First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
I anticipate these five days on the calendar more than any of the other nonsense which might be on there and would attend the Perth Test no matter who's in the touring party. That this is a pivotal Ashes decider, promising either a historic victory for the English or a legendary rescue for Australia, only heightens the importance of the occasion.
After the trouncing in Adelaide and the bizarre decisions made by the Australian selectors in the lead-up to this game, I believed that England looked set to press forward in what would be their most domineering Australian tour since at least the Bodyline series. Matters have gone slightly awry since then.
Australia being the underdogs, doubled with the duty of wanting the series to remain alive, I fully believed that I was supporting my home nation in the game. However after Peter Siddle took Matt Prior's wicket on the second day, I remembered why I make a habit of not doing so, as Australia are so very repugnant and arrogant in victory.
In truth I've been rather automatically supporting the English. Today I found myself humming "Jerusalem" in desperation when their batting went to pot in the afternoon session and at stumps, after Paul Collingwood was dismissed with the final delivery, I slumped in my seat for what seemed a great deal of time like some downtrodden, wretched mutt.
The most sterling piece of advice I could give to an only-occasional cricket patron is to invest in a pair of binoculars. It provides one with the telephoto proximity of a television while boasting a three-dimensional element. Binoculars and radio are my standard tools for a day's observation.
I do feel behoved to mention my lunch to you, though. I ate a scotch egg at elevenses, some cold ham with hot mustard and feta cheese at lunch, then proceeded on to a pork pie at tea. I also froze a bottle of orange juice which was kept in the bottom of my cold bag and in its semi-liquid state provided most stimulating refreshment through the afternoon.
Mitchell Johnson has certainly been the Man of the Match, reversing Australia's fortunes as he top-scored with a brilliant half-century in the first innings before proceeding to romp home with six wickets. Falling for a duck in the second innings, he was again impressive this afternoon taking two wickets in a fluent alliance with Ben Hilfenhaus and Ryan Harris.
Today's key performer might have been Shane Watson with his elegant and aesthetically stunning innings of 95. He marred the excellence of his achievement though with the petulant and self-pitying manner in which he challenged his dismissal and then proceeded to skulk from the pitch.
The accolades then go to the centurion Mike Hussey, whose restrained and circumspect performance proved the bedrock of Australia's healthy lead and the fountainhead of England's frustration.
Face-off I relished
The day was actually surprisingly free of argy bargy, at least of the visible sort. I expected there might be some reprisal from Siddle's confrontation with Prior yesterday but nothing happened. Also, Johnson mentioned in an interview in this morning's paper that he took offence when Pietersen asked if he could have his telephone number so they could become best friends. I was looking for retaliation but Johnson didn't seem to arc up. Pietersen hung about for a long while getting his eye in before rather innocuously nicking a Hilfenhaus delivery to the slips.
Quite possibly, though, there was all sorts of nonsense going on in the centre and I just happened to miss it. I am absolutely dreadful at reading lips and tend to imagine people deliver pleasantries rather than taunts.
While there has been a lot of support for Hussey and Johnson, and although I arrived at the gates at the same time as a gleaming Shane Warne was swamped for autographs and photos that he patiently posed for, I would actually claim that the crowd favourite has been the non-combatant Monty Panesar. Perhaps Perth remembers his refreshing outing here four years ago when he took eight wickets. Possibly it's just that he is rather endearingly ungainly and bumbling. Certainly the crowd erupted in approbation whenever he came gangling past in his errands along the boundary. Monty has been busy, carrying drinks and messages as well as what looked like a tray of lasagna at one point. He has relished the affection and encouraged it with waves and gestures, providing a splendid diversion to the game.
Shot of the day
Watson's dashing drives down on one knee were possibly the most visually appealing strokes of the day, but really Hussey again takes the honours with his plethora of pull shots - the signature of his innings. The first came off Tremlett after a tedious eight-minute break in the play when a sightscreen was jammed. My personal favourite came off a short-pitched Finn delivery 15 minutes shy of lunch, gliding over midwicket toward the boundary. To push the point home later in the innings, Hussey again pulled the hapless Tremlett on 96 to bring up his century.
Over of the day
The finest over of the day came from Ryan Harris in the final session. Harris broke the terse stalemate that developed in the opening overs when he switched ends to the southern side of the ground. Harris' over was revelatory, full of bounce and venom, and it turned the game in Australia's favour when he pinned Cook plumb lbw. Here began the hopeless demise of England as they plummeted in the final hour.
My habitual spot in the WACA is in the member's area in front of the home dressing room, east of the Lillee-Marsh Stand. It offers my favourite view of the pitch and a pleasantly dour atmosphere in which to watch the game, being all corduroy shorts and silver hair with a general focus upon cricket rather than other distractions. While what I go on to say may sound elitist, please let me stress to you that with no criteria for becoming a member of the ground apart from a comparatively modest fee, the partitioned area is no haven of decency and has its share of oiks, dull-wits, and dreary old men speaking in worn clichés.
I ventured forth to join some friends in general admission mid-afternoon. I was horrified upon entering into the wasteland reeking of stale beer and lingering sweat, strewn with a seemingly endless carpet of Samboy crisp wrappers and other litter. My friends were seated in front of the most concentrated squadron of the Barmy Army, raised from their mid-day stupor into a period of activity and song. They were mildly charming enough, at least for the first half hour. What was repellent was the Australian supporters in the vicinity, who thought themselves their equals and so justified in making an equivalent amount of noise in taunts to both players as well as their supposed rivals.
While the Barmy Army are certainly no pack of saints, (I heard some particularly indecent barbs directed to Michael Clarke), they at least have the grace to be funny. Their antipodean impostors had not the merest smear of wit in their replies and being subjected to their inadequacy was not merely offensive, it was embarrassing.
Fancy dress is hardly a forte with Australian spectators. It's a pursuit much better left to the Saturday at Edgbaston. There was precious little of interest today, apart from the Barmy Army commander Jimmy Saville, aka Vic Flowers. With his flowing coarse grey hair, creased stove hat, bent fake cigar, and blazoned St George Cross chest, he resembled a demonic English Mad Hatter. The costume is a mere sideshow to the energy of the man, though, which is something quite amazing. I simply couldn't believe his stamina as he impishly pranced upon his seat, arms in air crowing out, "Andrew Strauss" in rapid repetition.
The entertainment at the WACA revolves around the antics and sponsorship plugs of the absolutely hopeless compere, James Sherry. Sherry was actually the hero of my youth as charismatic host of Saturday Morning Disney and later Australia's greatest youth game show, A*mazing. The latter was a fantastical blend of puzzles, obstacle mazes, and Nintendo. I have grown old with James Sherry and am now thoroughly disenchanted with him. He seems to know absolutely nothing of interest about cricket and interposes upon one's repose by sprouting up like a goblin on the PA system and large screens. He then proceeds to push all manner of nonsense upon the unfortunate patron, from Matthew Hayden peddling Ford 4WDs to announcing the batsman's all-time high scores. In Sherry's defence, it's a rotten job and I do pity him. I just wish the authorities didn't feel the need to provide entertainment and left the crowd to their own devices.
Banner of the day
As with costumes, there was a dearth of banners around the ground. The only gentleman worthy of recollection is one of the Barmy Army cohorts. This particular chap was seemingly a Northerner, in the middle years of his life, sporting a large pair of sunglasses and a genial belly. Running up and down the aisles, he heralded the beginning of his performance by imitating a bicycle horn. Upon gaining attention, he then uttered forth, to be joined in chorus by his comrades, either the slogan of "AV IT", presumably a token of confidence in England, or "NO NONSENSE", generally a command directed at specific Australian players and generally Ponting. In this practice, he is aided by a professionally made pair of signs hoisted above his head and used to reinforce his point.
This has been an utterly enthralling Test. It's been riveted with loops and twists and some brilliant individual and team performances. Australia being now poised to take the victory is a just representation of the fantastic struggle which has taken place. I feel blessed to have been a witness to it.
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