Australia Tour 2017/18
Its like kissing ya sister
Trying to engage with grumpy Lofty in the morning is a dangerous business.
As we had a 7.30am flight from Perth to Adelaide the day after the calamitous Third test, early alarm calls at 5am were the order of the day.
As I knocked on Lofty's hotel door at 5.50am to make sure he was awake, I was greeted by a low pitched, gutteral, inaudible string of expletives similar to those in the 'Your mother cooks socks in hell' scene in 'The Exorcist'. (Changed slightly as I know some kids read this.)
Having neither a crucifix or supply of holy water, I made a sharp exit to the taxi waiting down below.
Thankfully the flight was uneventful and on time. We picked up our second hire car in Adelaide and set off on the road to Melbourne. Our first leg was a long drive to the fishing town of Robe, about 370km south east of Adelaide. Taking turns with the driving we passed Murray Bridge, Tailem Bend, and mile after mile of featureless bush and marshland called the Coorong before we reached civilisation again at Kingston. There stood the imposing fifty foot high town mascot, Larry the Lobster. Clearly, seafood for tea tonight.
We didn't reach Robe until 5.30pm local time, having lost over two hours in transit on the flight, but it seemed a pleasant tranquil place with a few decent bars and eateries, and we may in fact have sampled some of Larry's cousins when we ate an excellent meal at the Robe Hotel.
I thought it was strange that my room at our motel, The Guitchen Park, had cost $10 less than Lofty's. In the morning the reason for the discount became clear as I ruefully counted the number of insect bites collected. I've since worked out that if you remove the first two letters of the motel name, it describes how you will feel the morning after sleeping there. It seems no cricket tour is complete without this rite of passage, and as usual Lofty thought it hilarious. Thank you for booking this one Lofty, why not cut out the middleman and just stretch me over an anthill to sleep next time.
Normally I'm enthusiastic about our tour road trips but I must confess today was mostly disappointing. The highlights of Robe before leaving, fair enough. Then 50km up the coast to Beachport, which was given a massive rap by the tour literature, but we failed to see the attraction.
Just a small, ordinary, beach and boat strip with a couple of pubs.
Next was Mount Gambier.
Five - O had already given us his informative, valued, personal insight into this place, having stayed here just before the Adelaide Test:
"There's f*ck all there."
The famous Blue Lake turned out to be nothing more than a large reservoir to feed the town and this certainly wasn't as scenic as Dove Stone in Saddleworth - which I could visit via a short walk from home.
Port Fairy next and while pretty, its self-proclaimed label as 'The World's Most Liveable Community' was way over the top - just a small estuary with a couple of jetties and a few boats moored up.
By the time we had covered 300 km I began to get rather pissed off.
The scenery was samey, and Lofty had devised an exquisite instrument of in - car torture. A memory stick inserted into the car stereo system with 1,036 of his favourite songs stored. These fell into three main categories:
1. MOR American hits by singers with whiny, annoying, 'castrated just before recording' voices - The Darkness, Chicago, Toto, REO Speedwagon and the like.
2. Plinky-Plonky music by pseudo country artists like Del Mc Coury, and Steve Earle.
3. The most whiny, annoying voice of all - Coldplay.
While I can cope with the first two varieties, number three leaves me very cold indeed and it was not long before I had to reach for a couple of Paul Kelly CD's to dignify the mix.
At last we reached Warrnambool, our overnight stop prior to hitting the Great Ocean Road in the morning. Whilst unpacking the car it became apparent that Lofty's quality new suitcase purchased two weeks ago from the Reject Shop in Port Augusta has developed a small fault. A six - inch gaping rent in the fabric. After only two flights! There is also a Reject Shop in Warrnambool, but when I suggested Lofty might return his case there and demand a full refund, this attracted more harsh words.
A great meal at Images in Warrnambool and to round the night off some good news from Mrs Blade, who has been able to negotiate a refund of the Perth Viagogo Test tickets for day one, meaning we are not now out of pocket.
In total we covered a further 370km today, the drive is called 'The Limestone Coast' but it seems overrated and is not one I would care to repeat in a hurry.
Next days drive is iconic all over the known world. The Great Ocean Road.
Stretching about 200k from Warrnambool to Geelong this road features lots of stopping points and scenic views, but the name is a misnomer, as over half the drive is not actually by the ocean, but traversing road works in the middle of a forest the size of Wales.
Nevertheless very spectacular. And very busy.
As we reached the seaside towns at the Eastern end it soon became obvious who the target tourist market is nowadays. We had already seen numerous Chinese tour buses, and the shops and restaurants all seemed to have chalkboards outside with their menus and wares advertised in Mandarin. Maybe its me, but I can't help thinking this all ruins the ambience of the area. Having done the Road twice now, I won't be back.
An overnight stay in beach resort Lorne, which mostly seemed shut. For once though, a bargain meal that evening. Chicken, chips, gravy and a beer for only $15. Lofty had to go one better and chose the more expensive fish and chips, but at least I got a plate with mine!
Bad news later surrounding the atrocity in Melbourne, which sounds to have been carried out by a local nutter rather than a terrorist - not a great comfort is it? The papers here have been full of articles about minority ethnic groups rioting at St Kilda and generally causing trouble in Melbourne. In one incident a house was hired on Air BnB by a group of Sudanese, then a 'party' was held there with 70 people invited who proceeded to trash the house and terrorise the neighbours. Everybody needs good neighbours.....!
The Victoria police have been heavily criticised for being too soft and making no arrests and there is talk of the need for 'vigilantes'. Bet you don't see this little lot played out on 'Wanted Down Under'!
Ballarat next day and a visit to Sovereign Hill, a recreation of an 19th century gold mining settlement. This was expensive to get in but we both managed to blag OAP admission prices. Sovereign Hill was actually very authentic, and one of the underground tours featured a talking hologram of the Cornishman who found the most famous piece of gold in Victoria - The Welcome Nugget. He didn't say whether or not he liked jazz or wore Hawaii shirts.
Our motel that night in Ballarat was rather good and featured a pub alongside called the Red Lion. Open till 3am.
I am afraid to report that your writer 'fell amongst thieves' after Lofty had turned in, and drank late until one of his new Aussie beer buddies was forcibly removed by the very large bouncer for being a total arsehole. Hey ho, the whole pub was pissed. If you ever visit Ballarat stay at the Sovereign Park Motel. Its bloody good.
Lofty behind the wheel again in the morning, then.
All went well until we reached the outskirts of Melbourne city. Lofty misheard his satnav and took a wrong turning onto a toll motorway to Tullamarine airport. North instead of the desired West. After barely a minute....ping....the first $ toll on Loftys credit card. We had to turn off and come back on the other side of the motorway. Ping....another toll levied. Midnight's still pissed, suppressed giggles.
Eventually we got to our apartment in South Yarra which is not up to scratch - unless you count the mossies that seem to be resident in my bedroom. This place bears little resemblance to the display on Air BnB / Booking.com. A communal area and pool on the fifth floor of the building has been deliberately and misleadingly been portrayed as part of our living area, which clearly it is not. Just as with the cricket I am not sure what we can do except grin and bear it.
At least the area, South Yarra, is good. The ticket man at South Yarra station told me he actually saw Jimmy Anderson going through yesterday. Ben Duckett wasn't with him though.
Christmas Eve included a visit to the Eureka Tower on South Bank. The highest building in Australia, this features a viewing platform on the 88th floor and it takes the lift just 40 seconds from top to bottom. That's longer than most England batsmen manage at the crease on this tour, but still pretty rapid. The viewing platform is so high, it is probably the only place in Melbourne where it is possible to take a complete photo of the MCG!
In the evening we took the tram to Lygon Street and enjoyed a great Italian meal.
Lofty was in experimental mood and tried tonno bruschetta after I explained it was a small starter consisting of morsels of bread spread with tomato and tuna. When the starter arrived, it proved to be a full sized pizza base covered with about a pound of tuna, tomato, rocket and onion. Oops. Lofty managed to finish most of it despite the impending Supersize Snapper and black rice main course - a fine effort.
In Melbourne, public transport operates for free on Christmas Day, and the ticket man at the tram stop told us that 80% of the people in the city today would be Chinese or Indian ie those not observing the religious holiday.
The other 20% of religious ones seemed to be in a pub called the Elephant and Wheelbarrow on the outskirts of Chinatown.
This pub is frequented mostly by Brits, and we bumped into a young chap called Paul from Sheffield who was patiently waiting for his Xmas dinner while we were downing our pre - Chinese meal pints.
Several hours passed with various promises of food broken, until at about 6.30 the bar staff casually informed the lad they only had pork left. He was not a happy bunny.
So it was that Paul experienced possibly the worst Xmas day of his young life - a Chinese Xmas dinner with Lofty and Midnight. As he is a Sheffield Wednesday supporter,we felt he was a must for the Addis Army and signed him up on the spot. Young Owl.
A nice easy run into the MCG, just one stop on the South Yarra - Richmond line.
There is a lone piper called Ron, dressed in kilt and sporran, playing a lament when we walk from Richmond station to the MCG. Very appropriate.
As it is Boxing Day a bumper crowd is predicted but entry to the vast stadium is relatively easy. We are sat up in the nose - bleeds on level 4, but our seats are behind the bowlers arm. England lose the toss - not that winning it has done us any good.
Play begins. White dot bowls to white dot in helmet.
Sat behind us are a very jovial bunch of New Zealanders from Palmerston North who have travelled over in the hope of seeing Australia lose the Test and I waste no time in explaining the sheer folly of their mission.
England do not take a wicket in the two hour session before lunch, and with Warner going like a train, over 100 runs are scored. Same old, same old.
After lunch the bowling is tighter and when Khawaja comes in after the fall of Bancroft to Woakes, the scoring rate decelerates alarmingly. Pressure is mounting on the odious Warner as he nears his century, and on 99 he flaps at a ball from debutant Curran and is caught. Hysterical celebrations from the many thousands of English in the crowd. But wait.
A fucking no - ball. That seems to be the story of this cursed series.
The rest of the afternoon is dull fare. Lofty leaves early with three wickets down, I last just another ten overs before following his trail home.
I notice that Ron the bagpiper - who is still at it - has amassed half a metal bucket full of golden $1 and $2 coins. I make a mental note to learn the pipes on my return and play for money outside the County grounds of England and Wales. Not Headingley though, the patrons have deep pockets and short arms there.
By now it is 6pm and the temperature outside is outrageously hot. We don't miss anything and Australia finish on 244-3. A bit of a fightback by England but the smart money must be on another Smith hundred tomorrow.
So much for the predictions of a record crowd, only 88,000 there today. They get more at Derbyshire!
The temperature gauge reads 35% outside and the combination of this, and the likelihood of watching fidgety Smith bat all day, has confined Lofty to the apartment and his beloved air- conditioning (Mitsubishi, btw). Lofty is definitely not feeling the love for the heat, our apartment, or Melbourne in general judging by his demeanour.
I have a couple of errands to do and when I arrive late outside the MCG, glory be. The fidgeter has played on. Ron the bagpiper is playing 'Amazing Grace'- how appropriate.
Out to a debutant again....maybe we should have a new cap every game. Well done, TC.
More wickets fall, a total of five in the morning, and for once it is England's session. Broad seems to have rediscovered some fire, and Jimmy is picking up the pieces at the other end.
The sun is about to hit my seat at midwicket so I sneak up to level four for a cheeky blag of a seat in the shade and behind the bowlers arm. Australia's last two wickets fall in no time - what's this? For once we have managed to finish the bastards off. All out for 327 and I'm sure they were expecting to get 500!
A solid start and England reach 35 before Stoneman is caught and bowled by Gary Lyon.
Cook and Vince progress well until the latter is given out lbw. Despite getting a faint nick, he does not call for DRS. Curses. On this occasion though, it may not be so crucial. Cooky appears to have found some form at last, he looks good. He cruises past fifty and on 66, he is dropped by the fidgeter in the slips.
The Barmy Army are in fine fettle and here in good numbers, and they mock Smith unmercifully.
Just before the close Cook manages to reach his hundred.
Sheer catharsis, but Root is also going well reaching 49 and on 192-2, it has been England's day - against all expectations.
For once, we can look forward to going to the cricket in the morning.
I can imagine Mr Blade hunched over a computer terminal tonight, weighing it up and checking the availability of Jetstar flights from Adelaide to Melbourne this Saturday.....!
A serious decision may need to be made tomorrow Mr Blade.
Only 68,000 there today. Part timers in Melbourne, clearly. They get more at Wormsley for a Unicorns home game!
A quiet night on the drink front. In fact, to suffer morning dehydration in this heat borders on insanity.
A swim instead, then as the dollars are running low, a trip to see The Colonel in Prahran with the ever-cheerful Lofty. On approaching the KFC counter, Lofty tells me "This is where I get confused".
How difficult does chicken and chips get?
We are there for the start and the story is the same for most of the day. We progress, then a batsman gives his wicket away.
First to go was Root - needless hook shot, fielder didn't have to move.
Next Malan, who was given out lbw despite having edged it. Had he chosen to review, he might still be in now. Bairstow played a silly slash off Gary Lyon and was caught behind.
Moeen Ali played a desperate, frantic innings as if he knew he wouldn't be able to survive for long.
He made 20 from only 14 balls, then tried one shot too many and was caught. Not really what the circumstances called for, and again I ask what is Ali currently bringing to this team?
Watching all this profligacy from the other end was Alastair Cook and what he thought of it all, he kept to himself. When Moeen Ali got out, we were still twenty runs behind Australia. Woakes came in, played solidly but more importantly kept Cook company while he ground out the runs.
In one of the finest innings it has ever been my privilege to watch, Alastair Cook batted all day to reach 244 not out, the highest Test score on this ground by a non Australian and by a substantial margin. The previous holder of this honour - Sir Vivian Richards. Hallowed company indeed.
Hats off to Cooky, maybe his eyes haven't gone after all - I was not one of his detractors, after all form is temporary but class is permanent.
The fact that Cook was dropped twice by the fidgeter makes the innings even more enjoyable.
Right. Enough of serious matters and let's get onto the banter!
As Cook was joined at the crease by Stuart Broad we were joined up in the stand by four twenty something Australian lads, who had been drinking too much half strength beer.
One of the lads, a pretty bulky unit, had rather too much to say about Broad's ability as a cricketer and his alleged sexual habits, so I got involved in a bit of an exchange.
"You've been drinking too much half strength piss mate. You ever left your village? Been to England? Just about know where London is, I'll bet"
"Look at the scoreboard mate. You're three nil down. This game doesn't count - its like kissing ya sister!"
"I've never done that. Perhaps you could tell me what it was like!"
"You're three nil down. Its like kissing ya sister- it doesn't count."
"You're only as good as your last game, mate. This is now your last game, and you are getting smashed!"
All this against the backcloth of a riotous century partnership by Cook and Broad, in the case of the latter, hitting fours and sixes off every conceivable edge on the bat.
As Broad reached his fifty amidst tumultuous applause, I tapped Mr Aggressive on the shoulder. By this time, he had steam coming out of his ears.
"I thought you said Broad was crap - your rubbish bowlers don't seem to be able to get him out though, do they?"
Light blue touch paper. Stand well away.
I was now faced with having to calm the lad down, he was getting very heated indeed.
"I'm too old to fight you", I said, "but I might have done thirty years ago".
That seemed to do the trick.
I was really enjoying the banter by now, and I noticed that my new friend's pal, a blond lad sat next to him, was actually applauding each England boundary.
When Mr Aggressive sulked off to the bar, I engaged with his buddy thus:
"Hey mate, I notice you're supporting England, unlike your gobby friend over here. You're Australian, what's the craic?"
"Well mate, I am 100% Australian. But I hate the Australian cricket team. They are a bunch of c**ts, especially Warner!"
When Mr Aggressive returned from the bar he seemed to have calmed down.
He actually engaged with me, and asked me what part of the UK I hailed from and which football team I supported, so I thought it only fair to tell the lad.
His response: " Well I've been to the UK and I'm a scouser. I root for Liverpool!"
How to Make Friends and Influence People?
Cook and Anderson are still in, and with England leading by a staggering 164 runs, we have every reason to be optimistic about tomorrow.
Attendance at the ground today just 60,000. Delph in the Huddersfield league attract more on a Saturday afternoon!
Spoke to Mr Blade in the evening, he has been looking at flights.
Ron the bagpipe man wasn't there today, presumably he has gone into tax exile on a remote Scottish island with all the money he has made.
Our seats were at midwicket and not the best, so I suggested to Lofty we should blag upstairs during the innings break. We were moving after just one ball, as Jimmy Anderson failed to handle a short pitched delivery and popped up a catch.
Still, every cloud as they say. We found ourselves on Level 4 with a lovely couple from Cambridge called Sean and Morgan. It had been on their bucket list to do the Boxing Day Test, and remarkably they had been to all four days thus far. Remarkable, when you consider they hail from Cambridge, NZ - just south of Hamilton.
We have arranged to meet up when we arrive in Hamilton for the forthcoming ODI series.I hope that Sean can show us a decent pub, as I was unable to locate one on my last visit in March earlier this year with friend Paul, of Chinese kittens knees fame!
Sat in front of us was an Anglophile Aussie called David, who we had a great two hours with putting the world to rights while watching it rain, including him signing up for the Addis newsletter. Freddie, I will be asking for commission on the next trip.
Not much cricket to write about today. England took just two wickets before the rain intervened. In the wet scenes that followed as we departed the MCG, the city lived up fully to my pet name of Manchester by the Sea. Grey, gloomy, clouds scudding by and pissing down with rain.
Sean and Morgan got lucky and will see some cricket tonight, as a Sri Lankan gentleman sat next to them had two free, spare tickets for tonights Big Bash. Melbourne v Perth Scorchers at the Etihad Stadium. Anyone who knows me will also know how relieved I was not to be offered admission to any ground bearing that name - even for free!
Odds on a draw now and I hope Mr Blade didn't book a flight to Melbourne for tomorrow.
The official attendance wasn't announced, but it was paltry. I have seen bigger crowds for a Lancashire Thunder Ladies T20 match at Old Trafford!
We wake to ludicrous accusations by the Australian camp of ball tampering by Jimmy Anderson. Now, if they had accused Jimmy of rearranging Ben Duckett's balls with his boot, that I could believe. This from the same team that drop the cricket ball on the floor, then claim catches - don't they, Usman Khawaja?
An unpleasant shock when we arrive at the MCG. We had expected free / gold coin admission, but the cheeky bastards are charging $30 to get in.
I selected a young, inexperienced lad at the ticket office window and explained to him that we were 'Health Tourists' from the UK who were disillusioned with the NHS and both had only weeks to live. Furthermore, seeing the fifth day of a drawn Test was top of our bucket list. He immediately took pity on us, and gave us concessionary tickets for only $22 each.
The best thing about today was, you could sit where you liked, and as play started we were perched behind the bowlers arm on Level 2 of the Olympic Stand in padded seats.
Some excitement in the morning when Warner got out, closely followed by Sean Marsh, but the match died as a spectacle in the afternoon. England tried six bowlers, in addition to Moeen Ali, but just could not dislodge Smith and Mitch Marsh.
Smith went on to make another century. Watching it was about as exciting as listening to paint dry, but we have to face up to the facts. On these pitches we just cannot get the fidgeter out. Match drawn then, in line with my Ashes prediction and I need an England victory in Sydney to complete a successful 3-1 forecast. How empty does my pint pot look now Freddie?
In other news, Lofty has released his old 'Reject Shop' suitcase and signed a quality piece of luggage for an undisclosed sum. At last he is learning!
Happy New Year to all readers and I'm sure I will be in touch again after Sydney.