Wednesday, 21 August, Eng v Aus, all day
We were in the cheaper seats, my brother and I, far from the pavilion and forgoing TMS. The team news flashed up on the big screen – Kerrigan and Woakes to play. The ground was agog. Moments before, I’d said: “I really hope they play Kerrigan now they’ve picked him.” We assumed that, as Athers would later write, the Lancastrian would come “as a package” with Woakes because they’d want a third seamer who could hold a bat. Panesar being indisposed and adrift before Essex’s intercession, England needed to see the alternatives. Flower & Co are often criticised for having no Plan B. Well, here was Plan C. Or possibly E. For emergency. I wasn’t about to carp. At three-nil up, and with heaps of cricket still to play this year, when else were they going to experiment?
Bang went the theory when Clarke won the toss. England would have to bowl on the first morning. Oh, they should have played Tremlett went the cries. Which grew louder the day after when he bagged eight wickets at Durham. Much as I’d love to say otherwise, Tremlett has been indistinguishable from a flat tyre at the Oval this year. The deck hasn’t helped, but he’s just not been right. And picking him would tell us nothing new. Fit and firing, he’s an ideal third seamer, maybe more, but he’s looked neither of those things. That he was riled enough to take his career-best figures at Durham – I repeat, at Durham – at least suggested his pride can be piqued. Most of the time, I wonder if he actually wants to be on the field at all, that he’s only honouring the family firm and would rather be a dentist, a tree surgeon, in banking, whatever. Unfair, no doubt, but that’s the impression.
England bowled pretty tidily to begin with. Warner played on the veranda of uncertainty, never mind in the corridor. The bat was so far away from his body when he was caught behind it could have been reeled in with a rod. Rogers was compactness incarnate, pushing down the ground. Watson started with the airy stiffness that’s got him into so much bother around the front pad. Yet he was soon playing straighter and even through mid-wicket. A failure here and surely that was it for his Test career. Equally obvious was that he would target England’s debutants. And how.
Contrary to popular opinion, Woakes is not a slowcoach per se. Unless the speed gun was telling porkies, he bowled at the same sort of pace as Anderson – in a range between 81 and 86 miles per hour, mostly. It’s not as if lack of pace is a barrier at this level – think Asif, Philander, Kumar, back to Alderman – provided there is lateral movement. What wasn’t clear from our side-on vantage point was any sense of that. In his defence, too, Woakes generally opens the bowling for Warwickshire. He was first change here. (And his second over was a maiden!) If he is meant to swing the red ball, maybe he should have opened with Anderson. That would certainly have been an endorsement of his presence. Cook’s bowling chances – bringing Swann on so soon – smacked of a lack of confidence in his new charges even before Kerrigan handed his cap to the umpire. Inevitable? Probably. But what about some positive kidology?
Kerrigan had fielded keenly at cover point in the opening exchanges. He looked bullish then, as well he might, although for some reason I did think of Princess Leia’s immortal putdown to another would-be situation-rescuer: Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper? Poor Simon. The force definitely wasn’t with him. In retrospect, he would’ve been grateful for some by-the-book, low-risk, uninspired captaincy from Cook, and bowling the last over before lunch. As it was, Watson had 49 off 60 balls when Kerrigan was tossed the cherry, Woakes having borne the brunt of this resurgence. Watson had just hit Swann for six and was known to have given Kerrigan some humpty in the Lions game. No prizes for guessing who the Christian was about to be. I’m not advocating the hiding of bowlers as such. If you’ve picked them, you need to back your judgement. (I suppose the problem is Cook didn't pick him.) Yet, in the circumstances, some by-the-book, low-risk captaincy have been inspired.
I’d never watched Kerrigan bowl before. I’d only read the stats of his 2011 championship-winning season – albeit achieved on helpful surfaces – and reports of his plucky character. They went to all parts, of course, but Cricinfo commenters later said that his bowling action looked different from normal, and tentative. To me, he was awfully – and I mean awfully – redolent of Gary Keedy. Which makes sense given Keedy made way for him at Lancashire, having been the senior man and likely role model. Watson chewed up Kerrigan and spat him out. Kerrigan never recovered from those first two overs. But should he really have been bowling? Not in the match, period. Rather, at that point. No excuses (every debutant must be nervous, it’s how you deal with it that counts), except that one.
Cook allowed Watson to skulk through the 90s having been hit on the helmet by Broad. A humanitarian gesture, but shabby tactics. When he brought up his century, the weight of the world wasn’t lifted so much as its existential burden wearily acknowledged. With Rogers done by extra bounce from Swann (caught by Trott at slip) and Anderson bowling Clarke off his pad through the gate, Australia would have been 151-4 if Cook hadn’t shelled Watson on 104 off the attack leader. While not a reprieve, it would have been a chance for England to retrench. Instead, Watto resumed the tonking – all the way to 176 when he offered KP something to do in the deep. Australia 289-4. Smith, though, was progressing to a potentially more significant century in Australia’s Test story. A brainless heave off his first ball apart, he played with dash and gumption. Got the bottle? (As a tedious marketing campaign had it.) He has.
And so, too, the toiling Woakes, whose sumptuous cover drive off his first ball would show his batting talent. He deserved to make his Test debut – just look at his county figures, averaging 38.08 batting and 25.06 bowling before the 2013 season – only perhaps not in this match. And how he, and to a lesser extent Kerrigan, responded to the experience on return to county duty shows the judges of character weren’t so wrong either. The bare facts, though, are that this was Australia’s best day of the series and a good one for Tim Bresnan, whose contribution to England is routinely underestimated.
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