Australia Tour 2017/18

The Masque of the Pink Death

I stole this title from Edgar Allan Poe. His books never have a happy ending either.

A few days left in Melbourne before we resume our travels.

I have gone from hating this city on my first visit with Herbie, Mr Colvile and Jack in 2006 to admitting a grudging liking for it now. Although our New Years Eve was relatively quiet, we managed to find a few bits and pieces to keep us interested. I did my annual clothing shop at Rivers during the sale - case a little heavier now, like its owner - and Lofty did lots of crossword puzzles and went shopping for his new, third suitcase.

On New Years Day we visited Luna Park at St. Kilda. This is a gothic style funfair dating back to 1912 with the oldest continuously operating roller coaster in the world - the Scenic Railway. We bought tickets for a couple of rides each. The Scenic Railway had to be one, obviously, but first Lofty headed for the dodgems. The children reacted like the giraffes at Windsor Safari Park as Damien approached in 'The Omen' on seeing glassy-eyed Lofty in the queue, and by the time he mounted up his dodgem only a solitary Chinese lady was left on the track. Lofty told me she was unable to get the dodgem out of first gear and furthermore, drove it on the wrong side of the circuit, so he was unable to ram her.

A couple of highly recommended eateries as I know many people reading this will return to Melbourne.

Mercandante Woodfired Pizzeria on Lygon Street for superb Italian food (3 visits) and Pacific Seafood and BBQ on Toorak Rd for Chinese (2). Both reasonably priced too.

On our second visit to Pacific the Chinese lad waiting on our table told us he came from Newcastle on Tyne and as I noticed he was wearing a name badge 'Jackie' I asked if he was called 'Wor Jackie' during his time in the North East. He didn't know about Jackie Milburn, but he did know about Alan Shearer and Mike Ashley, which seems historically unjust. However either way, Jackie's Chinese English was easier to understand than that of most Geordies I have met!

On our final return to the accursed apartment Lofty was faced with the tricky task of fly-tipping his old, ripped 'Reject Shop' suitcase, so he smuggled it downstairs onto the street in the dead of night like a bodysnatcher, while I treated him to a loud acapella version of 'Another one bites the dust' on his way out.

What should have been a straightforward flight to Sydney on January 2nd.

Unfortunately, Jetstar had other plans. After hanging around most of the day, we finally boarded our plane at 3.10pm. Then it had to refuel. Then, there were missing passengers. Then, the lads loading the bags on were 'diverted to a more important job'. Then, we missed our take-off slot.

As the full plane sat there on the runway with the passengers getting more and more twitchy and smelly, it was too much for a drunken American woman sat adjacent to Lofty. She started mouthing off, and if we hadn't shared her frustration to some degree we'd have enjoyed her performance. The pilot eventually ran out of excuses not to take off, and we finally landed in pouring rain in Sydney at 5.45pm. It would probably have been quicker travelling on a coach - well done, Jetstar. A waste of a day.

We got to our digs at around 6.30. We are staying in a pub, the Royal Hotel in Randwick, for the umpteenth time. Thank you to Tremers for unearthing this gem back in 2010.

We only had one spare full day in Sydney this visit - and we were both agreed where to spend it. Posh seafood restaurant Doyle's, at Watson's Bay, for lunch. The place was extremely busy, in fact it took some persuasion to get a reservation at all. Early bird couples get tables on an open balcony overlooking the sea with the Sydney skyline in the background. We only required a table inside, so we had to laugh wickedly when it started bucketing with rain and all the romantics outside got soaked.

A shock followed afterwards as I strolled up to my favourite pub, the Observer on the Rocks, for a beer.

My blood ran cold, my memories have just been sold....

The pub has changed hands and is now under new management. A shockingly cheap refurbishment has taken place inside, using that thin, grey paint that always seems to feature, and the atmospheric old fashioned decor has been replaced with tacky, fake Arabic lighting and netting. The old comfy bar has been stripped out along with all the familiar staff.

The outside smoking area has gone. The outside metal tables have also gone.

The quality beer selection has gone. The live music the pub was famous for also seems to have gone, replaced by a large TV screen, which was showing Man City TV as I entered. Ugh. Aargh. I almost burst into tears as I ordered my beer.

This taste outrage is a tragedy for lovers of the Observer - heritage and quality replaced by plastic, crappy, classless tat. I won't be back.

Time for some news about tomorrow's Test I think.

Mitchell Starc is fit and will play, so Australia will go with just one spinner.

England have picked Mason Crane at last together with Moeen Ali who amazingly retains his place, so England will also go into the game with one spinner. The weather forecast is set fair, at least until Monday, so a positive result is the likely outcome.

Day one

We wake to grey, gloomy skies and persistent drizzle. More like Ardwick or Beswick than Randwick. The forecasters have got it wrong - no chance of a prompt start today.

The cost of tickets at this ground are at least double that charged by the Gabba, WACA , MCG and Adelaide - today's has cost $179 - we can't afford f*cking rain!!

As we sit at the breakfast table, Lofty hands me my ticket.

"We're sat in the Thumper Stand today." he says.

Funny. I thought Thumper was the cute bunny in Bambi. I look at the ticket. The Trumper Stand.

On the bus to the ground, which is full of cricket fans, the driver tries to cheer us all up.

"Don't worry lads. Soon the sun will come out, and it will be hot enough to cook eggs!"

He must have meant the boiled variety, because it didn't stop raining until mid-day and we lost the entire morning session. However, in Australia a means is usually found to catch up, and two long sessions of three hours each with a twenty minute tea interval were the revised conditions. Luckily for our bowlers, top tosser Root won again and decided to bat.

Our seats in the Trumper stand were excellent, with an elevated view granting a stunning view of the city skyline in the background. We were also sat pretty much above the Barmy Army, so for the first time I had the chance to observe their antics close-up.

A solid start with Stoneman scoring the bulk of the runs until he nicked off for 24. That's been the problem with Stoneman this tour. Very rarely does he get nothing, but equally rarely does he take his innings on. (That will put the mockers on him! Ed.)

Vince came in and looked good for a while until he again got out to one of those annoying waft shots he plays. There was absolutely no need to try to play the wide ball that dismissed him.

Cook neared his 12,000 runs in Test cricket, needing 45 more to hit the target. Agonisingly he fell six runs short, being given out lbw by the third umpire on DRS despite the on field umpire indicating not out.

Whatever the shortcomings of this England team, and there are many, they have certainly not had the rub of the green with DRS in this series. We all felt the ball that got Cook pitched outside leg stump and were horrified when the pitch tracker showed it down the middle.

The innings in balance then, and today we were saved by a great stand between Captain Root and dogged Dawid 'crossbow dodger' Malan.

A couple of humorous moments during the gritty stand.

Malan edged one behind to the fidgeter, who dropped the catch once again.

Much hilarity from the Barmy Army, but even more when Lofty noticed the sight screen advertising behind the stumps.

An advert for a Toyota car was featured, with the slogan:

"Don't get caught behind"

A little later, Malan hit the ball towards the boundary and as Usman Khawaja tried to field it, he fell over and dug up the pitch - right in front of the Barmy Army. The ball trickled over the rope for four, to tumultous cheers. Normally I'd have some sympathy, but it serves him right for claiming that non - catch in Melbourne. What goes around comes around. Besides, my sympathy for the Australians is in bloody short supply.

Onto the Barmy Army. PC Tintin sent a message asking me what I thought of Adge replacing 'Jimmy Savile' singing the 'Everywhere we go' song. Well, now Tom, you can have your answer. Adge got up with about ninety minutes to go to do this song. I feel the same about his performance as I did when George Lazenby replaced Sean Connery as James Bond. Having said that, I found the whole Barmy Army routine today lazy, boring and repetitive, with far too many brainless football songs. I bet Billy Cooper is gritting his teeth here. Certainly his trumpet has been rather quiet!

With five overs left, England were on top, but this team always seems to be just one over away from disaster, and so it was that both Root and Bairstow lost their wickets in the final quarter of an hour. The initiative surrendered once again. Why no night watchman? As Clarky observed on BBC Sport cricket comments, "What exactly does Bayliss do?"

Close of play score 233 - 5 and with Moeen Ali in next, it might just as well be six.

Day two

No danger of rain today, it is hotting up. An early start to play at 10am finds us in our seats in the Bill O' Reilly stand - upper - row Z. This is as it sounds the very last row on the block, and my seat is next to a concrete pillar to my right. The concrete overhang above obscures the view of the pitch, in fact my view must be similar to that enjoyed by the German troops manning concrete bunkers on the Atlantic wall on D Day as they woke up and shat their pants at the sight of the Allied armada.

Lofty was either relieved to be in the shade or he must be a member of Festung Guernsey, as he was happy to stay put. I made a little visit to the ticket office to see about a swap. There were two windows open for business.

The girl at my window:

"Oooh no I'm sorry we have no spare tickets at all in the O' Reilly stand"

The girl at the next window, within perfect earshot, served two Yorkies who had no tickets:

"Oooh you're lucky, some more tickets have just been released in the O' Reilly Stand."

I didn't have to say much else, and was given an upgrade out of sheer embarrassment, I think. Half way down the stand and a much better view of the cricket.So to play and an enjoyable morning. Moeen Ali confounded my prediction by playing sensibly and scoring 30, and there were also runs at a rapid rate for Curran and Broad, including two hooked sixes from the latter. The pair were greatly helped by Australia dropping a couple of absolute sitters, which of course had the Barmy Army in raptures. The fun ended on the lunch break after a comical run out between Anderson and new boy Mason Crane.

We got 346. Its probably nowhere near enough.When Australia batted after lunch, immediate success, as Broad lit up the zing bails for Cameron Bancroft. 4-1! What a start.

That was as good as it got, however, as the annoying Khawaja made 90 accompanied at first by the odious Warner, and later by the fidgeter.

I was by now sat about twenty rows in front of Lofty away from the concrete roof and I could sense that all was not well in the Festung Guernsey pillbox above.

A group of Mexicans (well actually,I don't think they were really Mexican at all) were playing the scull game. In this, the lad that returns from the bar with a tray of beer has to down his drink in one when his mates chant 'scull! scull!' All this in the row in front of poor Lofty.

Eventually these harmless young lambs were ejected from the ground by the police, but the damage was done. When I next looked, Lofty had evacuated his bunker, and a message was waiting on my phone back at the hotel thus:

"I've left early. I've had enough of those morons!"

I stayed until four overs were left then I too had had enough. As I boarded the bus back to Randwick I made a bet with myself that Australia would not blow any wickets in the last quarter of an hour.

They didn't. Australia closed on 193-2. There may be trouble ahead.

Day three

The McGrath Foundation Pink day. Every bit as awful as I had feared, on every level.

When we arrived at the ground it was evident that 90% of the spectators were wearing pink clothing. One lad in front of us called Riley had actually donned a frilly pink girls ballerina frock. As I took his picture, his mate cackled:

"Yeah. He didn't even know it was pink day when he put that on this morning!"

No danger of Lofty and myself wearing pink. Whilst I admire the work of the breast cancer charity, I have no time at all for Glen McGrath since I saw the pictures of him posing with a gun over dead 'big five' animal carcasses he shot on safari in South Africa.

Instead, I wore a symbol of a different endangered species - a Barmy Army tee-shirt.

Because if we have many more days, games or tours like this one, I think the arse will quickly fall out of the 'cricket tour' market.

The Barmies are making hay while the sun shines though.

In addition to their customary white tour shirt, they have also produced a pink version 'exclusively for Sydney'. RRP $40, as one lad wearing this sheepishly admitted paying.

The first two hours of play were mind - numbingly boring. We had Usman Khawaja at Lancashire for a season recently and I can say from watching him at length (except when he was out cheaply, which happened too often) he is absolutely nothing special. Yet our bowlers made him look like Bradman reincarnated. He would go on to make 171 before becoming Cranes first Test victim after tea.

England did get on top for ten minutes before lunch when the fidgeter chipped one up to Moeen Ali and was caught and bowled.

Subsequently Mason Crane had an lbw appeal turned down and went to DRS. Another no-ball. How many times? When will we ever learn?

The first hour after lunch was equally stultifying. On this tour I have been enjoying the travelling around as much as watching England's woeful brand of cricket, and today the scales tipped. I've finally had enough.

My brain is shouting at me "dont waste any more time or money watching this crap."

I left the SCG at the drinks break for some air conditioning and to allow my frazzled senses to recover.

What a fantastic decision that was. England looked a completely spent force in the evening, allowing Australia via the thumpy, clumpy Marsh brothers to reach 479-4 by the close, a lead of 133. Their later batsmen must have been chomping at the bit to come in and score fifties and centuries, but the England bowlers were incapable of taking any more wickets.

The Barmy Army carried on their chanting right up until the end, but it was thoroughly unconvincing. The sound carried a braying quality, hollow and shrill. Mental and mad, indeed. Total humiliation. The Masque of the Pink Death.

My pal Nick sent me an article on Cricinfo by George Dobell which I have sent on to Freddie to highlight on our website. I agree 100% with the sentiments expressed by George Dobell, he is bang on, and would commend it to anyone who has the good of English cricket at heart.

I've been saying it for years, but England are totally over-rated and the 'leadership' and management is atrocious. Until we get shut of Strauss, Harrison, Whitaker, Fraser and all the other posh public-schoolboys running the show, nothing is likely to change. A coach who actually watches County Cricket and knows the players might help too.

Day four

It may be no surprise to anyone that neither Lofty or myself made it to the SCG first thing this morning. In fact, Lofty stayed in his air conditioned room virtually all day. With the temperature hitting 40% who could blame him?

I did venture down to the cricket after lunch, in the hope that the Australians would put us out of our misery and declare. I was also hoping to see Cook's 12,000th test run.

Unfortunately I fell asleep on the bus, waking up three stops too late. Cook hit his milestone just as I was walking towards the entrance. At least I heard it on the official radio. Well batted Cooky.

Before I had reached the turnstile, Stoneman was out for a duck, (Told you! Ed.) and just as I sat down in the promenade balcony behind the bowlers arm (with my $30 ticket) Cook was bowled by Gary Lyon.

This game ceased to be a contest two days ago in reality but why is it that we cannot take any wickets, Australia score nearly 700, then when we reply the wicket is suddenly a minefield?

James Vince came and went in the usual way. I guess thats the last we will see of him.

As the batting became more and more turgid, my attention shifted to the sad remnants of the Barmy Army. All that was left - about fifty young identikit lads mostly with sunglasses, shirts off and boxer tops showing out of their shorts. Some were more formally dressed in football shirts. What a rabble. As the game petered out they spent the whole afternoon chanting offensive football songs to the Aussies above. Dave Peacock stood at the front of this motley crew, reminding me all the time of Falstaff, or even Fagin, given the ages of some of the younger lads.

So many fancy dress outfits amongst them, they looked more like the Village People than the Barmy Army. Bless.

If you think I am being too harsh here ask 'Howzat' Bob. He was sat right above the 'terraces'.

All my old Barmy Army shirts have now gone in the bin - not exactly burning my bra, but a recognition of changing times. And my case is getting rather hard to shut.

Throughout this tour I have basically got what I expected, readers will know my Ashes forecast was 3-1 to Australia.

Once again, I have been too optimistic.

Not as rose tinted, however, as the officials managing the England Cricket team.

I know they all want to stay in their well paid jobs, but the commentary emanating from the dressing room borders on total denial.

This aspect has been almost as annoying as the piss-poor cricket performance.

If they were in business, most of the people responsible for this shambles would be sacked. I bet nobody is though.

We will not be attending the SCG tomorrow. This is likely to be my final overseas cricket tour unless major changes are made to the way England's cricket team is selected and managed.

My holiday starts in earnest when we arrive in New Zealand.

Bollocks to the cricket, and bollocks to the Australians.

It was ever thus.

Any Addis members making the trip to NZ (apart from Higgy and the gang, Tony, Ryan and Lee, Silver Dave, Skip and Five-O, who we know about!) I hope you will get in touch.



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