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Andrew Miller and Peter English at the MCG
December 26, 2010
When Shane Watson was unexpectedly recalled as an opening batsman for the Edgbaston Test in the 2009 Ashes, England's pacemen assumed their Christmases had come early. In actual fact, they had to wait until the following year's Boxing Day for Watto to produce an innings in which he looked anything other than totally at home in the position. Dropped on 0 by Paul Collingwood at slip, and then again by Kevin Pietersen in the gully, he eventually fended a Tremlett splice-jangler to backward point to fall for 5. And so, for the first time in 17 months and 12 innings, he failed to reach double figures. And only once before in that time, at Perth last week, had he fallen for less than 34.
Mr Cricket misses a trick
Michael Hussey's early season anxieties have been a thing of the past in this Ashes. At the Gabba he resurrected his career with a career-best 195; at the WACA he resuscitated Australia's campaign with 61 and 116, having bobbed to the surface at Adelaide with 93 and 52, the only redeeming features of a sorry collective performance. With six consecutive fifty-plus scores in Ashes contests since The Oval 2009, England had run out of ways to combat him. But on a juicy first morning at the MCG, James Anderson found a jaffa to dislodge him for a lowly 8. With minutes to go until lunch, an off-stump delivery grazed the edge as it nipped away inperceptibly. And a remarkable run of form had been interrupted.
Cook saved by the snick
As one run was halted, another was resumed. Alastair Cook suffered a hiatus at Perth as he fell for 32 and 13, but in his fifth innings of the series he picked up where he had left off in knocks one, two and three, reaching the close on 80 not out to take his series tally to 575. He did, however, require a stroke of technological intervention - just as had been the case when he was given out caught off the arm during his 148 at Adelaide. On 27, he was adjudged lbw as Ben Hilfenhaus rapped his pads, but almost before Aleem Dar's finger had reached the vertical, he allowed himself a wry smile and made the 'T' sign for a referral. Sure enough, replays showed a big inside-edge, and on he ground, with Australia's morale at their bootlaces.
Skipper steps up
Andrew Strauss knows how to lead from the front. In the Caribbean in 2009, in his first series as full-time captain, he responded to England's 51 all out with three big centuries in consecutive Tests. In the Ashes that summer, he was not only the leading series run-scorer but the only Englishman in a sea of Aussies at the top of the series batting averages. And at the Gabba back in November, he responded to the shock of a third-ball duck on the first morning with a largely forgotten 110, England's first hundred of a now-bountiful summer of centuries. Today, he put his boot on Australia's throat with his 42nd half-century of his 81-Test career. And in the course of his innings he become only the 11th Englishman to pass 6000 Test runs.
A world record crowd was tipped - just like it was four years ago - but the latest Boxing Day attempt fell short at 84,345. That's still a number only Eden Gardens could manage, but with all the hype it was disappointing not to topple the 90,800 of the second day of the 1960-61 West Indies Test. Stephen Gough, the Melbourne Cricket Club chief executive, said there would be a review of the ticketing arrangements after the crowd was well under its capacity of 96,500. He blamed the shortfall on the MCC members' reserve and public, corporate and AFL members.
Shortly before play there were 55,000 in the ground and there were 80,084 when the players went off for rain at lunch. Throughout the day the stadium was generally subdued, just like in the previous Ashes Test here. On that occasion 89,155 turned up even though the series was already over. Those spectators got to see Shane Warne's 700th wicket and England dismissed for 159.
Warne is a Victorian hero who grew from a chubby kid into the game's most successful legspinner with 708 wickets. At the end of next year he'll be an MCG statue, hoping not to attract some of Bill Lawry's pigeons. He will be the first subject in the ground's "Avenue of Legends" project and will add to the 10 statues already outside the MCG, which include Dennis Lillee, Keith Miller, Bill Ponsford and Don Bradman. There has also been a push to get Warne out of retirement, but that can now stop after he was taken for 20 hypothetical runs in the nets at tea by the actor Hugh Jackman. Life as a public figure will have to do.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo and Peter English is the Australasia editorFeeds: Peter English
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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