August 2, 2013
Choice of game
With the Aussies returning to the shores from whence they came, and no Test scheduled for my local venue, Edgbaston (scandalous, I might add), I opted for the curtain-raiser of the pivotal third Ashes Test at an extensively redeveloped Old Trafford. It's the first occasion on which I've attended the opening day of an Ashes Test match, and nothing quite compares to that spine-tingling first airing of "Jerusalem" as the players take the field. Against the Old Enemy, it's especially poignant.
Michael Clarke. Chris Rogers can consider himself rather unfortunate to have missed out here - it was his uncharacteristically fluent and aggressive innings at the top of the order that set the tone for a fine Australian batting performance - but the tourists, as is so often the case, owe much of their early success in this Test match to their brilliant captain.
Clarke's unbeaten century was not his most authoritative, nor was it bursting with the effortless elegance that we've become accustomed to, but it steered his team in to what could prove to be a match defining position of strength come the end of a scorching hot day in Manchester. After a tentative start in which he groped at a probing James Anderson like a promiscuous teen, Clarke found his dancing shoes and combined fleet-footed, crisp footwork with nothing short of Rolex timing. He knows a thing or two about making it a big one, too, so expect plenty more to be added on day two.
One thing I'd have changed about the day
Well, England winning the toss would have been nice, wouldn't it? On a magnificent English summer's day which, when combined with a largely unresponsive surface, provided about as much assistance to England's seam bowlers as a 16-year-old work experience employee would to MI6, it was just about the perfect day for batting.
Oh, and the minor issue of howling third-umpire decisions as part of the DRS process could do with some remedying, couldn't it?
The interplay I enjoyed
Anderson to Clarke. James Anderson possesses a fine record against Australia's captain, and for 30 minutes or so at the beginning of the latter's innings it had looked a trend comfortably set to continue. Clarke offered the look of a man batting knee-deep in treacle, but somehow managed to survive the inquisition to see England's conjuror off and set himself for what was to become his 26th Test century. Only Shane Watson, who served up the batting equivalent of Quasimodo, had looked more out of kilter before reaching double figures.
Usman Khawaja's dismissal being upheld. Then Steve Smith surviving after England were utterly convinced that he had edged a James Anderson delivery through to wicketkeeper Matt Prior. Without seeing replays any clearer than those displayed on the big screen inside the ground, they appear on the face of things to have been a) clearly incorrect and b) another nail in the coffin of a review system that has already had a 300ft deep grave dug by India's cricketing hierarchy.
Filling the gaps
Thwaite's finest. A roast pork and stuffing bap. Spiced potato wedges. The varied cuisine that filled the gaps between the cricket (and the one in my stomach) had the simultaneous effect of emptying my wallet at a pace swifter than Mike Gatting going up for thirds at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Pretty quiet, actually. Whether I'm just accustomed to the gladiatorial atmosphere of an England Test at Edgbaston, or whether the English contingent had been shocked in to silence by the sight of an Australian batting unit showing some application and looking like actual cricketers, it was a largely subdued affair. A word for the large gathering of Aussie "Fanatics" sat behind me, though. They were naturally stunned and delighted in equal measure by the close of play scoreboard, but provided great value throughout the day and took banter as liberally as they dished it out. It is one of the great joys of being a cricket spectator that you can share a beer with someone from the other side of the world and have a good chat, regardless of what is taking place on the field.
Jonathan Trott spent a short period of the afternoon session out on the boundary in front of where we were sat, and soon copped some abuse from a well-oiled Aussie. Trott is a batsman renowned for his ability to exist untroubled within his own bubble when out in the middle, but Trott the fielder is clearly a different proposition. Whatever had been said angered the England No. 3, and his Australian assailant was quick to ignore an offer to come down and say it to his face. The Australian bowlers should ask the spectator in question for a few tips.
DRS gaffes aside, that was what Test cricket is all about. Blazing sunshine, unrelenting cricket from both sides and a full house. Australia are in a commanding position, but the beauty of Test cricket is that, come lunch tomorrow, that outlook could have dramatically changed.
Marks out of 10
8. Painfully prolonged third-umpire referrals took plenty of the spontaneity out of the game, and the fact that they were then incorrect added a farcical edge that didn't sit well. Thankfully, the weather and the majority of the cricket made for a tremendous day out.
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