Friday, January 21, 2011

Away in Australia... Part I: Melbourne

Well, I've just written the worst essay possible and am expecting to be done for plagiarism due to terrible referencing. However, now that I'm back in the UK (physically that is. Mentally, my body clock's decided I'm still over there), I decided I'd write up/post some pictures of my big adventure to the other side of the world and give yet another one of those reviews of the Ashes.

Before I kick off with the Alastair Cook love and overusing the word 'awesome', I'd just like to say that I have been so lucky with this trip. The circumstances surrounding it aren't that lucky though, as my grandfather died nearly three years ago. He left me some money and when I turned 18 it was mine. So, one day last January, whilst looking out of the window onto a snowy scene and with England in South Africa still in the "we're going to lose, no wait, we're drawing" phase, I decided something. I went downstairs to my mum and dad and told them of my ambition, and they both looked at each other, a bit confused as to where their shy daughter, who hated change, of theirs had gone, but also very supportive. In February, I joined the Barmy Army. In March, the dream was pretty much reality. In December I would be flying off to Melbourne to watch the Boxing Day Test. A city I've wanted to visit for years and a Test that has such significance in the cricketing world. It wasn't just any Boxing Day Test. It was The Ashes. 

I got lucky with my flight out to Australia as well. Had it been at the weekend, when the Ipswich Town vs Leicester City match was being played on what can only be described as a white sheet of paper, I wouldn't have got out there. Instead, I was hardly delayed, didn't have to sit in Terminal 3 for at all long and to top it all off, there was free Wi-fi at Hong Kong airport. I'm not going to bore you with the details of the non-cricket related things I did once I was in Melbourne. But all I'm going to say is that Melbourne is an absolutely fantastic city. The climate's not too humid and you just cannot escape the sporting heritage of the place. And as a massive sports fan, that's a good thing!

I spent my Christmas Eve at the MCG. I had a free entry to the National Sports Museum as part of my package and thought I'd go a couple of days before the Test, so I could beat the crowd and fully appreciate it! Shane Warne had an exhibit in there, which was a hologram of himself talking about all his memories of the place. It was one of the weirdest experiences ever, especially when he "switched on" a television in the top right hand corner. In all seriousness though, it was an amazing insight into an absolute legend of the game and whilst I think it's wrong and they should stop living in the past, I can see why some Australians call for him when the next failed Aussie spinner gets hit for a six.

I also had a tour of the ground. "We're nothing like Lord's" seemed to be the over-riding slogan of the place, as they showed me the Long Room and everything covered in MCC logos... Having said this, it really, really is a magnificent place and the fact I was there a couple of days before the start of an Ashes Boxing Day Test match was just the icing on the cake. There was an excited buzz about the place, as last minute touches were made to the painting on the grass, the pitch being feverishly inspected by both teams and outside, all the inflatable kiosks for the entertainment of the crowd were being put up.

The Australian team were having a fielding session as I was having the tour, so I asked the guide when the England team would be arriving. He said they'd be there in the afternoon. The MCG has outdoor nets, so since I'd come to the other side of the world to watch some of my favourite players, I thought I'd locate the outdoor nets and settle down for an afternoon of watching the England team, having been destroyed by a rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson at Perth, remember how to bat again. 

A weird thing happened as I entered the MCG shop after the tour. I was wearing my Ipswich Town shirt, because pretty much every piece of clothing I own has a horse with a ball on it, and I looked up at the TV screen and saw a football match being played on a slowly increasing amount of snow. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief. Here I was, the other side of the world, after a 22 hour flight, stood in one of the greatest sporting arenas in the world, and I was watching the match I was sat at nearly a week ago. You'll be pleased to know that I did a muted celebration as I watched Norris open the scoring for the second time.  

I soon found the outdoor nets and got a decent enough spot. I could've gone and stood behind the players, but I don't think I'd have been able to handle being stood behind Alastair Cook for too long. It was a weird experience. I could hear all the players normally and not through a microphone. Aleem Dar was there. James Anderson fiddled about with a camera and seemed to be taking pictures of Graeme Swann. Kevin Pietersen responded to some fans asking for him to wave. I took far too many pictures. This one I like:

And so I left the MCG, feeling incredibly happy, something that became very common in the other days I spent there...! Christmas Day I spent with the Barmy Army. I met some lovely, lovely people at my table, including another female, there by herself, watching cricket. I sang some truly lovely songs about Ricky Ponting and called Brad Haddin things that would make my parents horrified. What made it even better is the rumour that the Australian team were having their Christmas meal with their families only a couple of rooms away from us. I wasn't sure whether I believed it, but then I could've sworn I saw Ryan Harris in the casino afterwards, so I like to think that it's true!

After such a strange, but really good, Christmas Day, I went back to my hotel and prepared myself for a dream coming true. What happened was something I don't think anyone could've anticipated. Especially after the drubbing we got in Perth.

As the post below this one shows, I was so ridiculously excited. I wanted to get there, I wanted to be in the stadium, I wanted to be a part of the Barmy Army and sing songs and watch cricket and not have to listen to Nasser Hussain. I arrived at the ground and found England in the nets, again. So I enjoyed watching Strauss play the cover drive from a lower down, and possibly better, position. I then noticed that less people were stood behind the nets, so I thought I'd have a look. I found Alastair Cook (and others), was surrounded by Australians doing terrible attempts at sledging him! 

I entered the stadium again. I found my seat, which gave me a pretty good view: 

England won the toss. I didn't hear what Strauss said we were going to do due to the cheers from people around me. I looked at the skies and hoped, really, really hoped, that we wouldn't be batting first. And then it flashed on the screen. We were fielding. I couldn't be more happy. Whilst I enjoy watching them bat in the net, I'm terrible watching England bat for real. I get ridiculously nervous, especially if they're doing well. Because England can collapse at the drop of a hat... 

But so can Australia it seems! Despite the conditions overhead being cloudy (and Jimmy's quite good when it's cloudy), the Aussies decided to come out all guns blazing. I could understand Phil Hughes doing this, he doesn't seem to understand the idea of a defensive shot, but Shane Watson came out and just seemed like he didn't want to be there. He edged it in the first over (I think, it's kind of all merged into one memory) and was dropped. He was dropped a second time and I feared that my favouritest cricketer in the world would make us pay for it. He didn't. Seemingly overawed by the situation, Watson hit a routine catch to Pietersen and England were laughing. No, I was laughing. 
Cheerio Watto!

To be honest, the rest of the Australian innings was like a dream. I kept pinching myself to make sure I wasn't lying in bed in the hotel and Australia were really being perched up by a Mike Hussey century. Ponting departed for an incredibly uncomfortable 10. He played two pull shots off Bresnan, I think, then he too succumbed to a catch behind. 
"You're getting sacked in the morning!"

Hughes had inevitably gone playing some stupid shot when he should've been leaving it in swinging conditions and it brought to the crease Mike Hussey. The man who had caused me so much pain in 2006/07 and I had gleefully said wouldn't cause us much trouble in the summer, and instead was fresh off the back of a ton in Perth. Like in Adelaide, his wicket would be very, very important. And as the clouds gathered above, it looked like rain was threatening. So when he got out for single figures (I didn't realise it could happen), the Barmy Army went mad.

My reaction can pretty much be summed up by the man in the foreground. I jumped about, wanted to hug everyone surrounding me and let go of any lingering irrational feelings towards Jimmy Anderson. If you like Graeme Swann, you've got to like James Anderson. Their bromance is something to embrace in world cricket.

After the Mike Hussey wicket, the rain began to fall and the players came off. I think an early lunch was taken. All I remember about the rain delay is there being a lot of beach balls. It was a way to entertain the crowd, but this being the biggest (and most prestigious, the waiting list to join the MCC is at least 15 years!) stadium in Australia, it has to have standards, so the stewards were kept very busy. They were greeted with a lot of booing when they managed to catch a beach ball and had to be subjected to people teasing them by hitting it away from them. It was certainly a more entertaining rain delay than down at the Rose Bowl at Twenty20 Finals Day...

Soon the rain cleared up, but the floodlights were on and the ball was still very much in England's court. Australian wickets continued to tumble and it was looking unlikely that Australia would reach three figures. And it is at this point that I must make a massive apology to Tim Bresnan.

Tim, I'm sorry for ever doubting you. Having watched him get tonked around the ground by the Australians and Pakistan in the ODIs over the summer, I was incredibly sceptical when England made him a part of the squad. When Stuart Broad got injured, I was worried he'd be brought in at Perth (he wasn't, Chris Tremlett was). On the very morning of this Test match, when I heard that Finn had been dropped for Bresnan, I was ready to jump on any mistake the poor sod made. But he shut me up. And I'm pleased he shut me up because his spell of reverse swing in Australia's second innings was absolutely class. He got Mike Hussey for a duck. He must be doing something right.

England were well into the tail and Australia were 92-9. Local hero Peter Siddle had made a higher score than Ponting and Ben Hilfenhaus was in. I hope the Australian top order didn't even bother to change out of their whites. It was, quite frankly, an absolutely horrible display. But I feel no sympathy, because it's exactly what we did at Headingley in 2009. And pretty much every trip to Australia. Hilfenhaus then departed for an 8 ball duck, and there it was. Australia were all out for 98. And I thought the 517-1 card was beautiful!  

Sources claim that the Aussie selectors did consider calling up 'Extras'...
 And despite all this, despite the fantastic bowling display (Swanny only had 2 overs, so this shows you how well the three pronged attack did), the decent fielding and the sun beginning to come out, I was still nervous as Strauss and Cook returned to the field. Yeah, we wouldn't be all out for double figures, but we needed a substantial lead and I didn't want us to be all out for 200. I think the most important thing about that day though was the sun coming out at the right moment. The sky cleared and the floodlights looked ridiculous agains the blue backdrop and bright sunshine. 

We started well, we showed Australia how to play basic cricket by playing each ball on merit and I settled down. Around me, people were enjoying themselves by making beer snakes, trying to start a Mexican wave and trying to get Ricky Ponting to wave at us. Unsurprisingly, he didn't oblige. Cook raced to a 50, whilst Strauss had been stuck on 35 for what seemed ages. But I didn't mind. He was still there. England could bore me to death so long as we didn't lose a wicket. And the amazing thing was, we didn't. We reached 98-0:

Cook got his 50. He'd been given out LBW on 27 to a ball that he'd clearly hit onto his pads: 

And was a while later was followed by Strauss, who'd earlier hit his 6000th Test run. Cricket Australia were right, history would be made. 
At the end of the day, England had reached 157-0. Cook had 80, Strauss was on 64. Everyone hoped that after such a magnificent start they'd both get centuries the next morning, but if not, they'd given England a fantastic platform to build a huge total on. 

Myself, some of the Barmies I met on Christmas Day and some of the people they'd met, all went for a drink to toast the amazing day. One of our group had an Australian friend and we talked to him about the problems in Australian cricket. And he agreed. We weren't getting too ahead of ourselves, England were only 59 runs ahead and if the weather was cloudy tomorrow morning, we could lose quick wickets and be in trouble. Still, I went to bed very happy. I woke up the next morning even happier, as the Australian newspapers did not disappoint. My favourite was from the Herald Sun, in which they labelled their team a 'disgrace'. On the way to the ground, I had to buy one and that souvenir now sits proudly next to my Melbourne Ashes programme at home. You think our tabloids are bad? Next time Australia do badly, check out the newspaper of the state in which the cricket's being played in.

It was slightly cloudy when I got up in the morning and as I wandered to the G, I think I felt a couple of spots of rain. I did some more stalking of the England team in the outdoor nets, this time watching Jonathan Trott, unaware that I'd be watching him for pretty much the rest of the day.

Siddle, the MCG's darling due to being a Victorian, was fired up in the morning and deservedly got wickets. He'd been Australia's best bowler on day one, but the bowlers at the other end had given him no help, so he hadn't been rewarded. Cook and Strauss fell in quick succession, much to my disappoint. I hoped that at least one of them would get a hundred, but I know that Strauss isn't very good in the morning after he's been in the previous evening (Lord's 2009 and Adelaide 2010 are two examples of this) and England were 170-2. England had to see off Siddle, because the other bowlers were about as threatening as a sleeping kangaroo.

England began to rebuild after the early losses of their captain and vice-captain and then, when Pietersen was close to his 50, things exploded into life. Pietersen seemed to leave one, but Brad Haddin (who always claims a catch down the leg side) appealed. Harris appealed. It was given not out. Ponting reviewed. From where I was sat, watching the big screen, there was nothing. The only thing that could possibly be construed as a white blob on hot-spot was where I think Pietersen clipped his pad after the ball had passed the bat. But that might not even have been a white blob. There was simply not enough evidence to overturn the decision by Aleem Dar, and apart from the Cook decision, the umpiring had been pretty good. 

So the original decision stood. But Ponting was fuming. Siddle was fuming despite the fact he wasn't bowling, but he looks angry all the time. Australia wanted Pietersen, but the UDRS had backed the umpire. 

Cheer up, Ricky.

The whole cherade made Ponting, once again, into the villain. He deserved it, because by finger pointing and shouting in the face of a well respected umpire is not how to handle a situation. It just showed how much pressure Ponting was under (the Herald Sun having something about his job being on the line the next day) and whilst he has a history of doing this kind of thing, surely with your team staring down the barrel, it requires a cool head, rather than throwing a tantrum when things don't go your way. 

Pietersen didn't last long after that. He got his 50, but he departed too succumbed to Siddle. Apart from his double century at Adelaide, Pietersen was once again having a very average series. In fact, take out his double hundred, and his average was abysmal. But not as abysmal as the man coming to the crease, poor old Paul Collingwood. Before the match, the big debate was whether or not Bell would be promoted up the order. In this match, it didn't matter. Both of them were out in the same way and Colly got 7 more runs than Bell. They still both committed the cardinal sin of getting out to Mitchell Johnson, the target of the Barmy Army's abuse. 

As soon as the hapless bloke came onto bowl, Billy the trumpeter played a rendition of 'The Addams Family', with the words saying something like:
His mother hates his missus,
His missus hates his mother,
They all hate one another,
The Johnson Family! 
And it clearly gets to him. Whilst Ponting and Haddin are able to block it out (Haddin even bantered with us as we all gave him verbals for appealing for a catch down the leg side), Johnson fires them down the leg side and this spawned one of the most inspired and comedic songs to be heard at a cricket match. Swaying arm movements to the left and the right really emphasise the point being made, and it made me wonder just what was going through his head when he saw the entire M16 bay abusing his bowling. It's something I'd love to ask him, if I ever get the chance. What his response would be is something entirely different. 
Both Bell and Collingwood fell into his trap though, which was him bowling it short and making them hook it. They both took it on. They both failed. They both gave Peter Siddle the chance to be the hero again and take two decent catches. But did the abuse of Mitch stop? No. Because he soon imploded. Matt Prior edged a decent delivery (ha!) behind and began to trudge off, but he was called back, as Aleem Dar had called upstairs to check if it was a no-ball. We had no idea what was going on and to be honest, I don't think the people in charge of the scoreboards did either. People around me had radios on and word began to filter out that it was indeed a no-ball. 

The celebrations that followed pretty much put the final nail in the coffin for poor old Mitch. Every poor delivery was cheered ironically and Prior decided to really stick into him, because he must've been absolutely loving the Barmy Army's chanting.

But I am forgetting the man down at the other end, the man I'd seen in the nets in the morning and the man who'd been in since Cook had departed early on. Jonny Trott was getting closer and closer to yet another Ashes century, as Australia had bowled him some absolute leg side rubbish, which he thrived upon. And when Trott was in the 90s, Ponting decided to bring on Steve Smith and put only one fielder on the leg side. All Trott needed to do was turn it around the corner and bingo, century. And that's exactly what he did. 
It was a magnificent innings. And it just kept going on and on. Prior was enjoying himself down at the other end and England closed the day in yet another fantastic position. They had amassed over 350 and were still only 5 wickets down. Mitchell Johnson had broken, Ponting had blown his fuse, Shane Watson couldn't stop turning around and looking at the Barmy Army and the Aussies were baying for Warnie. 

I gleefully got myself another copy of the Herald Sun at the start of Day 3. 

Prior fell short of a century as he chipped it straight to Punter, who actually caught it, despite fielding absolutely nothing with the hand with his broken pinky. Bresnan fell to Siddle too, then Swann came in and flourished on the situation by playing a cameo of 22 off 28. But Trott was still going. And whilst the tail crumbled once Swann departed, he finised on a superb 168 not out. It was exactly what England needed and with a lead of over 400, the weather set fair, over two days left and a pitch beginning to crumble, there was only one result in this match. It was just a question of when it would happen and whether Australia could salvage any pride. 

Australia started their second innings, like in the first, very positively. Watson looked in good touch, Phil Hughes was thriving on the situation by blasting a couple of boundaries and Anderson and Tremlett were looking pretty expensive. In 11 overs, Australia had reached 50 and a cheeky Aussie behind me said that at the rate they were going, they'd be past our total by tea. 

Then Watson did something that only he could do. Calling Hughes for a run that only he seemingly saw, Hughes was left high and dry by, of all people, Jonathan Trott. Australia lost their first wicket and England sensed blood. It was Ponting next, and he was greeted with some boos by the Barmy Army and other England supporters. I think I booed. You have to respect the umpires decision, no matter what. It was like Gary Pratt all over again. 

Ponting was very watchful, England tightened up and Australia began to work hard for their runs. Watson was looking dangerous, and he soon reached 50/wicket territory. And he didn't disappoint. Bresnan came on and Watson, in a complete and utter misjudgement offered no shot. He was given out, but decided to review it. Despite the fact he offered no shot. All the ball had to do was clip the stumps and it would go with the umpire. And that's exactly what it did. Watson did his sad puppy face and trudged off, bringing Michael Clarke to the crease, another Aussie under supreme pressure from the press and public alike. 
And then, then Ponting was gone. Bresnan, who was making me eat every word I've ever said about him, was bowling an absolutely fantastic spell and Ponting was bowled. What made the wicket even better is that the Barmy Army were singing and it was a 'Barmy Army wicket'. What a better wicket to get than Ponting bowled? 

Ponting's stumps destroyed. Rather like his little finger.
And then the icing on the cake. Mike Hussey was out for a duck. It was a great piece of field placing by Strauss and Bell duly took the catch. I, once again, danced around in circles and turned around to my new friends, looking like a massive idiot and being a bit too happy about his dismissal. We were five wickets away from retaining the Ashes due to the injury to Ryan Harris. One of those wickets was Steve Smith. 

Everyone was feeling very, very happy. Swann was bowling really well and deserved a wicket. And he got what he deserved. Strauss put himself in at second slip and the delivery straight after he did this nestled comfortably in his hands after taking a Clarke edge. Swann may've been criticised after the series for not taking wickets, but whilst he wasn't taking wickets, his economy was controlled and he really racked up the overs. Australia is a gruelling place for most spinners, unless you're Shane Warne, and in all honesty, Swann put in a decent return and was a key part of that unified four-man attack. 

With Australia 5 down, it was a case of how many more wickets England could get and whether they'd be able to take the extra half hour and really push for the victory. They only managed to get Steve Smith after he pulled it onto his own stumps off James Anderson. The umpires weren't sure if Harris was going to bat, Haddin was still in and Johnson had hit a half century the previous game. So the players came off, England looking very pleased, Australia looking shell-shocked and 6 down with 2 days to go. That urn was coming back with the England team, bar any freak rain storms. 

What was absolutely brilliant about the position of the Barmy Army in Bay 16 was that the non-striker could see everything that was going on when the bowler was coming in from the Pavilion End. And that non-striker happened to be Mitchell Johnson. And boy did we enjoy ourselves!

I was so excited about Day Four that I woke up at 6 in the morning and proceeded to jump silently around my hotel room. I was about to see England retain the Ashes for the first time in my life (I hope you feel old now). Seriously, Cricket Australia really did choose their slogan for the summer well. 

Mitch soon departed and England only needed two more wickets. Just two. Now was the time for the Aussies to salvage a bit of pride and try and make a respectable total. Siddle (said in a high-pitched voice) played some shots, cheered on by the very few Australians present in the crowd. Brad Haddin (he's crap at his job) was also playing some shots and was on his way to a 50. And then the resistance ended as Siddle holed out to Pietersen after mistiming another attemped boundary off Swann. And despite Siddle and Haddin hitting sixes off of him, Swann had done such a fantastic job the previous day, that his economy was still about two.

As soon as KP took the catch, the celebrations started. Hilfenhaus was coming in on a pair and facing Bresnan, who'd taken 5 in the match and after his heroic spell the previous day really deserved a four-fer. 

And he got it. Hilfenhaus duly edged it behind to Prior, who took 7th catch of the match (says a lot, Aussie batsmen) and the celebrations were in full flow. People were hugging, the singing started the cameras were out. It was absolutely amazing to be a part of it and it is something I will never, ever forget. I'm going to let the pictures do the talking, because I think the blog is long enough... 

Moment of victory

This is before the sprinkler. I embarrassingly turn my camera off instead of taking a picture. It's not even easy to do. I'm so annoyed at myself. Still, I really like this picture, just because Strauss has got the biggest smile on his face!

After the sprinkler!

Four, six, four, he's Matty Prior!
My favourite moment of the presentations was when Jonny Trott was asked why he does so well against Australia. Our answer? "He bowls to the left, he bowls to the riiiiiiight, that Mitchell Johnson, his bowling is shite!" I like to think he heard us. 

Thank you for reading, part II in Sydney will be coming once I have the time again. For now, I leave you with this quite frankly beautiful image. 
Absolutely fan-bloody-tastic.