The Ashes experience down under
I flew out to Australia, for my first time ever, on day two of the Perth Test, just hours after finishing an exam-my last commitment of my University degree second year in 2017.
Arriving in Melbourne I was greeted by proper heat and had to make my first purchase of a ‘slurpie’ Slush Puppie to cool myself down pretty promptly.
A week in Adelaide experiencing Kangaroo Island and a Big Bash game saw me receive gloating Aussie chat from most bar staff or waiters or anyone who heard me speak and recognised my English accent.
Rather deflated before I had seen a ball bowled in Ashes cricket, I still returned to Melbourne telling everybody that no, my hero Alastair Cook should not be dropped, he was going to come good with a big hundred at the MCG.
And boy did that happen! Yes it was a dead rubber, yes the pitch was placid, yes Mitch Starc was not playing, his replacement Jackson Bird was the new receiver of the Mitchell Johnson song, and yes Pat Cummins was struggling with illness, but forget all that, this was a wondrous knock, Test batting at its finest.
Ali, Ali Cook, Ali Cook, Aali Ali Coo-uh-ook has been revolving around my head ever since. An incredible knock got the incredible support it deserved from the Barmy Army, who just did not stop singing the entire Test, and inevitably did so especially vociferously in tribute to former Captain Cook in full flow.
Like the sailor who discovered New Zealand, Cook the batsman did not stop at the first landmark, he ploughed on and on and on, only to run out of partners at the other end, becoming only the second Englishman to score a double hundred at the MCG, his fifth double ton in all.
The firework partnership with a resurgent Stuart Broad was one of the best passages of play (from an English point of view) of the entire series.
Ever since being hit in India, the Broad who used to regularly slay it to all parts with Prior, Swann, or even Pietersen, Bell or Trott if they were still in, appeared to have disappeared. But this knock proved that he does still have it in him.
Having been fortunate to evade a few early scares from the inevitable barrage of short balls, Broad simply climbed into them, taking them over the deep fielders again and again. Watching one of England’s chief tormentors Nathan Lyon misjudge one of these hook shots and see the ball lob just over him enough that it still only went for four a few yards from the rope felt like a real stab in the guts of Aussie cockiness. They were that confident to bounce Broad out that they had men out on the hook a few yards in from the rope, but the Trent Bridge eight-fer man simply plinked it over him.
Of the whole tour that would have to be one of the best sessions, England finally showing some proper fight with the bat, on the way to their biggest team total of the series. I still believe that if it had not rained on day four, England could have won to make the series 3-1.
“We’re gonna win 4-3” was clearly a little overly optimistic from the Barmy boys, but the notion was clear, England fans were buoyant and outnumbered the Aussies in presence and song from day three onwards.
Sydney was a much less entertaining Test match, little happened other than Englishmen making starts but failing to go on to make a score of note and the Aussies doing the opposite.
Khawaja looked like he had played the knock of the match (probably was the knock of his career) but was swiftly eclipsed by a sumptuous Shaun Marsh ‘Daddy-Hundred’ in partnership with his swashbuckling younger brother. The Marsh brothers’ milestones even touched the heartstrings of the most ardent England fans, the series was over, the match already seemed gone for England, so the least we fans could do was applaud a scintillating partnership which really oozed class from the outset.
I had a view from the members stand for the last four days of the Sydney Test and happily stood amidst the Australian faithful to congratulate the best Aussie brother partnership after the Chappell and Waugh brothers.
On that note I cannot think of a deadly duo of English brothers off the top of my head, but am still holding out for a few years’ time when an England four-pronged pace attack could consist of two sets of brothers -the Currans and the Overtons.
It has been funny how differing pundits have suggested Jamie Overton and Sam Curran would have suited the Australian conditions better than their brothers did, but to be fair to them, neither Craig nor Tom did half badly. They were always going to be the slowest of the seamers and risk offering little on hard, flat wickets, but they both showed real dogged fight with bat and ball, both digging in for better scores than all the other bowlers’ series knocks (bar the aforementioned Broad 50.)
Yes we lost 4-0, but it was not quite a pomnishambles. Curran, Crane and Overton are youngsters who should develop into fine cricketers and David Malan exceeded all expectations whilst Stoneman looked better than most of Cook’s other 11 opening partners since Andrew Strauss.
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