First-person reports from the stands
Choice of game
It doesn't get bigger then Australia versus England down here, and having attended one Test during the holiday season for the past two years (Newlands), I wanted to keep the record going. I believed Australia's bowlers had won them the Perth Test on a pitch that suited them. In Melbourne, it was back to square one for both sides, and England had been by far the best since the start so they were my favourites.
Being South African, I could have sat on the fence but doing that isn't much fun. Therefore, after comparing which of the two had given the Proteas the most shellackings since I started watching the game, I chose to back England in an inane attempt to get some payback. Besides, two of their best batsmen are South African.
Tough choice but Tim Bresnan had a blinder today. He knocked over Shane Watson, Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, the big wicket. He was deadly accurate in his first spell, and his persistent good length was just the sort of stuff needed to squeeze the life out of the Australians. He did benefit from the excellent work of Graeme Swann and Chris Tremlett, who went for a few runs but bowled some jaffas to the batsmen.
One thing I'd change
Ryan Harris not getting injured. He has tried his heart out this series, and been one of Australia's better performers. He ran in for the seventh over of the day, and abruptly slowed down before he reached the popping crease. The instant reaction of the stand where I was, leaned towards sympathy, as the fans realised Harris would be done for the match if not the series. No good deed goes unpunished, and that sums up Australia's series really.
Face-off I relished
I was very intrigued to see James Anderson take on Phil Hughes, since Hughes gives the ball a good pasting when he gets it right while Anderson has been the man for England's bowling attack this series. It ended in a draw, since I have it on good authority (from a fellow England supporter) that Shane Watson was responsible for leaving Hughes out to dry on a poor single during a Swann over. I was busy getting fresh beers at the time. Go figure.
The sheer size of the MCG. I've been to the Wanderers and Newlands in South Africa, but the G is something else entirely. I started in Bay 11 in General Reserve and by tea had moved to the highest seating to get out of the sun. The view is excellent, especially when you see birds flying circles around the stadium's massive rim. Evenfrom outside, the MCG is iconic in its scale.
England's century-maker Jonathan Trott did some time at fine leg when Hughes was on strike. He signed a few autographs and as soon as he was moved a bit squarer to our section, an accusing voice from the crowd shouted "Why aren't you playing for your own country?" A while later he was called a "Saffer" (slang term for South African), with this theme being pretty much the only one that was doing the rounds. Trott himself didn't do anything apart from peering once to the top of the Don Bradman stand and cleaning up a Hughes clip off the legs. I guess when you bang a century the innings before, nothing much fazes you.
Shot of the day
Probably Steve Smith hitting Bresnan for four off his first ball straight down the ground. He might not look like a No. 6, but Smith has got chutzpah in spades and that shot said it all, especially as Hussey was the one he had replaced at the crease.
There was a very good crowd I would say, with the G being about 70% to 80% full. It wasn't as festive as I would think it would be if Australia were winning, but in all fairness to the Barmy Army, they pretty much dominated proceedings. "God Save the Queen" came out of nowhere once, and England's deeds on the field that set the tone of the crowd.
Sadly, the only hit that came my way was a tennis ball from a lofted drive by one of the kids playing mini-cricket on the ground during the lunch break. Needless to say, I dropped the ball, after which four Barmy Army chaps behind me emitted a slow "booooooo" sound. The man who received the biggest cheer was Peter Siddle, the only Victorian in the Aussie line-up. They call him "Sids" for short.
Several English supporters were dressed in nothing but glorified Speedos with St George's cross painted all over their bodies, along with an England flag for a cape. The Australians were in green and yellow, but like on the field, it was England's day. The best looking fan I saw was dressed in a suit, which resembled a giant ginger Sonic the Hedgehog dressed in green. I was wearing my cricket uniform for a chunk of the first session, after which I switched to my vest. Sombreros were also very popular.
There was some Empire of the Sun, which was surprising since I'm used to old school classics or the very poor pop music of the moment. Apart from that, there wasn't much to be had in term so of music. The mid-innings entertainment centred on an England and Australian family facing off in a competition to get a new Ford for six months. Needless to say, the Australian family won after the Dad played a nice straight drive to get his family over the line.
Sombrero (essential), sun-glasses (essential), jersey, book, white shirt, vest and camera.
Banner of the day
A chap had "Sids for PM" written on his stomach and chest, otherwise there wasn't much to be seen.
Opinion of the opposition
Australia are definitely going to lose the Ashes, and a few more series after that. Ponting is finished and the time has come to blood new players, which is going to impact on Australia's results for the next while. The Australian public need to be patient.
The cricket, especially from England, was of high quality. Their bowling and batting is better than Australia's. As such, the atmosphere was tense since the home supporters were hoping for some fight from Australia but as the day wore on it was clear that wasn't going to happen. After Hussey's dismissal the crowd began to noticeably thin.
With all that in mind, I had a very enjoyable time and am pleased to say I have watched an Ashes Test at one of the game's most famous grounds.
Marks out of 10
7.5. The cricket aside, the one characteristic I do find the MCG lacks is "soul", or a uniqueness that lets you know you are watching a match there and only there. Everything works, it's organised, professional and the product on the field was of a high standard, but there is that little something missing which makes the experience that little bit less special and more generic, unlike Table Mountain behind Newlands or the history at Lord's. Some would disagree with me of course, but a grass bank would make a big difference.
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