Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day

Australia restore WACA spirit

The WACA came to life on the second day as England fought valiantly in the face of oppressive heat and aggressive bowling

Jarrod Kimber in Perth

December 14, 2013

Comments: 24 | Text size: A | A

Kevin Pietersen was made to hop about, Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 2nd day, December 14, 2013
The WACA's fearsome reputation was on display as England toiled in the heat © PA Photos
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It's not a long walk from either team hotel to the WACA. For the Australians, they have one hill to climb, and then are pretty much at the ground. For England it's even closer. It would be an idyllic walk through the heavenly Queen's Gardens.

But if you're a player, you don't walk to a Test cricket ground. You're driven. You just arrive to play some cricket. The WACA isn't like other grounds. Perth, like Chennai and Dubai, seems to be closer to the sun than other places. It feels like you are part of some alien child's magnifying-glass torture experiment. The Fremantle doctor seems like a myth most of the time, lazily mentioned by commentators from their air conditioned booths. People think tall bowlers are picked here because of the bounce, but it's mostly so the batsmen have some shade.

The ground is a throw back to the old Australia; hard, but fair. The footpaths are stained as you walk in. Weird liquids drip on you in old buildings. The toilets are concreted bunkers that smell like a short ball from Mitchell Johnson. The temporary stand near the scoreboard had temporary chairs, and was banned years ago by the Geneva convention. Even the grass banks are too hot for human use on days like this. The entire place was built to test the spectators as much as the players. If there was a Caribbean-style pool at the WACA, it would boil people.

On the field you have the WACA pitch. Which carry by carry, crack by crack is trying to get back to its glory days. One ball from Peter Siddle just jumped away. Johnson's deliveries tended to punch Brad Haddin's hands. It's the same pitch on which Rod Marsh kept wicket with steak in his gloves. Today, that very steak would have cooked after minutes.

Then there are the cracks. Before the Test, the WACA looks virginal, by the end of day two it looks like it's turning tricks to pay for its habit. The ball has barely kissed anything at the moment. But everyone has seen the Youtube clip of Curtly Ambrose sending a ball under Greg Blewett's stumps, or even worse, the second XI game where David Warner and Daniel Smith were almost killed.

England chose this surface, and this ground, to play their must-win innings. They did that through constant bad play. Kill or be killed is sort of perfect here. With Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook at the crease, it was jumper-punch Test cricket.

Pietersen refused to play a shot. Pietersen refused to run silly singles. Pietersen was stopped from scoring. Cook played Cook. Had a bell rung every time he used the middle of the bat, you would've heard it once an hour. The inside of his bat had a magnet, the outside of his bat was in full squirting mode. It wasn't the non-sweating, lizard god Cook of 2010-11, it was the battling captain trying to save his team.

They toughed, grinded, stuck and ducked. Balls barely missed the outside edge. Near chances veered off the open face through gaps. Catches almost carried. Run-outs seemed only a pause away. Mis-hits dangled in the air. Late swing provided strange noises from fielders. There was saliva dribbling off the chins of the slips.

 
 
This series has been the very opposite of a lovely stroll in the park for England. It's been a limp through an abattoir being chased by an English-hating, axe-wielding maniac.
 

But they kept fighting. The showman and the office manager. The men who beat India. The players who can change a session, day or Test. The two men who will soon be first and second on England's all-time scoring list.

Against them was a swarm of bowlers suited to the surface. Johnson eats batsmen here. Ryan Harris finds a good length and strangles it. Siddle, who will run in to bowl through razor wire. And Watson's gentle-looking dangerous swing.

Clarke used them like it was a T20 game. Changing them at will. Keeping them all fresh, seemingly all the time. To mock England more, the pitch gave seam movement, and the hard cloudless sky still allowed some swing. When the sun, pitch and opposition weren't enough, Clarke egged the crowd to get behind Johnson as he ran in. Forty-three degrees, 15,000 screaming fans and Mitch's moustache. It's a lot to take in.

KP and Cook survived. One playing against muscle memory, the other playing a teeth grinder. It seemed like England had finally won a big battle. Cook was set, KP was in. Maybe the hollow sounding "We're gonna win 3-2" chants were right.

Then Nathan Lyon came on. It should have been a break, instead it was the end of the partnership. If you are wondering why so many stupid-looking shots are played at the WACA, it's because you don't understand the sun, the ground and the pitch. Cook didn't play the cut shot badly through stupidity or hubris, he did it because of everything that went before it. Not the humiliation at the Gabba or the crushing loss in Adelaide, but 212 minutes of standing out there and playing this in-form, carnivorous side in this mood, in this climate.

Soon after Pietersen was stopped, mocked and changed by Australia, the WACA seemed to get him out as well. When Siddle finally took his wicket he howled like a savage dog over a fresh corpse. That was the WACA scream. Had England survived, had they prospered, had they even just held their own, Siddle would have screamed the same way, but for a different reason.

England thought they had Australia's measure coming into this series. They were right to think so. This series has been the very opposite of a lovely stroll in the park for England. It's been a limp through an abattoir being chased by an English-hating, axe-wielding maniac.

Today their best men, trying their hardest, fought as hard as they could. England still lost the day. Tomorrow they walk out into the WACA heat once again.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

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Posted by Spofforth1877 on (December 15, 2013, 14:47 GMT)

Another brilliant article from Jarrod - fast becoming my favourite cricket writer.

Posted by   on (December 15, 2013, 13:39 GMT)

The English-hating axe-wielding maniac could be either Warner or Johnson. Johnson got a wicket and took a good bowler out in one ball! The axe-wielding maniac seems more appropriate to Warner. If he had an axe in his hands instead of a bat then there actually will be carnage. Great to watch though!

Posted by latecut_04 on (December 15, 2013, 11:44 GMT)

@InsideHedge really...you must be kidding....did not see true wickets but the pitches were much drier that they usually were when Steyn and Co came calling last summer..really seem to have short memory

Posted by   on (December 15, 2013, 10:09 GMT)

We need a return to those lightening quick pitches of yesteryear, especially with the queue of young Aussie pacemen waiting in the wings. Hard wickets, hard cricket and hard men.

Posted by Greatest_Game on (December 15, 2013, 3:13 GMT)

@ Ragav999 asked "@Greatest_Game: Why don't you mention that Aus likes the entire SA country for tests and ODI's even more than SA? Aus have a better record than SA in tests and ODI's since 1990."

Because the subject of the story is the WACA, and not Australia's record. Is that not obvious to you? The headline reads "Australia Restore WACA Spirit." There is a big clue there. Perhaps you missed it?

Posted by pat_one_back on (December 14, 2013, 21:50 GMT)

Eng played with the dour determination that was their successful brand pre-Brisbane and might well have gotten away with the day's honours were it not for the completeness of this Aust attack. Huge wraps all round for a compelling day however it seems at best Eng have only dragged defeat out from Day 3 to Day 4. Aust attacked lengths Eng had cleaned Aust up with that morning but produced streaky runs more than early chances. With Cook & Carbs set Clarke responded patiently, staring Eng down bowling relentlessly in the corridor, daring them to make their own fortunes rather than feed off all out attack, it worked, Carbs in two minds then Cook & KP cracked under scoreboard pressure, brilliant plan, near perfectly executed

Posted by Chris_P on (December 14, 2013, 21:26 GMT)

@SurlyCynic . I know from reading many auto biographies from retired Aussie test players how may of them related to the similarities of the South African/Australian pitches. Warne always enjoyed Capetown for both the spin & bounce he got. Perth in the 70's & 80's has always been referred to in hushed tones, such was the pace of the pitches, it is slowly returning back to its glory days. It reached it lowest (& slowest) during the Indian/South African 1st time victory) & has since slowly returning to its former pace. You re spot on with the variety of the test pitches down here, no 2 are alike, although I do miss the old SCG spinning tracks of 10/15 years ago, although still aiding spin, not as much as it used to.

Posted by SurlyCynic on (December 14, 2013, 19:30 GMT)

@InsideHedge: I think the comparison to the Wanderers is an interesting one. I'd say the Wanderers starts out equally bouncy but doesn't 'age' the same way over the 5 days as the cracks don't open up as much.

As for SA 'flattening' the Wanderers out when facing opposition pacers, I've never seen that. Perhaps you've forgotten Aus won there last tour? Maybe ask Cummins how flat it was?

I admire the variety of pitches in Aus but I think SA is similar like that. When Pakistan played tests there earlier this year Newlands was like a subcontinental pitch - Ajmal took 10 wickets and said he felt right at home. Wanderers = pace and bounce, PE / CT take turn (possibly some early seam depending on conditions), Durban = slow seaming, Centurion = bounce and seam. Similar variety to Aus imo.

Posted by InsideHedge on (December 14, 2013, 18:15 GMT)

I don't believe the WACA pitch is faster or bouncier than the fare that was served up at the Wanderers just a few days go against India in a ODI. The 1st Test between SA and India will be played there in just a few days so we'll get a good comparison.

What struck me in the recent ODI was the amount of seam off the pitch as well as bounce and the rapid speed thru to the keeper. The WACA was terrifyingly quick from the 70s thru the 90s, it defn slowed up in the noughties, a little quicker now but not what it was like in the past.

It should be noted though that the Aussies produce the same WACA pitch regardless of the opposition. SA, on the other hand, are insecure - they'll flatten it out if there's a speedster or two in the oppo's attack. Australia is the only country with a perfect variance of Test pitches, all the venues are different to each other with Sydney offering plenty for the spinners. If only the Asian countries could do this, we'd see more competitive Test cricket.

Posted by Beertjie on (December 14, 2013, 18:08 GMT)

Lovely evocative article. A competitive day for a change but the outcome should still be predictable. SA in 2008 was the turn-around England should seek to emulate.

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