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The spectators, like the bowlers, had to earn their rewards on the opening day in Melbourne but, once again, the pressure built by Australia's attack kept them on top
December 26, 2013
'Getting KP would have been nice' - Harris
Colin McDonald scored five Test centuries but reckons his most memorable innings was the 91 he made against West Indies at his home ground, the MCG, in 1960-61. "I would rather have got a hundred," he said, "but I can still dine out on the fact that I got one run for every thousand people there."
There were 90,800 at the MCG when McDonald missed his century 52 years ago, a world-record attendance for a single day of Test cricket until 91,092 turned up on Boxing Day 2013. No batsman can claim a McDonald-like feat this time, so dour was the play. Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle accumulated a dot ball per thousand spectators (and then some), but if they try to dine out on the story they'll go hungry.
Dot balls and maidens are not sexy. When Australian fans think back to this series in future years they'll remember Mitchell Johnson's speed, the way he had England's batsmen jumping. That will be true also of the record crowd on Boxing Day. For the first six hours, the spectators largely entertained themselves. Boxing Day is as much a social event as a cricket occasion, a once-a-year-catch-up.
As stumps approached they were roused - and probably soused. Johnson's spell with the second new ball drew the kind of cheers, chants and hand-clapping that close one-day finishes did back in the 1980s. As Tim Bresnan ducked a bouncer nudging 150kph, as he failed to evade another soon afterwards and was nearly caught at leg gully, the crowd bayed.
Johnson has rightly stirred the spectators throughout this series; the line of children at Cricket Australia's family day at the MCG on Monday was full of kids who wanted to be the next Mitchell Johnson, or the next David Warner. Whatever they did, it had to be exciting. The roars when Johnson had Ben Stokes caught at slip, and then rattled Jonny Bairstow's off stump during his quick and fiery late spell suggested the adult fans agreed.
The 91,092 spectators will remember that last half hour, the bouncers, the five slips, the plays and misses, the sense that anything might happen. They won't recall the dots and maidens, dots and maidens, dots and maidens that accrued earlier in the day, as they have throughout the series, often from the opposite end to Johnson, enhancing the pressure felt by batsmen facing him.
Lots of dots and not of shots, Dr Seuss might have observed if he'd watched the first day at the MCG. England's batsmen spent much of their time playing for survival, a natural instinct against Johnson, and an expected reaction given the thoughtless way some of their players have been dismissed in the first three Tests. But rotating the strike would have alleviated the pressure that built, in particular from Harris and Siddle.
Harris sent down 104 dot balls throughout the day, Siddle 110. The lengths bowled by Harris made him harder to drive than a monster truck. Siddle was especially miserly against Kevin Pietersen. He bowled 69 deliveries to Pietersen and only six were scored from. This year Siddle's method of drying Pietersen's runs has generally returned his wicket. Here it didn't, but Pietersen nearly succumbed twice to Harris.
It was as if Pietersen had decided Siddle would not get him an 11th time in Test cricket, and thus felt Harris was the man to score runs off. Pietersen had 6 from 44 balls when he hooked Harris and was caught at fine leg, only for Nathan-Coulter Nile to carry the ball over the boundary. By the time Pietersen had faced 110 deliveries, that six was one of only two boundaries he had managed; not surprisingly he tried to pull when Harris gave him the hint of a short ball, but George Bailey at short midwicket couldn't cling on.
Ian Bell was similarly becalmed, ultimately edging a ball he might have left had he not been starting to fret about scoring runs rather than surviving. "[Bowling in areas they're not comfortable] is what we didn't do in England, especially with Bell. We sat down at the start of the series and really concentrated on him and trying to tie him down, and that worked today with him nicking one," Harris explained. "The same as the rest of the batsmen, we're trying to tie them down and put as much pressure on them as possible and make them make the play.
"If we're bowling like we did today we're going to have days like that where they're not scoring many runs for the day because we're putting so much pressure on them. I think they are aggressive normally, I just don't think we're letting them be aggressive. Cooky came out this morning and was aggressive, and once we got through that first hour we pulled it back and he got himself out I guess. KP's normally aggressive but we've bowled well enough to him to not let him dictate and play his own game."
Australia's economy has been the envy of the world during the global financial crisis and the envy of England during this series. Again it was accumulating dots and maidens that accounted for Joe Root, though in his case it was Johnson stopping the runs and Harris who claimed the reward. Root seemed incapable of rotating the strike against Johnson, so intent he was on surviving.
He batted out 34 dots to Johnson from 40 balls faced; his last 42 balls from any bowler brought only six runs. Harris came on, Root wanted to feel bat on ball, maybe push a single, and edged a superb outswinger behind. Alastair Cook, too, pushed outside off, though he was a victim not of dots and maidens in this match so much as in the first three of the series. His prior lack of scoring intent seemed to weigh on his mind and led to a brisk opening and an edge to a Siddle ball he might have left.
England finished the day at 6 for 226; not since 1997 had a team batted throughout a full, non rain-affected first day in Melbourne and scored so few runs. The Australians in the crowd will remember few of the runs and little of the pressure built by Siddle, Harris, Johnson, Shane Watson and Nathan Lyon, whose early spell especially was economical.
Johnson's late, quick spell will be the lasting memory. But as in Brisbane, and Adelaide, and Perth, Siddle and Harris built the pressure. They may not dine out on their figures in years to come, but they should be satisfied with their work in front of a record crowd.
Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets hereFeeds: Brydon Coverdale
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