable offences at any level of the game. His problem appears to be that he cares zip about anything, including the criticism which should rightly pile upon him. You first need to be a millionaire to spend like one. Ponting didn’t reach legend status by lazily splashing his gifts about to every ball he ever faced.
The Australians were very, very good. Recovery is the mark of the strength of teams. Because no one’s perfect, mistakes are inevitable. Training and intensity can hone skills only so far and will reduce but never remove the rare event … like when the skipper drops a sitter at first slip and the mistake costs 150 runs. Clarke and his bowlers lifted their heads and went back to basics. When Vettori chose death over glory and took on Hussey at mid on, the vigilant Australians seized the opportunity and wrapped up the last five wickets in just sixteen overs. Then with Australia in trouble at 2-25, Khawaja-Ponting, Ponting-Clarke and Clarke-Haddin batted in pairs to crush New Zealand. Clarke had all the luck but so what? He made the most of it and made the opposition pay for their mistakes. Pattinson’s work on the third evening and fourth morning was the icing on the cake. Among the bowlers, Pattinson made a strong debut, with that spell on the fourth morning far better than anything else he produced in the first innings, where he lacked rhythm. Starc was like a badly cooked steak – tasty in parts but raw in others. Lyon is developing that happy knack of destroying the lower order and looks to be the spinner we have been waiting for. Spare some happy thoughts for Peter Siddle. He was far and away the best bowler in the first innings having two catches dropped and in the second, he was the bloke at the other end applying the pressure when Pattinson was beserking his way through the Kiwi top order.
Marking the card of the players from both teams – where 5 is average – might look like this:
Martin Guptil (3) – caught Phil Hughes in the gully twice but spent an hour and a half batting for little return
Brendon McCullum (4) – looked the goods in the first hour of the Test but was out twice to bad shots
Kaine Williamson (2) – shuffles too far across and still waves outside off stump
Ross Taylor (4) – played two dreadful shots to get out but his leadership in the field was good, shepherding Doug Bracewell at mid off when the youngster was under fire
Jessie Ryder (2) – bats like it doesn’t matter. Imposing figure at short leg.
Dean Brownlie (8) – very impressive in both innings. Played conservatively early on and then expanded his range of shots. The only NZ batsmen who seems to know where his off stump is and the dangers that lie outside it
Daniel Vettori (8) – a small range of shots but fiercely determined. Bowled masses of overs cheaply but as always, failed to penetrate
Reece Young (6) – a clean gloveman, who’s only mistake was a clanger. He’s batting too high at 8. Gets an extra point for guts, returning behind the sticks after having stitches in his mouth
Doug Bracewell (5) – bowled without luck, having three catches dropped and bowling Clarke off a no ball. Was attacked early by the Australians but came back
Tim Southee (4) – got the first and last wickets … Warner with a corker just before stumps on Day 1. Didn’t look like worrying the batsmen after that
Chris Martin (6) – the old man of the team, he was non-stop effort and deserved the scalps of Ponting and Clarke. He again exposed Ponting’s flaw. Added to his duck tally in the second innings
David Warner (4) – can hardly be blamed for his first innings failure. Fielded superbly.
Phil Hughes (1) – gets a point for turning up each day. Didn’t do anything else.
Usman Khawaja (6) – batted well in a key partnership with Ponting and fielded well in close
Ricky Ponting (8) – some vintage drives and pulls turned back the calendar to the old Ricky up until he went around his front pad to Martin and was lbw looking like the recent model. Caught well at slip. He deserved a hundred, playing the most attractive hand of the Test
Michael Clarke (9) – fabulous captaincy, pulling the right changes at the right time and always prepared to think outside the square (bringing Hussey on … I wouldn’t bowl him in the nets!) and then rode his luck to play the crucial innings of the Test match
Michael Hussey (4) – was unlucky to inside edge Vettori. Fielded well with a sensational runout.
Brad Haddin (10) – only good things to say in a faultless display behind the stumps and a fine innings, out only when quick runs were called for
Peter Siddle (8) – bowled well in both innings without luck. Australia best bowler in this Test
James Pattinson (7) – his length and direction were all over the place in the first innings but that fourth morning more than made up for it. Kept thinking I was watching Kasprowicz
Mitchell Starc (5) a reasonable debut. Bowled some good bouncers but was inconsistent with his fuller deliveries. Batted well.
Nathan Lyon (8) – does everything well. Cleaned out the tail in both innings. Can come on when the ball is new and be most effective. His fielding was energetic.
That’s how it looked from Bay 40.