Tuesday, December 19, 2006

England vs Australia T3D5

And so onto the final day's play. I debated long and hard whether to wake up early once more and stand in the queue with the other die hards? Actually, I call them die-hards, but it's absolutely shocking to see the number of members who queue up from early in the morning, snag a great seat behind the bowler's arm on the second level, and then either spend the entire day sleeping, reading a book, or knitting. A few of them even leave halfway through the second session. The only explanation I can come up with is that these are very old people, and they have nothing better to do at 5am.

Back to the story though - I'd been reaching the ground at about 5:15am each morning, and my position in the queue had improved from about 1000th on the first day, to 500th on the fourth. I had a feeling that the fifth day queue would be a lot shorter, but when it came to the crunch, I wasn't willing to risk it. Great cricket has to be watched from a great seat - if you're not on the second level behind the bowler's arm, you may as well go home and watch it on TV.

The other challenge was the threat of rain. I'm staying 20 minutes north of the ground, and we had a couple of light showers the previous night, but when I got up at 4:15am, the roads didn't look too wet, so I figured that it made sense to head on down.

I got there at about 5:30 in the end, and I was about 100th in the queue. No chance of getting a poor seat from there, although you always have to take into account the loyalty members. Those who have been members of the WACA for 40 continuous years, those who have a life membership, and anybody with a disability, are able to enter via a priority queue. Unsurprisingly, most of the people in that queue want the prime seats. It's not so much of a problem with the main queue - there's an alarming number of people who would prefer to sit in the sun, at ground level, at a 45 degree angle, and my life has been all the better for it this week.

There was a little bit of spitting from the light grey clouds above as we waited in the queue. As always, the conversation was fascinating. Today I met a gentleman who retired a couple of years ago, but was tempted back to work by an offer of A$3500 per week. The job? "Toolbox Guardian." For the un-initiated (which included myself, of course), that's the person who sits by a big container of tools, with a book in one hand and beer in the other, and logs the workers checking tools in and out during the day. Why does he get paid so much? That's the economic boom that Western Australia is undergoing right now, on the back of phenomenal demand from China, and to a lesser extent India. You can earn $150K for driving the trucks that transport iron ore from the bottom of a mining pit to the top. Needless to say, enrollment in Universities is dropping.

Right, back to the cricket now, I promise. Once in the ground, it was apparent that the groundsman was concerned about the weather. The covers were out, and we watched as first the hessian, and then the full cover, was pulled over the wicket. And then removed. And then replaced, this time with a third layer in between. And then removed again. The games went on for nearly an hour, before they finally accepted that the blue and white stuff in the skies above was not a threat.

Flintoff's little slog-fest apart, the day's play was dominated by that man Warne. His presence was felt as early as 10am, when Ian Healy was spotted talking to an unidentified individual near the sightscreen in front of the Lillee-Marsh stand. Healy did a quick little imitation of a Warne delivery, followed by a squealed "oooooh" and then an about turn and a couple of jumps with arms aloft, mimicing Warne's incessant appealing. Healy appeared to find it rather amusing, as did those in the crowd who noticed.

The Barmy Army had picked up on this as well, and throughout the morning, everytime Flintoff and Pietersen pushed Warne into the covers or mid-wicket off the full face of the bat, all thousand of them went up in mock appeal. It didn't stop there either. There were several renditions of the least printable of all the Warney songs - the one ending with "and he also loves his wife!", Billy Cooper launched into the theme from Dad's Army when Glenn McGrath came on to bowl, and most impressively of all, as soon as the England total reached 279, the Army launched into "Oh, we're half way there, oh oh, livin' on a prayer!" My first test match with the Barmy Army in attendance, and I was truly impressed. They bring a colour to the game that you typically only see at grounds in India and the Caribbean.

The man of the match award went to Hussey, but I'm not sure that the choice was an easy one. Warne's bowling in both innings was quality, and his contribution to the victory should not be underestimated. I suppose in the end the consideration would have been that Australia would have eventually won without Warne, but Hussey's knock in the first innings was as crucial as it gets. The other contender would have had to be Geraint Jones. With a pair batting at number 7, a missed stumping off Michael Clarke that cost over 100 runs, and something like 5 dropped catches, no single person can have done more to hand the Ashes back to Australia. Salim Malik and Wasim Akram would have been taken to court for such a performance.

Also mentioned in the dispatches would have been Adam Gilchrist. Not just for his unbelievable century, which was a privilege to have watched, but for one of the most informed sledges I have heard in my cricketing career. When Sajjid Mahmood came into bat at #9 in the second innings, Gilly knew that he had only bowled 17 overs, and commented audibly, but ostensibly to Hayden at first slip, that he must be playing as a batsman since he only bowled 17 overs. Now it'd be one thing to have said 15, or 20 - anything that implied a low over count, but the fact that they knew the precise number of overs Mahmood had bowled in the match simply blew me away.

One final point to note - when Flintoff was dismissed and Jones came to the wicket, there were 12 Australians, 2 South Africans and a Pakistani on the field. No wonder England had a hard time winning the game :-)

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