I woke this morning to the news that Damien Martyn had announced his retirement with immediate effect. His time had probably come, but you had to think he would have retained his place for the remainder of this series. One can only wonder what went on behind the scenes.
In any case, it was off bright and early to the WACA to see England take on the Retrovision Warriors, also known as Western Australia, in a 2-day, non-first-class fixture. I had a few goals in mind for the day:
1. To cast my discerning eye over the batting of Adam Voges, whom I know next to nothing about.
2. To watch Monty Panesar and Chris Read demonstrate why they should be playing in the Test next week.
3. To see the allegedly flat Perth track first hand
4. To pick my seats for the Test, and figure out what the competition for them from other WACA members would be like.
The day started well enough, despite an unintended detour as a result of a bad navigational decision on the way to the Members entrance. Gates were due to open at 10am, and I was there with well over a minute to spare. Surprisingly, there were only about 200 members (and/or guests) waiting to be admitted into the ground.
I made my way to the top of the Lillee-Marsh stand, and picked a spot two seats to the left of middle stump - about as good a view of a game of cricket as one can get. It soon emerged that WA had won the toss and elected to bat, which suited my objectives perfectly.
As I listened to a gentleman behind me agonize over whether to take his MCC tie out of his pocket and put it on, I realized that my presence in the stand was a statistical anomaly in more ways than one. I was both lowering the average age from about 60 to somewhere nearer 59.8 (I can only do so much as one out of 200), and I was darkening the average skin tone a few shades. To be fair, I did get some help from some youngsters later in the afternoon with the former, but the only thing redressing the balance on the pigmentation front was the sun.
England's bowling attack suggested that a bowl-off was on the cards. With Hoggard and Flintoff rested, it was a battle between Giles and Panesar, and another between Mahmood, Harmison and Anderson. If you ask me, there were clear winners and losers in both cases, but as we all know, the England management may not see it the same way.
Jimmy Anderson started off very nicely, swinging the ball into left-hander Chris Rogers, and then turning him inside out with one that went the other way. Harmison at the other end was not getting the ball to deviate at all, and appeared to be bowling everywhere but straight. It was no surprise when Anderson eventually got Dave Bandy to edge one behind to Chris Read, and it was perhaps even less of a surprise in the next over when Harmison found Rogers' edge, only for Ashley Giles to spill an absolute sitter at 2nd slip. The members certainly had a good little titter at that one - at least, those who were able to draw their gaze away from their knitting did.
The remainder of the morning session was quite dull. Anderson had bowled impressively, but Harmison was poor, and Mahmood, struggling with his length, was only slightly better. At least, I thought it was Sajid Mahmood bowling from one end, but the know-it-all to my left didn't agree - he was quite insistent that it was in fact Michael Vaughan on the comeback trail. Perhaps there should be a qualification examination for cricket association membership.
The entertainment level picked up after the lunch break, thanks largely to the steward at the player's gate, whose attempt to underarm the ball back to the fielder at third-man nearly knocked out a napping spectator some 15 rows back. I shouldn't laugh though - many years ago I was umpiring at square leg, wearing a good old-fashioned umpire's coat, when the spare ball in my pocket was required. I attempted to underarm it to the bowler, and instead sent it over my head to the boundary behind me. It can happen to the best and worst of us.
The rest of the day hammered home a few hard truths. Steve Harmison finished with 1-99, and was deliberately taken off after just 3 overs with the new ball to avoid conceding a century. Sajjid Mahmood came back to bowl an excellent second spell, and picked up two wickets, one of them courtesy a tremendous low diving catch by Chris Read. I suspect Mahmood may pick up an England cap to go with it next week, should England want to field four pacemen.
Monty Panesar proved himself to be a class above Ashley Giles, not just with the ball, but in the field. Giles ended the day with a dropped catch; Panesar with a dramatic direct hit run out after swooping down from mid-wicket. Both were also a little bruised after they collided with each other in the field on one occasion - you can speculate ad nauseum as to which was trying to take the other out of contention.
But what of my objectives for the day?
1. Adam Voges looked like a solid, compact batsman, who like all WA players, enjoys the short stuff. He was outshone on the day though, by Luke Pomersbach (aka Luke Pommiesbasher), whose unbeaten 90-odd included one breathtaking pull for six off Anderson.
2a. Monty Panesar surely bowled himself into the Test match, unless he gets banned for dissent after snatching his sweater from the umpire when an edge to slip was turned down. He only got one wicket, but created numerous chances, and on another day would have had 3 or 4. Flintoff, Hoggard and Anderson will certainly play, and I think it will be Panesar and one of Mahmood or Giles for the final bowling spots.
2b. Chris Read continues to look a class above Geraint Jones, but you have to wonder if his missed stumping off Panesar will cost him a return to the side.
3. This is not quite a flat-track, but it's not the Perth of the 1980s and even 1990s either.
4. It transpires that the keenest members will be queuing up at 5:30am on the Test match days in order to secure their preferred seats. The gates open at 7:30am, and the Test starts at 11:30am. If you have any suggestions as to what I can do for those 6 hours, please let me know.