Cricket's excursion indoors in Melbourne today may have afforded the sport one of its more novel developments of recent years but there was no escaping at least one familiar refrain. In the midst of a match riven with a heavily futuristic touch at the state-of-the-art Colonial Stadium, seasoned campaigner Australia encountered very little resistance on its way to a triumph over South Africa by a margin of ninety-four runs.
To say that there was something surreal in a general sense about today's proceedings would be more than just a slight understatement. 'Outdoor' cricket was not only being played indoors (the first time ever for a one-day international) but being staged in Australia in August and commencing before almost as many empty bays of seating as spectators themselves. That all came after the twenty-two players were introduced to the audience as part of a fifteen-minute light show. It was all very unusual to say the least.
For all of the oddities before an audience which eventually swelled in number to 25785, though, there was as much to admire in Australia's game - and, in particular, the contribution of two of its star players, Michael Bevan and Steve Waugh - as is frequently the case these days. A diet of unremarkable South African medium pace bowling, and the pair's insatiable appetite for one-day international runs, lifted the Australians to a commanding total of 5/295 after they had been inserted. Their opponents never really came close to the point of finding an answer.
It was a position of strength that had seemed unlikely when the Australians tumbled toward the precarious mark of 3/37 in the tenth over of the day. By that stage, the combination of some fine new ball bowling from Shaun Pollock (1/46) and Roger Telemachus (2/54), the manifestation of early life in the drop-in pitch, and some over-extravagant strokeplay from Mark Waugh (17) and Ricky Ponting (16), had consigned the locals to a plight from which recovery did not look easy. The early departure of new vice-captain Adam Gilchrist (1) to another familiar sight - Jonty Rhodes causing a run out with a direct hit from point - also shaped as a major blow.
Easy though Bevan and Waugh made it look with an association which helped them rewrite the record books on a day when much history was already being made around them. Bevan (106) was the dominant partner early, racing to his half-century with a succession of artfully played shots on both sides of the wicket. Waugh (114*) then exploded during the closing stages of the innings, drawing to his century in the forty-fifth over precisely one delivery after his fellow New South Welshman had raised his own such landmark. Before a miscued Bevan off drive at Pollock was brilliantly clutched only inches above the turf by Jacques Kallis (racing in from long off), they had mounted a new record mark for fourth wicket stands for their country in this form of the game. They had also moved to within two runs of eclipsing the all-time highest partnership for Australia in one-day internationals - namely, the 224 added by Dean Jones and Allan Border against Sri Lanka in Adelaide in 1984-85. Run out chances went begging with Waugh on 23 and 24 respectively and, with them, essentially disappeared the visitors' aspirations of victory. Otherwise, the two players' bats were impassable, their defences impregnable, and even across a patchy, partly soggy outfield, their shots were controlled expertly.
Throughout the afternoon, a look of sameness in the bowling of Lance Klusener, Nantie Hayward, Andrew Hall and Kallis very much worked to Australia's advantage. From early in their mammoth stand, Bevan and Waugh were able to dictate terms to the bowlers and they never relinquished their advantage. The Proteas, for their part, consistently erred for length, bowling too short in the middle stages before pitching the ball too full as a rule toward the end.
When it came South Africa's turn to reply, Gary Kirsten (43) and Kallis (42) hit some fine strokes as they led a determined effort. But, against an attack that far more keenly recognised the importance of confining itself to bowling just short of a driveable length and on or around the line of off stump, the task was always too challenging. Although he went wicketless, Glenn McGrath (0/28) was possibly the pick of the home team's bowlers; back in their home town, all-rounder Ian Harvey (3/41) and a relaxed-looking Shane Warne (2/39) also acquitted themselves well.
"We got the momentum going our way and South Africa couldn't seem to pull it back," enthused Waugh after the match. "We were very good in the field ... if we play that well again, we're going to be very hard to beat."
In truth, this was a game which never reached any great heights but its historic significance still brought to it much interest. Certainly, the stadium itself seemed to survive the experiment well. A few of the players acted much like charged particles would do in any confined space - taking a while to come fully to grips with the concept of playing under a roof - but they were soon bubbling away happily in their new surroundings. Even against the strains of the cacophony of music which greeted incoming batsmen, changes of bowler, wickets, fours and sixes, there were also at least the occasional moments of entertaining cricket before a lid of another kind - the one on South Africa's coffin - was formally nailed shut.