Home Summer 2023 Oval Test versus Australia

Oval Test versus Australia

by Five0

Day 1 Thursday 27 July: The failure of Bazball?

We look at any  English failure through the prism of Bazball.  Put in bat on a cloudy day and making only 283 could be seen as a failure. In fact it could have been a hell of a lot worse given that Australia’s fielding, as quite often in this series, was deplorable with at least 5 catches going down.

Thanks to a ‘landslip’ on the track at Aldermaston my train from Plymouth was 45 minutes late at Paddington. That and a muddle at the gate when I was told that my ticket had already been scanned meant I didn’t get to my seat to join Steve and Irish for the first ball which is always such a ritual.

I was, though, just in time to see the very pleasant sight of an easy chance off Duckett fly through Warner’s gnarled and battered fingers. By the time Duckett & Crawley had got to 62 the job of the openers – get to 50 without loss – was more than half done. Off 12 overs this was a Bazball opening partnership in which Duckett led the charge, making 41 of the total. We were rubbing our hands at the enjoyment of it.

Then Marsh came on at the O2 stand end and had Duckett strangled down the legside giving the finest of brushes off his gloves into Carey’s hands, albeit one the umpire had given it not out. One run later we had the familiar sight of Crawley’s startled look behind as a fine edge flew to Smith. Not long after,  Root chopped a ball from Hazelwood and suddenly we were 73-3. Ah, we wagged, Bazball’s letting us down.

But no, Ali and Brook, again in fine Bazball style, repaired the damage with a fine partnership before and after lunch of 111 at over six an over. Brook was given a life on 5 when Carey, diving to his right, grassed a catch that went straight into his hands and out again. From then on Brooks  was particularly audacious. There were a couple of incredible sixes, one of which was whipped behind him into the crowd somewhere above where long leg might have been.

After lunch Ali was lying on the ground needing treatment to his leg. It was unlikely  that he had cramp because he hadn’t been there very long and the weather wasn’t hot. It appeared  to galvanise him though because when Murphy came on soon after he clouted him back over his head for 6. The very next ball he tried to do the same and was bowled. Bazball seemed to have gone to his head except that actually it hadn’t because later we learned that he had a groin injury and was whacking the ball because he wasn’t able to run between the wickets.

There then ensued a mini-collapse. From 184-3 we lost Ali for 39, Stokes and Bairstow cheaply and Brook for 85 in the space of 28 runs. A promising position seemed to have been thrown away. It was only thanks some strong hitting from Woakes and Wood that England had the semblance of a score of 283 all out which in a series of low scores might not be too shabby.

The  Australian innings could not have presented a greater contrast. Whereas England had entertained us for  54.4 overs at just over 5 an over, Australia ground out 61 in the remaining 25 overs for the loss of Warner’s wicket.

Irish and I left a bit early to get to the Haymarket in time for a quick bite to eat in a spaghetti house before our culture fix at the Theatre Royal for The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, a good old bash at the Metropolitan Police.

Theatre Royal, Haymarket, for our culture fix

DAY 2 Friday 28th July: A day of anti-Bazball

Steve, Irish & I were joined today by Gill who had driven up from Cornwall.  Darryl was there with his delightful father, Gil, who like me was born in Uganda. James too and sundry others.

Front Row: Five0, Gil, Darryl                                                         Back Row: Steve, Dave, Alfonse, James

If yesterday they were slow, today Australia were soporific. In the first hour Khawaja and Labuschagne put on just 21 runs. You felt a kind of anger at their utter boring failure to take the game to England. At Old Trafford they’d packed their side with all-rounders in a clear determination to make sure they got a draw. In this game they seemed to be saying, ‘We’ll drag this game out as long as we can. We’re not going to try to win in. A draw will do. And sod any spectators hoping for some entertainment.’ Sure, all the England bowlers bowled very tightly, even the most expensive, Wood, only going for 2.82 an over, but the batters hardly ever challenged them.

When Labuschagne was on 9 Root took a spectacular catch off Wood diving to his left. It was probably actually an immobile Bairstow’s catch. There was a lot of chuntering from Marnus to Broad and the umpire. It transpired that just before Wood had bowled Broad had changed the bails around, in order apparently to change the luck. It worked and Labuschagne was furious.

Smith came in and injected  a bit  pace to the Australian batting. But around him his partners fell to attritional bowling from the England seamers who had little respite because the injured Ali was off the field all day. There wasn’t a decent partnership in the whole innings. There was a wonderful moment when Surrey’s George Ealham, son of Mark and grandson of Alan, who was on for Ali, did a smart pickup and threw to Bairstow as  Smith on 43 made a desperate dive over the crease. The umpire’s review showed that Smith had just made it but as Ali Martin in  the Guardian wittily observed Ealham nearly made a Gary Pratt of himself.  Smith, all jittery and jerking and quirky,  went on to make   a fine 71 and took Australia to 239-8. It seemed as if our 283 was not so bad after all until Murphy showed us that he could bat a bit. He and Cummins hit a sparky 34 and 36 respectively.  The innings came to an end when Stokes took one of those brilliant T20 catches on the boundary flipping a haymaker from Murphy back over the boundary just before he landed outside the rope and then jumping back in to catch it. The tail had wagged Australia to a lead of just 12 at 295 all out.

I had time to nip back to the digs that Irish & I were staying at just round the corner from the Oval Station before going across the road to the nice 24 The Oval restaurant where I was dining with three old school mates, Geoff, Neil and Howard who come up from Bournemouth, Wiltshire and Clapham respectively. We have known each other since 1960. That is a hell of long time! We ate and drank well, although Howard took one bite of his steak and sent it back. At the end I piled Geoff & Neil into Uber. Howard and I lingered a while with a pint outside. As we left who should we meet but Irish? We were persuaded into the pub for a nightcap.

Howard & Irish with a nightcap

DAY 3 Saturday 29th July: Sunshine cricket – England set a big total

Today in this my 99th Test Howard came, as he always does for a day every Oval. It was with him that I watched my first Test in 1963. Steve and Irish are here of course along with Darryl & James and sundry friends, 8 of us in all. The beers flowed all day.

How would England play this innings? – the Bazball question. We didn’t have to wait long. Crawley carved the first ball  from Starc to the boundary and between them by the end of the over he  & Duckett had knocked off the deficit for England to lead by 1. And so it went on. The 50 partnership came up at just shy of a run a ball. Duckett was caught behind off Starc at 79 who had just bowled him a beaut which flew past a millimetre from the bat. He followed it up with identical ball which had the whole of the Australian team jumping in the air. The umpire’s finger went up. Duckett reviewed but the little tickle was palpable even without Snicko.

But the mayhem continued. It was sunshine all day with cricket to match.  There was  another 50 partnership between Crawley & Stokes who had come in a 3 to great cheers for the injured Mooen Ali. This came off 41 balls must of the runs coming from Crawley’s bat.

Steve’s Rakheem Cornwall shirt

Shortly after lunch Steve who was wearing the distinctive Barbados Royals shirt of big Rakheem Cornwall went off to get the pints in. A few minutes later he could be seen looking lost and very disorientated about 10 rows below us carrying four points and looking round for us. ‘Steve! Steve!’ I yelled to no good effect. There was a row of amusing guys below us who joined in the shout. ‘Steve! Steve!.’ He turned round with the relief of recognition on his face.  It’s hard to believe that he repeated the performance later in the day! This time our friends in the row below needed no prompting. ‘Steve! Steve!.’

Crawley was caught behind off Starc for 73 but Root joined  Stokes and jauntily smashed another 50 run partnership that included his by now trade mark scoop for 6. I winced at that and wished he wouldn’t do it. The one player in this team who doesn’t need Bazball to make him better is Root. He has always batted sublimely and elegantly and with such timing and placement even when England were collapsing all around him. He doesn’t have to hit wild shots to prove he’s the best in the world. That was never how he played. It’s almost as if since Stokes took over his job he has had to do Bazball to prove he’s a real member of this team. He’s too good for that.

Stokes departed with the score on 213. Brooks didn’t last long but Bairstow entered the stage belligerent and all caveman, eyes flaring and holding his bat like a club. By England’s standards this partnership was sedate, 120 in 25 overs at just under 5. With the field spread wide and not a slip or a man round the bat bar the keeper it seemed, not for the first time in this series, as if Cummins had given up trying to take wickets and was interested only in containing and hoping the batsmen would make a mistake. Contrary to expectations Root and Bairstow batted very sensibly. A lot of the runs were in singles and there was very little that could be called extravagant. With Root on 91 and Bairstow not far behind it felt as if soon there would be two centurions on the board at the same time. However, Root was bowled by Todd Murphy who bowled a lot of overs from the O2 end and Bairstow, on 78, nicked off to Starc who was the pick of the Australian bowlers. There wouldn’t be many Australian players on my world eleven but left-arm Starc who bowls at 90 mph would be one of them.

I thought that Woakes would come in when Root’s wicket fell but actually it was Mo which is possibly good news for tomorrow when we might need his bowling – Wood and co were looking pretty knackered at the end of the day yesterday. It’s clear that not everything was right as there were no attempts at quick singles, Mo merely jogging to the other end. When Woakes went cheaply Ali went up to Woodie and had a chat, the import of which became clear as they started, often inelegantly and without good effect, to thrash the ball around.

Australia’s fielding and catching was dreadful on Day 1 and wasn’t much better today with a number of misfields that allowed to ball to get to the rope. The low point, or high point depending on whether you were on the field or in the crowd, was a terrible drop by Hazelwood at the long on boundary when he failed to judge a big wallop from Mo. There was the wonderful sight of twitchy Steve Smith, who wasn’t far away, with his head in the hands. The only exception was Labuschagne who fielded mostly at cover point and was electric, pouncing on anything that came his way and wanging it in to the keeper.

The gung-ho antics of Ali and Wood quickly came to an end. The day closed with Broadie and Jimmy flailing about with the score on 389-9 and the new ball due next over. Jimmy took a horrible blow on his elbow from Mitchell Starc. Irish who stayed behind to hear Broad deliver the shock news that he was retiring after the game said there was already a nasty bruise. Hopefully he’s still be able to bowl tomorrow.

Irish, Steve & I meet after the game at 24 The Oval for a meal. We begin with a toast to the memory of Midnight who was such an essential member of the Addis. We will miss him sorely. I have been to 30 Test matches either actually touring with him or meeting up him at the game. I first met him at Old Trafford at the Pakistan game in 2006 when Harmie took 11 wickets. I was with Jamie, aka Caddie, who’d met up with the Addis in Mumbai earlier in the year. We joined Freddie, Herbie, Street Fly, Midnight and others for a memorable feast in Chinatown. Since then I have seen him at every Test ground in England and Wales apart from the Oval or Lords – Midnight had no time for London. Abroad I’ve been at Tests with him in every country apart from Pakistan. There was Kolkata in 2012 with Tremmers at the end of which Midnight had a violent

Midnight: New Zealand 2019

attack of the runs.  We had a memorable week after the Centurian Test in 2016 when he, George and I stayed for a week Graskop. It was like being in the middle of a divorcing couple. We’ve been in New Zealand on four tours including the 2019 tour when we had a delightful week together driving around the North Island before that Mt Maunganui Test when Root flogged poor Jofra to death on a dead pitch that only Wagner got any life out of. Such a sad loss. Here’s to the memory of Midnight.

Much of the evening we spend dissecting Broad’s announcement that he is bringing his glittering career to an end when this Test is over. Apparently he told Stokesie last night and the team this morning. It is understandable that he wants to leave at the top and doubtless there’s a good Sky contract somewhere in his back pocket. But he has bowled so well in this series that you always felt he had more to give. All through this game we’ve been saying that that glitter has gone from Jimmy the magician and that he ought to be calling it a day. Wouldn’t it be horrible if Jimmy ended his career by being dropped? So where does Broad’s decision leave his old mucker? Has he upstaged him to get a rousing day of acclamation from the Oval crowd? I was at Sydney in 2011 when Strauss’s team thrashed a hapless Australia to win the series 3-1. It was Collingwood’s last game. He was cheered to the rafters every time the ball came near him. You can imagine it will be the same tomorrow for Broad.

And what about tomorrow? With the new ball due you would imagine that Broad and Jimmy won’t want too much of a battering from Starc and co. Declare in the morning and put them in? That seems to best option. And what about the weather? It’s actually not all that good with rain likely only to give us one session tomorrow and may be even less on Monday. It would be gutting if Australia escape another well deserved drubbing and win the series 2-1. What is very galling is that Irish discovered at teatime that tickets for Day 5, which we need, are completely sold out. I remember queuing round Old Trafford on the last day in 2005 and having to watch Ponting’s heroics to draw the game on the television in a pub.  I don’t want to do that again. Tickets from a tout look to be the only hope.

DAY 4 Sunday 30th July: Broadie’s last hurrah?

After the restaurant last night Irish & Steve had gone into the pub. I was wise and went to bed. Not those two. They fell in with a group of guys. At some stage Irish bundled Steve into a taxi but carried on drinking. I could see on his WhatsApp that he had still been active at 4 in the morning. So it came as no surprise when I got a message saying, ‘Think I’m going to swerve breakfast for an extra hour in bed. See you in the ground.’ To be fair, he was there for the start but somewhat hoarse from his early hours carousing. Steve was a little late and was distinctly pasty.

On the way to the ground I checked with a West Indian tout about tickets for tomorrow. He didn’t have any but he took my number and says he’ll call if he has any … I wish. The scoreboard’s still showing England’s figures so presumably there’s no declaration. And fair enough, at the start of play the Aussies form two lines at the gate and wait for Broad. The big screen has been showing last night’s interview on Sky – his new employers – and throughout the day they screened his greatest hits.  The crowd is standing and cheering as he comes down the steps with Jimmy. There was a nice touch when for a brief moment before he went through the guard of honour he and Jimmy put their arms round each other. Then he jogged on the pitch to the adulation of his adoring crowd.

Aussies line up for Broad

There then ensued a completely pointless couple of overs when Broad and Jimmy tried to leather everything out of the ground, dealing only in boundaries and turning down any singles. I say boundaries. Broad hit a 6 off Starc’s last ball to manic cheers from the crowd. That was Broad’s last hurrah with the bat because Murphy thankfully put paid to Jimmy in the next over, albeit an lbw which Jimmy pointlessly reviewed. When Australia came in to bat at 11.20 twenty minutes had been wasted for what? – one 6. They need 385 to win, the biggest chase by a country mile at The Oval, but let’s hope we don’t look back tomorrow and say ‘if only we had another 20 minutes.’

How we would have loved for Broad to get Warner’s wicket but it didn’t happen. Warner and Khawaja batted circumspectly though at less of a snail’s pace than they had in their first innings. May be Ali and then Root got a bit of turn but on the whole the bowlers didn’t get much out of the wicket. Perhaps it was a bit too cold and a bit too windy for any swing.

The big mystery was why Wood didn’t bowl till after lunch in the 33rd over! He was on the field all the time and there didn’t seem to be anything wrong him. It felt as if Stokes had put him in the naughty corner. As it is, he only bowled 3 overs before the rain drizzled down and the covers went on. He hit Khawaja a nasty blow on the head when he ducked and turned his back on the ball.  But to be honest he didn’t look any more likely to take a wicket than his colleagues. 

Australia are 135-0. With no more play likely today we ate cheese on toast, had another pint and at 3.30 left the ground. Maybe tomorrow the rain won’t come, may be we’ll get some tickets and may be we’ll get some wickets … fingers crossed.

Steve has not been good all day so he went off to his digs in Battersea. Irish, who has remarkable powers of recovery, and I walked up to Kennington. We got some cash from an ATM for the tout tomorrow and ate at a very decent tandoori house that was full of English supporters.

DAY 5 Monday 31 July: Broad’s Fairytale

I lay in bed fretting about getting tickets from a tout for today. Given that you can just print off your ticket what guarantee is there that we won’t be scammed? In the end I checked the train times and could get  home to Cornwall by 1pm in time for the last two sessions. I sent Steve a message to that effect. He agreed. So I made a hasty exit from the hotel and got across to Paddington. Steve took a different and slower but cheaper train via Bristol than I did so in the end, although we met at briefly at Paddington, we went on separate trains.

Just before 11am Gif, my tout, rings. ‘How many do you want?’ ‘Sorry, mate.  I’ve decided to go home.’ He was fine about it. I didn’t ask how much they were. Irish, who has holed up in a pub in Norfolk, tells me that a guy at Liverpool St station told him that the night before he’d been offered 2 for £300 each.

As my train winds its way to Plymouth Steve is WhatsApping me the scores.

11.25 ‘Only 9 more!’ – Warner’s caught behind for Woakes’s first wicket: 140-1. ‘Suddenly things aren’t looking too shaky.’

11.50 ‘Only 8 more’ – Khawaja lbw to Woakes. 141-2.

By the time I got home Labuschagne was out and Australia were on 238-3. They were in no hurry. There was plenty of time. 385 didn’t look all that far away.

I dumped my bags and walked up to Jack’s to watch the last couple of sessions there. Eyes bulging, he was absolutely fuming. ‘Stokes has just dropped the fucking Ashes!’ I watched the replay of Stokes’s amazing leap at leg slip to catch Smith who was on 39 only for the ball to pop out of his hand as he brought it down to his side in celebration.

Soon after that the rain came down so I walked back into the village to my place where I watched the amazing denouement at home.

We know the story – the change of ball that started hooping and swinging and had Ponting and McGrath fuming the next day; brilliant Woakes; another amazing Bairstow catch; win predictor going wild; Broad’s fairytale ending.

How gutting that rain at Old Trafford was! If only we’d been on  the edge of our seats with the Ashes at stake.

Morally, though, we won the Ashes! Over-exuberant Bazball had probably given away the first couple of Tests but you sensed the team had learned. Brooks was more sensible as the series progressed and Stokes’s fields weren’t so funky. Bazball passed the test. We’d taken on the world champions. We out-played them. We batted at 5 an over throughout. And if Stokes’s aim is for England to entertain, then they did it in spades.


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