August 3, 2013
Choice of game
When the Ashes tickets were put on sale, I leapt at the chance to pay an inaugural visit to Old Trafford. With the millions spent on the extensive new development, and the lack of opportunity to sample an Ashes Test at my nearest venue, Edgbaston - and I'll echo Andy Bloxham's view that it is shocking that Birmingham was overlooked for this Ashes - I decided to head north. I had hoped the game would be nicely poised for my arrival on the second day, but instead England were up against it. I optimistically predicted that England could skittle out Australia for under 450 and begin their reply from the afternoon session.
England all the way. However the purist in me had to admire Michael Clarke's batting. I realised I wouldn't have been too disappointed if I was able to applaud his double ton.
Graeme Swann. There are perfectly valid reasons for picking Clarke, Mitchell Starc or even Peter Siddle, but Swann edges it for me. His five scalps on a wicket that is unusually conducive to spin in the first innings kept most of the Australian batsmen honest. But the real reason is that when Alastair Cook seemed content to let the game drift and wait for Clarke to wave his batsmen in, Swann was the only bowler who voiced the crowd's frustration - gesturing to his captain that the fields he was bowling to were wholly ineffectual.
One thing I'd have changed about the day England's plan in the afternoon session. It was like watching a team go through the motions. Joe Root wasn't utilised well, the fields were uninspired and the atmosphere reflected this. If England had shown up after lunch with slightly more intensity, things might have gone differently. I also forgot to take any sunscreen and burnt my nose, so I'd probably change that given the choice.
The interplay you enjoyed
Though David Gower might not agree with it, David Warner's reception as he came to the crease was fantastic. This wasn't England fans disrespectfully booing Ricky Ponting, this was a pantomime villain being given his antihero's welcome. His wry smile said it all as he bounded down the steps of the new pavilion.
Starc hit some gorgeous shots, and Clarke's three consecutive boundaries off Tim Bresnan stick in the mind, but it was the standing ovation Clarke received after his dismissal that made me go 'wow'. The entire stadium stood to appreciate one of the best innings by an Australian captain in England, and easily one of the most important innings of that man's career.
Credit must go to Jonny Bairstow today. With the crowd nervous, restless and quiet for the first hour or so, they suddently erupted when Bairstow steadied himself under Steve Smith's mistimed sweep. With the ball lodged firmly in his hand, he turned round to the huge temporary stand and pumped his fists. Suddenly the crowd was in the game, if only briefly, before England's soporific performance did its best to silence even the most vociferous of fans.
Shot of the day
When Alastair Cook turned a ball off his pads from Nathan Lyon it broke a drought that had spanned nearly five overs. After watching Australia's lower order look like they were batting on a bit of the M6, watching England labour away in the evening took a fair amount of patience. That one run was rewarded with one of the loudest cheers of the day.
As expected after the first day's proceedings, the crowd was initially quiet, though everyone assumed it needed one spark to bring them to life. Though Smith's dismissal and Warner's cameo provided this, the fire didn't catch, and the flame whimpered out until the afternoon session, when an Aussie touring party and a gaggle of well-lubricated England fans began to engage in a back-and-forth sing-along session. It petered out as the security guards arrived to make sure it was all in good spirit, and quickly started again as soon as they turned their backs.
Old Trafford was, in every way, fit for test match cricket, though accusations of a 'corporate' pitch may not be so easy to ignore if the pitch refuses to deteriorate as it did today. The atmosphere, however, was disappointing, though this can only reflect what is happening on the field. It didn't go quite right for England today, and whether it's England's job to lift the crowd, or the crowd's job to lift England, neither party can claim to have had a good day at the office.
Marks out of 10
Six out of ten today. Must try harder tomorrow.
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