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Why do We Enjoy it more when our Team Wins?

Someone recently asked me why I bothered staying up all night even though Australia was getting smashed.  My response was that cricket is cricket and the Ashes in England comes around just once every four years.  Honestly, I do enjoy it when my team wins but I will watch Test cricket no matter what.   But how many are truly like that?  How many spectators are lost when their team fails?  How many fair weather friends does Australian cricket have?

I recently came across a very nice piece written by a girl of almost 20.  I’m pleased to say it was my own daughter and while she clearly indicates that she likes her team to win, it is even clearer that “the Game’s the thing”.  We must keep in mind that Maddie knew only victory for the first 15 years of her life.  She could not appreciate what winning the 1989 Ashes series meant to those who endured the lows of the mid-eighties.  Thanks to the current state of Australian cricket, at some point in the future, she can look forward to a similar feeling.

While I admit to being biassed, I thought Maddie’s piece worth posting on this humble blog so here it is:

Some girls love netball.  Some love dolls.  Some love to dance.  Some even love cars.  Me, I love cricket.  I love everything about it, I love to watch it, I love to play it, I even love to read about it.  I love the sound a new, hard, red cricket ball makes when it hits the centre of a bat sweetly.  I love the fear induced adrenaline you feel before that little, hard ball stings your hands when you field it, and in my case, sometimes, (almost always), drop it.  I love the beauty in a simple cricket ground, with healthy green grass, enclosed by a white, picket fence.  I love the roar of a crowd when the much anticipated batsman from a team steps out onto the field to play.  I love the moment when that wicket you have been waiting to fall, falls.

I love days in the summer sun, watching cricket at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG), and I hate the summer sun.  I love cricket so much that I spend hours in the sun that burns my snowflake like skin.  I love cricket so much that even if I’m rather sure my country (or team) will lose, I still watch the game, because I just love the beauty of the sport.  The way a bowler steams in, and somehow, that little ball flies out of his hand, hits the pitch, and angles in towards the batsman.  It may look simple, but I can assure you, it’s not.  I’ve heard people remark many times on how “soft” cricket is, and that immediately assures me that they’ve never played a match.

I can tell you I copped a lot of flack over the years for loving cricket.  Sometimes people play down their love for something, that isn’t ‘cool’ or actually join in when others mock them for what they love.  I don’t, and won’t, do that with cricket.  I own my love for it, I love it that much, and it’s hard to explain why sometimes, hence this little epistle.

Over the years I’ve had many a special moment or memory centred on cricket.

There is a photo of me as a baby, in our backyard, with my dad, the man who introduced me to cricket.  I’m wearing a frilly, little, pink dress.  My daddy is holding me, crouching down next to some dear, old, wooden stumps and bails.  No plastic or metal nonsense for us, thank you very much.  I look at the picture and think ‘cradle to crave’.  I’m not entirely sure when my dad instilled in me the love for cricket, but that photo sure proves he started when I was young.  And I’m glad he did.

Cricket was an instrumental part of my childhood.  I’m so glad my dad didn’t decide not to share his love of the sport with me because I was a girl, particularly a blonde, fair skinned one too.  Gender shouldn’t define what it is alright to love, and that’s all I shall say on that line.

Like I said, cricket and my childhood go hand-in-hand.

On summer evenings, after dad came home from work, we would play backyard cricket.  After I turned seven, I was finally old enough to join Dad on the annual pilgrimage to the SCG to watch Australia in what was usually the final test of the summer.

At seven, I wasn’t really old enough to fully appreciate eight hours of test cricket, but Dad packed some colouring things, and some old-school electronic games, and I was just fine.  Dad even drew with me.  I’m old enough now to realise the sacrifice on his part, to see how much love it showed for me, and for sharing cricket with me.

He could have left me at home, and watched the game in peace.  He could’ve just left me to draw on my own, but he didn’t.  He could’ve taken me to a One Day International, but he didn’t.  My Dad has always maintained that Test cricket is “where it’s at”, so to speak.  I heartily share this view, though I will admit I do love a cracking Twenty20.

The next memory I have, isn’t exactly a cricket experience.  Rather, it is one that I missed.  The Ashes were being played in England, Steve and Mark Waugh were batting together, at Lords, (I believe Steve was into the 100s).  It was the middle of the night in Australia, but naturally, my dad was up watching.  Thus, this being what he deemed a special moment in cricket, he decided to wake me up, school be damned.  But I wouldn’t wake.  He got me out of bed, set me up on the lounge, tried to get me to watch, to share the moment with me, but I would not be stirred.  So he put me back to bed.  I wish I had woken, I hate that I didn’t, I hate that I missed that moment, but I have the next best thing, the memory of what almost was.  [Dongles: I’m glad Maddie remembers this because I don’t!  Anyway, I’m pretty sure Maddie is referring to 2001 at the Oval when both of the twins made centuries.  Steve Waugh, not allowed a runner, hobbled down the pitch and flopped into his ground to complete a suicidal single and make his century.  It was a shame Maddie missed that.]

My next key cricket memory is a memory I will hold dear until my dying day.  I can pinpoint all the details; day, venue, teams, even the time frame.

January 3rd, 2003, just before stumps on Day 2 of the Sydney Test, against England.  Australia was already 4-0 up in the series, we’d secured the Ashes, (though we did go on to lose that test).  It had already been a pretty big day, specifically for Steve Waugh, he had passed 10000 Test runs, a momentous feat for any batsman, (at that point, he was only the third man to achieve it).

At the start of the final over of the day’s play Steve was 95, and on strike, with Adam Gilchrist, (who I adore, which I will elaborate on later).  The ground was humming with excitement.  Five runs off six balls was very achievable.  The SCG was Steve’s home ground, he’d been playing beautifully all day, had already achieved one milestone, and if he got the century before the close of play he would equal Sir Donald Bradman’s 29 Test centuries.

On the fourth ball of the over, Steve hit a 3.  98.  On the fifth ball of the over Gilly hit a single, (which could have easily been two, but he just took one, to give Steve the strike – just one of many reasons I love Gilly).

The ground roared.  I swear, the entire ground was standing, clapping their hands.  I was up on my seat, standing next to my Daddy, clapping my little hands too.  The atmosphere was incredible, it is really what makes the memory so powerful for me.

The crowd stood, the final ball was bowled, and Steve smacked it out through the covers for four.

I had thought the crowd roared before, but it really roared then.  The stands were shaking with people stomping their feet, clapping their hands.  The cheering was electrifying.

It’s always a great moment when the ground cheers when there is a wicket, or a century, but this was something else.

I can’t entirely explain it, I mean, theoretically, it was just a man, making a century off the last ball of the day, not even the last day of the match.  He still had time to come back the next day and get the century.  I guess really it was just a combination of factors, he was the captain, the captain of an incredible team, who’d had incredible success, and a career saving innings (for he’d been in a bit of a slump).  Steve Waugh was an iconic player, he may have been rather gruff, but for all that, he held, and holds, a special place in my heart.

In fact, when he the next summer, I sat in my grandparents lounge, and watched his final innings.  I watched as Sachin Tendulkar, caught Steve out on the boundary for 80, and I sobbed, bitterly.  I’ve never quite forgiven The Little Master for it either, I’ll have you know.  I rang my dad, crying my eyes out, because Steve was out for 80.  I think I had been holding out for a little bit of that magic he’d produced the year before, I wanted another century.  But it was not to be, and I sobbed away, while my dad listened in gentle amusement.  I hope he was a little proud too, after all, my love for the game, and the moments it produces, is a product of his love for the game.

From here I guess I move on to Adam Gilchrist, and his retirement.  Before I dwell on that particular moment, I just want to reflect on why I love Gilly.  I love the flare with which he batted.  I loved his athletic ability, particularly in his keeping.  Most importantly, I loved his character, his sportsmanship.  I loved the way he ‘walked’.  If he knew he was out, he just went, even if the umpire hadn’t been going to give him out.  This character, was what I briefly mentioned when he just took a single in that Steve Waugh innings.

As my dad said in the article he wrote when Gilly retired, “Gillie was the player of dreams.  A player of legend.” I cried, sobbed, really, at age 14, when he announced his retirement.  We were holidaying at my grandparents’ lake house.  I was up in the top dwelling, watching the news, where I saw his retirement announced.  I got up, and ran down to the other dwelling, crying, to tell my dad the devastating news.  I shed no tears for Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath, but I loved Gilly, and I still do.

I don’t have too many particularly strong memories for quite some time following this.

I mean, I remember the rise of Michael Clarke, and Michael Hussey.  I remember that 6/9 from Pup, and Hussey’s hundred after hundred.  These events, and many others, added to my cricketing experiences.  I watched an entire Test once.  Somewhere around 2005, I guess.  I attended the first day at the ground, the SCG, then spent the next few days in front of the TV, just watching, seriously, all day, for the rest of the test.  During ‘Schoolies’ I watched hours of cricket, ignoring the ribbing I receive from my friends.  I cried and painted ash on my face when we lost The Ashes.  I watched Hussey, Clarke and Ponting all play incredible and memorable innings (particularly Clarke) at the SCG in 2012.  I played grade cricket myself just this last summer.  Mind you, I was not that impressive, but it was the experience, the playing of team sport, of sharing the experience with my dad, that I really enjoyed.

This summer provided me with a couple of memories, all really centring around two main events really.  The retirement of Ricky Ponting, and the retirement of Michael Hussey.

For quite some time, I had been quite frustrated with the career of Ricky Ponting.  I will never deny that he was an incredible batsmen, honestly, when he was in form, he was beautiful to watch.  But I never warmed to him as a player, and certainly not as a leader.  Upon his retirement this last summer I was very much relieved.  Sadly, I had been eagerly anticipating the event for a number of years.  When he retired, my dad wrote an article, as is his habit when a significant player retires.

I have read this article a lot of times since Dad published it.  I think it’s the best thing he’s ever written, and he’s written a lot of good things (particularly cricket related).  The article perfectly summed up my thoughts and feelings on the career of Ricky Ponting.  The article is called A Salute to King Ricky, and can be found here http://www.dongles.org/2012/12/a-salute-to-king-ricky/.

This is my favourite paragraph from the article: “It is my custom to deliver a tribute to an icon when they retire.  For most such players, this is usually an easy task.  A pleasure.  The emotion and the words flow.  In some cases, such as Mark Waugh and Gilchrist, I have to admit the tears almost flowed.  My daughter actually cried when Gilchrist retired.  I have no tears in me for Ponting.  Perhaps it is because he stayed too long.  There is a sense of relief that he is finally gone, and with the dignity and farewell he deserved (even if it involved no runs for himself or his team).  After some reflection, I realise it is because Ricky never had my heart.”

Ricky never had my heart.  But I respect his batting ability, and I was touched when the South Africans gave him a guard of honour.

I was also touched this summer by a number of events at the Sydney Test.  I found it was very moving, seeing Tony Greig’s iconic hat, balanced on the stumps, before play started for the Test.  The tributes to him following his death were very special, and heartfelt.  I particularly appreciated the history that was reviewed in the tributes to Tony.

I attended both the first and second day of the Sydney Test, and moved though I was by the afore mentioned matters to do with Tony Greig, I was more moved by the matter of Michael Hussey’s retirement.

When he announced his retirement I was quite upset, concerned, confused and disappointed, but I was not brought to tears.  But as I stood and applauded from Brewrongle Stand as Hussey walked out to bat, on Day 2, with the Indians giving him a guard of honour, I was brought to tears, sobs really.  I would’ve balled for an extended period of time, had I not been surrounded by dignified SCG members.  That being said, I did cry quietly for quite a bit, my eyes conveniently hidden by my sunglasses, my head nestled in Dad’s shoulder.

It was at this point that I realised how attached I am to Mike Hussey.  I couldn’t quite explain the sudden uprising of emotion, but luckily, my father wrote another quality article, for Hussey’s retirement, which largely summed up the reason behind my affection for him.

So Hussey retired, and with his retirement went the last team member from the good old days.

I remember the old days very fondly, where run making was frequent, wicket taking plenty, and Australian success almost assured.  These days, things are not quite so sunny for Australia.  When we win, it is often hard fought for, with one brave innings carrying us through (more often than not, that of Michael Clarke).  And yet, cricket does not cease to hold charm for me, I love it no less.  Perhaps is it more painful now than when the times were easy, and I was younger.  Even so, it does not stop me from anticipating matches, analysing statistics, and discussing the matters of Australia cricket, and international cricket at length (mainly with my father).

Thus ends my thoughts on cricket in my life so far.  There is great beauty in the sport, there can be great beauty in the sportsmanship of those who place it.  It can great historical moments, great friendships and great memories.

[Dongles:  No Maddie, thank you for the memories.]

 

 

 

The Weight (or not) of Expectation (or not)

The 2013 Ashes  series looks headed for many twists and turns between two evenly matched teams.  Seemingly, there is a lot less separating the teams than was thought, say, four weeks ago.  After a stunning start to the day, where England lost three wickets before the end of the  sixth over, Australia was struggling towards the end, once again at the hands of Ian Bell.  Then the Australians received an injection from an unexpected source (no, not DRS – not that unexpected).

On day one of the first Test, I went to bed about midnight, with Bell and Bairstow at the crease.  In a sleepy stupor, I turned the radio on towards the end of play and was surprised to find Australia three down, with Smith at the crease.  On day one of the second Test, I went to bed at around the same time, with the same two Englishmen batting.  Only this time when I turned the radio, the same two were still batting and Steve Smith was instead at the bowling crease.  I didn’t find until morning that shortly after, he claimed three quick wickets to get Australia back in the game.

Isn’t four years a long time?  My recollection is that in 2009, Steve Smith was the specialist spinner.  He was part of the revolving door approach to replacing Warne.  He went into that Ashes with heavy and unfair expectations on his shoulders and didn’t deliver the miracle that was hoped.  Four years later, having just squeaked into the team as a specialist batsmen, he has delivered a bowling performance of note.  To emphasise Smith’s status as a specialist batsman, note that he did not bowl a ball in the 1st Test, even as England scored 375 second innings runs.

I wonder if Smith is never called upon again to be the number one spinner, and is used judiciously by Clarke, if he might become a more than useful part time contributor to the bowling attack.  He is a wonderful cricketer and it does give Australians reason to hope.

But it makes me ponder how much expectations affect a players performance.  It should go without saying that the super stars of sport know how to handle expectation.  Was Shane Warne ever troubled by expectations.  I should think not!  He thrived on being the man.  But there is that category of player that has the natural ability and talent, who never reaches their expected potential because of their state of mind.  Look at Greg Norman in the golf world – how many majors would he have won if he could have handled the pressure?  The same goes for certain batsmen.  I’m not suggesting Steve Smith is one of these.

He was a young man who was placed under an unreasonable amount of pressure and talented as he is, was not up to delivering the performances hoped for at that time in his life.

I had thought about Agar’s innings last week.  Will he ever bat like that again?  The freedom with which he hit the ball appeared practically nerveless.  A 19 year old in his first Test, with his side in diabolical trouble.  But I believe that was a key factor.  The very fact that he was practically unknown, is 19 years old, was batting at 11 and every other batsman (expect for Smith) had failed dismally was in his favour.  Who could have expected anything from him at all in such a lost cause?

The very fact that he has now made 98 and has been moved to number 8 changes the equation.  I’m not saying I don’t think he will deliver.  It will be interesting to see just how good he is.  I got the impression that over the years, Gilchrist, champion batsman that he was, was never keen to move higher than number seven.  That would have put a pressure on him to deliver with the bat as a specialist batsman.  I heard him say as much.  The fact is that he delivered more with the bat than almost all other batsman but perhaps that success was partly due to his own expectation management.  As an aside, I will also note that he did score runs in pressure situations from as high in the order as number three.

As I go to press, Smith has just come to the crease with Australian in the usual strife.  For Steve Smith of Sydney opportunity knocks.

England Sports a Broad Smile

England takes a one-nil lead in the 2013 Ashes with a great win in a fantastic Test match.  While Australia may count themselves unlucky in some ways, I am in wonderment that they ever got so close.  They seemed to be playing catch up for most of the Test and at one stage they seemed dead and buried.  And yet, they provided a genuine scare.  They must take some positives out of the match, bitter pill that losing must have been.  And then there was the Broad incident.

It seemed fitting that the match was finally decided on a DRS decision.  Fortunately there wasn’t too much controversy about that.  However, there had been controversy over several of the third umpires decisions (Starc to Trott, the Agar stumping (which wasn’t really DRS) and several “umpire’s call” lbws) but it was the non-DRS that had Henny Penny (and Warnie) observing that the sky is falling.  As is often the case, Henny Penny forgot to look at her barometer and the situation was somewhat exaggerated.

At a critical time on day three, with England pressing for a commanding lead, Broad edged Agar to first slip and was inexplicably given not out.  The decision to give Broad not out was spectacularly poor and it did highlight some shortcomings in DRS but I really don’t see what the fuss is about.  Well, I do – the fuss is because it is a very emotional subject for many people.   But if we can stay a little objective perhaps some changes can be made.  To label Broad as a cheat is preposterous.  Several  batsmen in that match did not walk when they edged the ball, including the final one dismissed in the match: Brad Haddin.  None of them were cheats.

There are a few issues here and I will explore those, using quotes which I have lifted from a single Cricinfo article http://www.espncricinfo.com/the-ashes-2013/content/story/650817.html

One of the factors that got people worked up was that Broad didn’t just nick the ball – he fairly smashed it.  Aleem Dar’s decision was a shocker.  I don’t really understand it.  The appeal was unanimous and without hesitation, the ball deflected so much that in the short distance from the bat to Haddin’s gloves, it deviated enough to almost miss the ‘keeper’s gloves altogether.  And if Dar was watching, he would have noticed that Broad gave the game way – he walked three paces before having a final glance Dar to confirm his fate.  One of Australia’s local TV news reports labelled the error as the worst umpiring mistake in Ashes history.  And the hyperbola went on.  It’s unhelpful.  For more unhelpfulness, I quote Shane Warne on Twitter (courtesy of Cricinfo – I wouldn’t personally touch Twitter):

He [Dar] always gets the crucial decisions wrong & always has, that’s why he’s not a great umpire! We all make mistakes & it’s a very tough job being an umpire, but when Dar continually makes crucial mistakes why does he keep getting a gig?”

Warnie, you say it best, when you say nothing at all.

We could also suggest that if Australia had not used both of its referrals already, that it could have referred Broad and he would have been out faster than you could say Indiana Jones.  I doubt the third umpire would even have needed to see a replay.  Australia’s second unsuccessful review for lbw really was frivolous.  Glenn McGrath supports this view:

“DRS was brought in to correct obviously wrong decisions and that is how captains should use it. Alastair Cook does just that, he is very sparing with it, and hopefully Michael Clarke does the same after this…”

While I agree with McGrath that judicious use of referrals is necessary, the implication is that use of referrals enters into the tactical realm of cricket.  Clearly, the captain who was smartest in the this Test got the most out of the DRS system.  But isn’t the intention to eliminate as many umpiring errors as possible, especially matching impacting clangers such as the Broad decision?  This delivery of justice should not be dependent on the nous of captains.

I think Michael Vaughan said it well in suggesting that the triggers for invoking DRS should be reviewed.

“The review system was brought in to get rid of the howler, I don’t see why umpire Dar couldn’t have had someone is his ear saying you’ve got that one wrong let’s just overturn that quickly. This has been a terrific game but I think a lot will be talked about that incident, which is sad.”

The notion that DRS should be available for every appeal is a good one.  How it is implemented is tricky.  Initiating DRS is currently the responsibility of the players.  Naturally, there are restrictions in place or they would refer everything and waste a lot of time.  Let’s face it, a batsman never thinks he is out (Watson refers every lbw given against him – one of the reasons he wants to open is to ensure that there are DRS opportunities left) and bowlers always think the batsman is out (which is why Clarke needs not to listen to his bowlers in these matters).  If the matter rests solely with the umpires, how does that work in a timely manner?  How would the third umpire interject without disturbing the natural dynamics of the game (which are enough disturbed already)?  Will the bowler be running in to bowl the next ball before the 3rd umpire gets on the wire?  Should every decision be referred, in which case, why have standing umpires?

I don’t know the answer to those questions but something needs to be done.  The Broad/Bell partnership realised just under 60 more runs.  The final margin was just 14 runs.  While it can’t be categorically stated that it cost Australia the game, it is clear that there was a significant impact.  DRS should be regarded as a work in progress and the ICC should take moves to improve it so that incidents such as the Broad non-catch do not detract from the game itself.

Close but No Cigar for Smokin’ Agar

Day two of the 1st Test at Trent Bridge was as remarkable as it was memorable.  Records tumbled from a most unexpected source as 19 year old Ashton Agar scored 98, setting the highest score for a Test number 11.  In the process, he and Phillip Hughes posted a new all time Test record 10th wicket partnership and rescued, Australia from an embarrassing and parlous position.

I won’t give a blow-by-blow account of the innings although it would be fun.  Naturally I will be using my blog to celebrate a momentous achievement.  I had a meeting from 6:30 last night (play was scheduled to start at 8:00 p.m.).  I didn’t know how long the meeting would go for and it was a media black out.  The meeting went until 9:00 o’clock!  By the time I jumped into the car, play had been in progress for a full hour.

Does anyone else play “radio roulette”?  I play it in the middle of the night during Ashes series in England.  It’s involuntary.  Before you turn on the radio, you contemplate what might be the score.  Best and worst case scenarios flash through your mind.  And how will the state of play be communicated to you.  Will the commentators be kind enough to announce the score immediately or will you have to piece it together?

When I turned the car radio on last night, the first words I heard were, “Australia now have to try and get some momentum and make the most of this last wicket partnership.”  Now that was a somewhat distressing.  There was a slight delay in the play at that time and the BBC commentators were taking the opportunity to enjoy the state of play.  Contemplating England starting it’s second innings, one of them said, “It is a lovely day for batting.”  Geoff Boycott replied, “Yes, it is a lovely day for batting.  If you can bat.”  The score was 9/118 and I now know that the last wicket partnership had the momentum of one run.

Boycs couldn’t have dreamt the batting, nor the momentum shift, that he was about to witness.  I’m sorry that due to problems with syncing analogue radio with digital TV, I couldn’t hear Boyc’s description of the next two hours of play.  Ever the pessimist, I turned the car radio off and drove the 25 minutes home in silence wondering if Australia would take an early wicket before I started watching.

I was lucky.  I was spared from watching Australia plummet into the abyss but I did ride the tidal wave of euphoria as Agar (and Hughes) saved Australia with Messianic assurance.  I bracketed Hughes even though he was the senior player and his contribution was absolutely critical.  However, it was all Ashton Agar for me.  I made a rare (for me) Facebook post at the lunch break, when Agar was 69 – I haven’t cried so much since Gilchrist’s second Test match (Hobart, 1999).  While that was not quite true – Gillie brought tears to my eyes many times over the years – I couldn’t help the comparison.  Here was someone new to Test cricket doing truly great things and in a manner that was truly breath-taking.  As Langer was to Gilchrist when that huge partnership swept Australian to an incredible victory over Pakistan, Hughes was to Agar at Trent Bridge.

Before this Test, Agar was little known.  He is just 19 and had played a mere 10 first class matches.  He first surfaced earlier this year in the warm up matches prior to Australia’s disastrous tour of India, when he was temporarily added to the squad.  It should be remembered that Agar was not in the original Ashes squad either and joined the team from the parallel Australia A tour.  Nobody expected him to play in Trent Bridge.  When he was selected, it was noted that he could bat and had already made three first class half centuries.  Not many could have known how well he could bat.  He stuck the ball with timing, grace and power not to mention flair.  His follow through would have done Lara or Gilchrist proud.  He hooked and pulled ferociously.  But he hit straight handsomely, drove and even executed a back cut that would have pleased Bradman.

It is a great pity that Agar did not reach his century – he deserved it.  A century on debut.  The first century to a number 11 batsman in Tests.  It has never been done and he was well within one good shot of it.  A double century was thought to be the Holy Grail of ODI cricket.  It took 30 odd years of concerted effort but eventually the deed was done.  While it may not be something we think about much, which only highlights the unlikelihood, Test cricket is over 135 years old we still don’t have a winner for the no. 11 century.

All that being said, I don’t want to lose site of what that innings, and partnership meant to Australia and in fact, the series.  We recently wept with Starc as he was dismissed for 99 in India.   But that would have been an individual consolation in a doomed final Test of a doomed series.  The circumstances of this effort were somewhat different.  Australia, and quite possibly the series, was on the brink of disaster.  Well before the series started, many had predicted that the Australian bowling attack was capable of causing problems for England but the batting was simply too brittle for Australia to prevail.  And so it was proving.  It looked like England was going to bound away with this Test and quite literally win the match by hundreds.  They may still do this but due to that last wicket partnership, at least the match is evenly poised beyond the half way mark.

In the excitement of the moment, we should not forget what happened before that last wicket partnership.  There was a moment during the revelry when the cameras showed the Australian dressing room.  Not surprisingly, it was all smiles and jocularity.  Interestingly, Lehmann was an exception as he stood stony faced.  Perhaps the camera just caught him at a bad moment – he was smiling at other times.  I wonder if he was at that moment pondering the six guys nearby who had made just four runs between them.  Was he thinking about the team that was now laughing and happy, even though they had no right to be, as they were rescued in the most unexpected and enjoyable manner?

That record partnership realised 163 runs.  When Australia’s total reach 234, the partnership had reached the impressive proportions of 117 and had doubled the Australian score.  That is not something that happens often and to be frank, not something that you want to happen often.  But in fact, I do recall a recent instance where the same statistical feat was achieved.  It was less than three years ago that the Australian last wicket stand took the score from 21 to 47 against South Africa.  Ironically, it was the displaced and now forgotten Nathan Lyon who top scored, batting at number 11, scoring a rather less impressive 14.

By its conclusion, the partnership had reached epic proportions.  Agar and Hughes had increased the Australian score by 139%.    I still expect England to win.  On a dry pitch such as that, and with Australia’s batting troubles, and with Graeme Swann bowling to all those left handers in the final innings of the match, a lead of 100 runs was a bare minimum.  The lead would have to be 250 for Australia to be comfortable.  In the end it was just 65.  Seen in the context of what it could have been – indeed the deficit that was looming – the lead seems wonderful.  But in the context of what it needed to be, it is lean.

The significance to Lehmann himself and the team should not be overlooked.  I don’t know that it can help some of those lacking techniques.  But it did avert a shattering experience and as we all know, the mind is very important in sport.  Lehmann has been widely credited with fostering a change in moral in the lead up to this series.   But he can’t bat for his men and on field performance counts for more than anything.  Without that rescue act, any improvement in the lead up could quite easily have been shattered.  In addition to Agar, Phil Hughes got some much need runs and confidence, especially important after his disastrous tour of 2009.  He didn’t look good against Swann but he didn’t get out.  And let’s not forget another late inclusion to the squad.   Steve Smith, after a successful call up in India, was seemingly forgotten but he was the standout before that last wicket.

Who knows what today will hold.  Following the events of day two I would not dare guess.