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Carry on up the blog!

Why Cricket and why 51 days? Well, Cricket has been my main sporting passion for over 50 years and I had the chance – at long last – to follow an Ashes tour and, bowing to pressure from friends and family, resorted to resort to blogging my ‘adventures’ and now I’ve got the blog-bug, I’m carrying on! All the mistakes are mine, the opinions are mine and are not associated with any organisation I am currently involved with!

 

One day wonders

Each element was written at the same time or just after the end of each match of the series

Sunday – first one day match at the MCG – England win.

I leave Australia and England win? Are the two events connected? Would the ECB like to pay me not to watch England live?

A change of personnel, a change of captain and a new approach or is it that English cricket just has a one-day mentality and we don’t really want to play tests at all but need to go through the motions otherwise all credibility will be lost? India had the same ‘illness’ a few years ago and were reluctant to play the longer game but at last wise heads have prevailed – how long will it take the millions at the ECB to realise the same? Treat tradition with distain and it will come back and bite you in the ‘tonsils’.

On the other side, were Australia really that keen or interested? They soon lost heart once Roy got going and the bowlers were not that impressive but it’s early days as yet. And why no Lyon? Perhaps workload has become an issue and they’re saving him for their tour of SA in a few weeks’ time – that will be a real test for all of them, a much better trial for them than perhaps the offering from England in the Ashes.

Nonetheless, a good start from England and it’s always good to beat the Aussies – even at tiddlywinks!

Friday…Brisbane…two wins in two matches! What’s happening here? Good performance by England in all areas and nice to see Smith perplexed as to how to stem the flow of runs. The Aussie batting is not firing on all cylinders whilst the bowling is completely different from the tests; to an extent an experimental team I think from Australia whereas England are probably playing their best combination- especially in the batting line up and improving with each game. Hold the thought that we could win the series by Sunday morning! Who knows?

Sunday…Sydney…so three in a row and the series is ours! Interestingly news programmes not screaming this from the roof tops but I suppose good news never sold newspapers! Buttler is in a class of his own when on form although I thought he ‘keeping the other night was not as good as it has been/can be; but suppose I’m being picky! Good performance by England again whilst Australia look like work in progress and progressing backwards; selection looks a bit odd but I suppose they’re managing workload ahead of the SA tour. Onwards the team goes to Adelaide and Australia Day – how sweet a win would be there!

Friday Adelaide and Australia Day…could we make the next step towards a whitewash? As has been often said cricket is played more in the mind than at the crease or with the ball. Roy has regressed to type after his excellent innings earlier in the series, Hales is just not firing and finds Australia difficult to play against (ok the ball that got him was almost unplayable), Root – why play that shot given the state of the innings? Jonny and Josh just got caught up in the overall panic but it needed the wise heads of Morgan and Woakes to steady the ship towards respectability. All in the mind? Ok the new ball bowling was excellent with two of the test stars in action but have we taken our minds off the game/series?

And talking of memorable unplayable balls – how is it that the Aussies bowl them and we don’t? Starc to Vince in Perth (I still don’t believe what I saw live), Lyon to Cook in Sydney (again I…) and now Cummins to Hales (nicely dissected by Channel 9 commentators, can’t say the same for the BT team in Stratford!).

Australia winning at a canter – ok a few alarums on the way but they know how to play this format.

Sunday…Perth and the final match but the first in the much vaunted new stadium to replace the WACA. This was Australia’s match to lose after the start they got and lose they did. Ali’s caught and bowled of Marsh was the turning point…great catch but not a patch on Lyons at Adelaide in the test. England won with fine contributions from Curran but Ball looked out of his depth (again) and ok he may not be well but I don’t see an England future for him – happy to be proved wrong!

Gained the impression (ignoring the dire BTSport interjections) that Australia didn’t want to be there; the series was lost and they’re just going through the motions since they had to.

What it does make clear to me – from ball one of the first game to the last of this – is that each team has different priorities;

Australia to win the Ashes (not at all cost but clearly their main focus for the summer) whilst England looked to the one day and shorter format as the be-all-and-end-all of the tour, especially after the wheels came off on Day 3/4 of the 1st Test. Even paid commentators see England’s top priority and perhaps only one is to win the one day World Cup next year in England as this will be the salvation of English cricket.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

“May your chickens turn into ostriches and peck your ****house down” – or my impressions of Australia

I have had the most wonderful time in Australia following the Ashes tour around and across the continent. I’ve met so many kind and hospitable people (Aussie and English) that it refreshes your faith in human kindness – I’ve met a very small number of less than pleasant people (Aussie and English) that reaffirms the fact that we’re the same the world over.

It’s been my first visit Down Under and I can assure my Aussie readers that this has just been an exploratory expedition- so I’ll be back!

Each city has its own characteristics and charm (yes even parts of Perth!) so it would be unfair to pick a favourite which people I talk to are asking me but what has struck me the most across the whole country is the carefree but not careless approach to life in general and the ‘can do’ attitude; after all as one Aussie told me ‘we’re such a b****y long way from anywhere that we needed and need to stand on our own two feet and if you need something, you make it yourself’

Away from the cricket I’ve been able to spend time with rellies and their friends. I know it’s a cliche but there’s a true local community feel in their neighbourhood and the things they do for each other are truly in the style of Neighbours (which no self respecting Aussie watches or admits to watching) and beyond most (not all) of the neighbourhoods elsewhere. With a little love and understanding neighbours become true friends (I hope so as I’m hoping one of them can get me a decent ticket for an Adelaide test sometime!). It’s lovely!

Another thing which has impressed me is the embedded approach to hard work and getting things done – I suppose you have to as the place is so huge but what astounded me was walking round a downtown supermarket at 7pm on a Sunday evening (I know I need to get out more) to find it awash with people and fully staffed; as busy as my local Sainsbury’s in the run up to Christmas! Ok it’s a large supermarket in a large city but would London have the same? Do the British have the same work ethic? I suspect we do but the Daily Mail would have us believe otherwise (I’m told) but then they need to sell newspapers!

Now, whether the community feel and late night/hard work ethic extends to the country and outback – well, perhaps that’s for next time.

Incidentally there are three types of people in Australia – urbanites, those who live in the country (as opposed to anywhere which is not in a town/city) and those in the outback – that’s where it’s least a 90 minute drive each way to the local supermarket!

The Beer – as I’ve blogged before, all the beer in all the states tasted the same whereas in the UK we do have a range of flavours. Perhaps I’ve been trying the wrong stuff? As for the wine – excellent! Reds v good, bubbles nice, whites I need to practice!

What has struck me about the cities I’ve visited is how clean they all are. Litter does not seem to be a problem or issue; bins at regular intervals but also state/city employees keeping the place clean – the same extends to public transport. This is not necessarily the same in the UK?

One aspect which is the same is the level of poverty and homelessness I’ve come across. There doesn’t seem to be the same level of social security support or I may have missed it. Essentially in Australia it’s your responsibility to look after yourself, take responsibility for your own safety and if you’re silly enough to do something stupid then you sort yourself out and don’t expect the state or anyone else to get you out of trouble…or is that being harsh on the UK?

Everywhere I went the locals were extremely polite and respectful, addressing me as ‘sir’ when asking a question etc. Makes a great change from ‘Oi you!’ but everyone is so patient spending what seems like hours at traffic light pedestrian crossings waiting for the lights to change even if there is no vehicle in sight to the horizon and no one jay walks (or not if the police are about). Everything seems to be nicely ordered and organised. But the man hours wasted waiting to cross the road is criminal and would do my head in on a permanent basis!

Everyone is so glad to see/meet you – after all you’ve gone a b****y long way to get there – and the numbers who have either been to England (and it seems like the whole population) or plan to come over for an Ashes tour and go to every test just like I’ve been lucky enough to do, means I need to get my application for tests in England in as soon as they are available!

And despite what I thought was a national disgrace in only putting one piece of fruit in a muffin (seemed to be the same everywhere) I did find a restaurant serving properly filled muffins but you have to search!

So overall it’s a great place to visit, work on the basis that the locals are barking mad but kind and gen up on some local phrases to help you get by – for example

*It’s surprising what you see when you don’t have a shotgun

*He/She’s so thick he/she wouldn’t know her a**e was on fire until the fire truck turned up

*May your chickens turn into ostriches and peck your s***house down

I’ll leave you to work out what they mean or when to use them!

Personal thoughts as I review the Ashes series from here in Oz.

As the Ashes come to a conclusion what have we learned that we didn’t know before the first ball was bowled 50 or so days ago?

In terms of players from both sides, they can be ranked:

Outstanding – Smith (and by a long way)

Excellent – Lyon, Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, Marsh S, Malan, Bairstow (a good wicket keeper is one you don’t notice), Overton (best batsman at Adelaide, best bowler at Perth and with a cracked rib!)

Progressing – Marsh M, Khawaja, Paine, Stoneman, Crane (has a promising future if we can find some pitches back home and county fixtures for him to practice and learn).

Average – Warner (for him he’s had an average series), Vince, Cook (overall poor but Melbourne was outstanding makes it average overall), Curran (based on two tests and he wasn’t in the original squad).

Going backwards – Handscomb, Bancroft, Root (found captaincy harder than he perhaps thought, missed Stokes input, and had too many off-field issues to manage), Woakes (needs to learn the difference between home and overseas pitches, learning on the job is no good),

Poor – Ali (not an overseas star and missed having Stokes to give him confidence), Broad and Anderson (each had the occasional flash of brilliance but neither performed as they should have done – not flat track bullies but English pitches bullies. Neither will probably tour Australia again).

Dire/why were they picked? – Ball, Bird (injury cover for Starc, but is he the best outside the top three?)

I think that reflects the difference between the two sides and the series outcome.

There were for me three key moments in the series but only one directly on the field of play:

Brisbane – Day 2 England 4/246 and Stokes would have been the next man in…instead we’re all out for 302 collapsing like a pack of cards.

Brisbane- Day 3 evening session,Cook off form (see blog Why Alistair? why?) hooks when he didn’t need to and is caught on the boundary; the rest of the batting just fades away after that (admittedly the Australian bowling that evening was as fierce as I’ve seen live or on TV since Holding et al at the Oval in 1976)

Adelaide – Day 1 won the toss and inserted the opposition. Whilst I’m not a fan of Piers Morgan his tweet that Joe had tossed the Ashes away was absolutely correct. Needed to win or compete at least and we did neither and from that point we were ‘doomed’

We needed to hit the ground running and at least aimed for a draw at Brisbane but our preparation was poor, the quality of the opposition offered by Cricket Australia was not acceptable, and once we had lost ground in the first test, we never made it up. The series was gone by Day 3/4 in Brisbane. The scale of the defeat by 10 wickets when chasing 170 ran deep in the psyche of the team and the off field antics came to the surface when in the past they wouldn’t have done but the media spotlight was so intense that the management team either didn’t know to or couldn’t cope; these elements just got too out of control. The wheels started to come off the tour bus and never got back on!

For me the best individual performances were:

Smith – his century at Brisbane rather than the others. He needed to bond his team together having been ‘given’ an unexpected mix of personnel but also make his mark on the series and in the heads of the English team. He did all that whilst scoring one of the best centuries you could wish to see. A truly great performance.

Lyon – all series long but particularly at Adelaide and the spectacular caught and bowled- I still don’t believe what I saw and I’ve seen it in slow motion several times since and it’s still breathtaking. His mastery over the English left handers has been superb and left them dazzled like rabbits in headlights for weeks. His record against right handers is not quite so good so England know what to do in readiness for 2019. His contribution to the whole game cannot be understated – fielding, running out Vince in Brisbane was key as England looked ready to run away from Australia. Not quite Goat but on his way!

Cook – a magnificent double hundred at Melbourne redeemed his tour and addressed the flaws in his batting which plagued him from the time the plane landed in Perth in early November. A double century which was a pleasure to watch confirming class is permanent. Is this his last tour to Oz? If so what a way to go and to get that delivery from Lyon at Sydney is no shame.

Khawaja – at the start of the series we were told he could not play spin and would be lucky to see the whole series. So…England’s spin bowlers (Ok they’re not that great) gave him the chance to improve and he did so much so that on the spinning surface of Sydney he scored a magnificent large hundred in his modest understated way. One to watch.

Malan – at Perth he became of age as a test batsman scoring the most delightful century of the series, a range of cover drives to die for and reminiscent at times of Gower and even Cowdrey! And that’s high praise indeed! Let’s hope he goes on to bigger and better things but that century was sheer delight.

The oddest thing? Did the stadium tour of the Adelaide Oval and there was no mention of Bodyline! Not one word! Perhaps they’re trying to airbrush history?

The best thing on my trip? Getting to work the Adelaide Oval scoreboard on the stadium tour! Excited beyond measure! (I know I need to get out more but how much further away from the UK can I get?) and no it’s not me operating the scoreboard below!

Day 25 of 25 and the dream fulfilled

For the first time since 1994/95 have all five Ashes tests gone to five days, so I’ve really got my money’s worth! Add in the three days of the WI test at Lords in September and I’ve seen the last 28 days of test cricket England have played. Lords in May against Pakistan seems a long way off!

The statistical forecast is for today is for England to survive until lunch or thereabouts; there’s 34 overs to the new ball if needed and that would be early afternoon but I fear it may all be done and dusted by then, Lyon making most of the dust!

Today will not be as hot as yesterday – the low 30s and clouds so a fine day overall. Yesterday Sydney was the hottest place on the planet and the temperatures in the middle of the SCG reached the mid 50s, so well done to everyone – players officials camera crews etc.

Root is showing determination and true Yorkshire grit in this innings but it’s far too late; this example should have been set week’s ago but there we are. Forecast for drinks is 6/135.

Drinks taken at the fall of Ali’s wicket 5/121 Bairstow 31. Root has been in hospital overnight with severe dehydration/heatstroke and will bat at the fall of the wicket. Dour stuff for the past hour with only 28 runs scored. One more wicket and the tail gets exposed…forecast for lunch 7/146.

Unexpectedly we get to lunch at 5/144 Bairstow 38 and Root 58 – clearly Root is not well but he’s showing true courage when perhaps common sense suggests otherwise. He was out in the sun and heat all day yesterday except for 35 minutes play so it’s not surprising that he’s been ill. Bairstow is plodding along with only 7 runs in the last hour but he’s not letting Australia pass. This match depends on these two batting for long parts of the day – can they do so? Only time will tell. My fear is that when one of these goes, the rest will follow and it will be relatively painless. Forecast runs total for drinks is 170 but cannot forecast the number of wickets for once as the new ball is due soon and this is really a new ball type wicket!

Drinks but no lorry England’s reached 8/180 Curran 28 Anderson 2. Joe is ill again and did not resume after lunch. Bairstow fell quickly and Broad didn’t waste anyone’s time, so it’s when not if. And another first – 5 penalty runs for England as the ball hit the helmet on the field; never seen that before nor the unusual signal from the umpire

And then the end…painless, swift and surgical. Celebrations seem muted but I suppose the reality is that the Ashes were won in Perth which seems so long ago but weren’t!

So, the dream fulfilled but I’m not stopping now! I’ll be back to Oz to soak some more of their weirdness and madness (and wine) and the blog continues when the English county season starts but the frequency will be less than now! Thanks for reading and commenting, well over 1000 visits and I’m amazed and flattered that anyone could be interested in my musings and thoughts on cricket.

Some final thoughts on the series and Australia to follow (after all I’ve got 24 hours on a plane and time to think).

And the unusual field placings continue to the very end!

It ain’t ‘arf hot Mum!

Some Aussie humour to start with!

Temperatures in Sydney are expected to reach over 40C today and more in the rural areas of NSW but thankfully I’m in the shade all day and taking on liquids (non-alcoholic!). There’s the possibility of thunderstorms later which could come to England’s aid!

The McGrath fund raiser had topped $1m but more to come no doubt.

Numbers attending are lower again for the 4th day – I asked a few Aussies why this is across the series. There’s no one answer – my theory of everyone going to church on Sunday and then going to the game doesn’t seem to hold much credence! It’s a family day with other commitments but cricket is so family oriented in Australia that there must be another reason? The BBL is attracting large audiences (its the fifth largest/most attended sports tournament in the world…ECB please note!), so people are choosing where to spend their cash, the ODIs are coming up so again choosing what to do, it’s now a dead rubber, it’s too hot, would rather do something else…and so forth.

But back to a test match to save! Australia have a lead of 133 with 6 wickets in hand and the Marsh brothers ready to add to their century partnership and personal goals.

My view today is one of the best of the last 24 days…directly behind the umpire!

So the forecast for drinks with a new ball due in three overs time, Australia 5/529

Drinks 4/542 Marsh S 125 Marsh M 99. There’s no idea anywhere of where the next wicket is coming from. England’s body language is begging ‘please declare and put us out of our misery in this heat’ but why would they? The English bowling attack here and at Melbourne has taken nearly 300 overs to take the last 8 wickets – that says it all. Crane takes new ball in partnership with Anderson! When was the last time an English leggie did that? Broad has been sparingly used which suggests an injury of some description but who knows? Forecast for lunch 5/585

Lunch 5/578 Marsh S 145 Paine 14. Mitch of the Marsh family went for 101 – a lapse of concentration immediately after some exuberant celebrations for his hundred. The brothers join the Chappells and Waughs as having brothers each scoring a century in the same innings for Australia. England are begging for the declaration but with temperatures at 42c why go out and bowl? I suspect the declaration will come mid afternoon when the lead is close to or over 300. Forecast for drinks 5/625.

Am so hot have taken one of the McGrath scarves, doused it in water and am wearing it on my head under my hat – being Australia no one seems to think this is odd behaviour and I don’t need to explain! I’m behind the TV cameras so won’t be frightening the viewers on TV!

Ok…drinks 7/618 Cummins 2 Paine 30 – as the temperatures in the middle are over 50C there’s drinks breaks more regularly than before, throwing my forecasts out! Assuming there’s another in 40 mins, I think Smith will declare with a lead of 300 by the next break as the peak heat of the day will have passed by then. Marsh S went to a careless run out and a cameo from Starc have been the highlights since lunch. Crane has taken 1/173 – will he get his own double hundred? Probably.

We’ve been put out of our misery with the declaration at 7/649 Cummins 24 and Paine 38 both not out at the end. The last hour or even longer has been dire and makes me feel ashamed to be English as the cricket we’ve played had been awful beyond description. I think it’s really time to say thanks and goodbye to Broad and Anderson in the style of Harmison and Hoggard from years ago. We just need to blood some youngsters and others and just take a punt on them – they can’t be any worse.

So the question is can England bat four and a half sessions to save the match? Unlikely as Lyon is waiting to do his worst, the mental approach is lacking and I suspect that it will all be over by lunch tomorrow or just thereafter. The breeze has got up bringing clouds and a small drop in temperatures- an ideal time to bowl! Forecast for tea England 2/40.

Tea 2/25 Root 8 Vince 6. Stoneman went for a duck and wasted a review (Cook didn’t call two reviews in Melbourne when he should have done so perhaps he’s making up for lost ground?). Cook went for 10 bowled by a pearler by Lyon having become the 6th in history to pass 12,000 runs in tests. It looks and feels like I’m watching a different game in the last hour. We’ve had clouds and overcast spells, a drop of 10 degrees in temperatures and a stronger breeze. This just adds to the mental strain for the England side having been out in airless 50c heat, beating sun and batsmen playing like kings. England are playing as if they want to be on the same plane home as me (they won’t be travelling cattle class I’m sure!) but it will be a struggle to take the game into the 5th day but who knows?

Forty overs remain so there will be overtime but forecast for close of play is 4/85 as I have no idea when drinks breaks are!

Close of play 4/93 Root 42 Bairstow 17. Root looks as if he’s broken a finger but is showing true grit and determination to those in the pavilion…they shall not pass! For only the third time in test history have four bowlers from one team each taken 20 or more wickets in a five match series and the quartet here of Starc, Lyon, Cummins and Hazlewood have done just that! All three instances have been against England (one other Australian quartet and the WI were the others). Anderson is our ‘best’ bowler with 17 (so far). Also England have been in the field for over 1,000 overs compared to Australia 840 at the start of this innings- the former have taken c55 wickets, Australia 80 with power to add!

So we go to a fifth day for the fifth time..25 days of test cricket so I’m getting real value for money. Three wickets are all that Australia need before the tail arrives and collapses in a heap!

And finally many thanks to everyone who’s viewed this blog, we should reach 1000 views later today!

In the pink – brothers and sisters doing it for themselves!

Today is the peak pink day at the pink test…for my non-cricket followers, the pink test is in aid of the McGrath Foundation and today everyone goes pink mad in memory of Jane McGrath, late wife of Australia’s fast bowler Glenn McGrath- one of the finest fast bowlers ever in test cricket or any other form.

Jane passed away from breast cancer and while it was suggested 10 years ago to have a collection for cancer charities in return for wearing pink clothing, Channel 9 got hold of it and dressed all their ex-cricketing commentators in bright pink suits and the whole thing just took off! The McGrath Foundation was set up to provide nurses and other support for those suffering from breast cancer and their families. It is now nationwide- across a country the size of Europe!

The whole test is now pink and the aim is to raise donations of $1.3m over the five days. So far we’ve collectively raised $325,000 but today’s the big push! If the goal is reached it means 10 more nurses for a year across Australia – shows they need every cent they can lay hands on.

Even BT Sport has got in on the act and if you’re watching TV I’m the one in the crowd wearing a pink shirt! The pink shirt which was so carefully washed and ironed and kept in pristine condition since I left the UK in mid-November just for this day!

In case you’re wondering there’s a blue shirt day at the Oval test each year – another low profile kept by English cricket!

Meanwhile there’s a test to be played! Australia resume on 2/193 with Khawaja poised to make his first Ashes century and Smith just under half way to his and to emulate a record of the Dons. The new ball is due in 13 overs time (approx 1 hours play) and will be key to England both initially but also mid afternoon when they’ll try and get some reverse from it.

From afar the pitch still looks good for batting but with footmarks appearing there could soon be something for the spinners to get their teeth into.

Forecasts are for England to underperform in their second innings leaving little to set as a target. With a leggie in the side, the target needs to be substantial or very competitive at least. But we shall see. My forecast for the first drinks break (and we have standard hours since all the time lost on Thursday has been made up), Australia 2/236.

Drinks 2/237 Smith 68 Khawaja 110. This forecasting is getting more accurate – perhaps I need to watch more cricket to get it perfect? Khawaja went to a well crafted century and deservedly so; his ability to play spin earlier in the series was being called into question but it seems that England’s spin bowlers have given him more lessons than he’s had before. Neither seem uncomfortable against the new ball and continue to flourish. We’ve seen the latest plan to try and dismiss Smith from England- I’m not sure which letter of the alphabet we’re up to but it could be Plan AA – namely bowl round the wicket outside his off stump, that immediately takes bowled and lbw out of the equation as modes of dismissal so perhaps they’re trying for ‘bored out’ as an option- he won’t take the bite as he just loves batting and has more patience than I’ve seen in anyone for decades! Forecast for lunch 2/284.

Lunch 3/277 Khawaja 133 Marsh S 2, Smith having gone caught and bowled Ali for 83 missing out on equalling a record by 17 runs but there’s always the second innings if needed! Crane’s potentially first wicket was referred and found to be a no ball but there’s a debate as to whether Khawaja would have been out. Raises the question again of why umpires are not calling no balls other than when being referred to the 3rd umpire. Why not have the 3rd umpire call all no balls anyway- it wouldn’t slow the game but it would mean that the batsman doesn’t have that millionth of a second to change their shot…overall the lack of no ball calling is a concern. Batting up to the point Smith got out and the last 10 minutes when England became agitated for a while looked good and no doubt will be so again this arvo. New ball looked ineffective but perhaps there’s a bit of reverse to come after another 10 overs or so. Forecast for afternoon drinks 3/320.

Drinks 3/319 Marsh S 21 Khawaja 155. Honestly I’m making these forecasts at the end of the previous break so seem to be getting better. That’s more than I can say for England’s bowling. Every option is being tried but to no avail and batting against this attack looks increasingly easy (famous last words). England need to be batting by the end of the day otherwise the game is going to be beyond reach. 33 overs on the ball so perhaps a bit of reverse is now possible but…? The quicks earlier on dropped back to the old ways of not bowling full enough with one expert describing England’s performance as a ‘mess’ and it’s hard to disagree!

Forecast for tea 3/363

Tea 3/365 Khawaja 166 Marsh S 54. I have no idea where the next wicket is coming from let alone the next 17 we need to take to win the match. Australia now lead by 19 with plenty of power to add which looks likely. Will England be batting by the end of the day? Probably won’t be batting until this time tomorrow when the lead could be close to 300 and gives Lyon plenty to bowl to and with the odd crack appearing next the pitch then he’ll become even more unplayable than he has been to date. Also England may find the pitch completely different to that at present and start to imagine things that are not there – call it scoreboard pressure or mind games but there we are. Crane continues his good progress but it’s asking a lot of him to be a match winner in his first game.

With 30 overs left today overtime seems unlikely for the first time in 23 days but England could also bowl more overs than they need to – you don’t take wickets by not bowling! Forecast for drinks break 3/410.

Drinks 4/389 Marsh S 68 Marsh M 4. Nothing slows scoring than taking a wicket and the loss of Khawaja for 171 was just that. It’s Cranes first wicket and defeated Usman in the flight as he danced down the wicket. So a wicket to England but with another 17 overs to go Australia have power to add. Crane’s having difficulty with his run up and aborting once an over which just adds more pressure as the crowd get on his back. A valiant performance nonetheless. Forecast for close 5/437.

Close 4/479 Marsh S 98 Marsh M 63 and a lead of 133 with two days to play and six first innings wickets to fall! It’s been men against boys most of the day and especially in the last session when England looked shabby, tired and really wanted to be somewhere else. Even with two spinners in action for most of the day, the English over rate continues to be poor and took them an additional 15 minutes to bowl the overs. Anyway, no one seems to care but how would they squeeze the extra overs in if they ever go to four day tests is beyond me.

Tomorrow Australia will bat on and on and a lead of 250 can be expected by early afternoon then Lyon works his magic and its goodnight Vienna!

The Marsh brothers played without trouble adding so far over 100 and supporting each other brilliantly. They don’t look in trouble and ready to add more agony tomorrow.

The McGrath fund raising had reached over $ 800,000 by the close of play.

One piece of good news from today – there’s less than 100 days to the start of the County Championship!

Typically Australian day to wear jocks on your head?

It’s time for me to ‘fess up about a few things Australian!

Starting with beer – ok, it’s cold and served in chilled glasses, standard size is just over half a pint per glass but every one I’ve tried across the whole country/continent tastes the same, even the micro brews are not that distinctive whereas the cider (mainly from NZ) does have more flavour and taste.

Wine – reds are excellent and would recommend. Bubbles are also good whilst I need more training with the white!

Been here over 45 days and only met one Bruce and no Sheilas! So that’s a myth!

KFC = Kids Fattening Centres

Chips and gravy – an acquired taste!

Been jay walking as the time wasted at pedestrians traffic lights watching for non-existent traffic is considerable.

Standing on the right side of escalators when convention here is to stand on the left (at last a victory for us left handers!)

Meanwhile back at the SCG…England start on 5/233 and the decision not to have or use a night watchman is all of over the media and on everyone’s lips. I think this just underlines the slack management thinking across the team and series! England are warming up as I write this and I can count enough people in England track suits to make at least another team…so did none of them think that we couldn’t lose a wicket at the end of the days play? What do we pay these people for?

The game starts early today so the next session is 2.5 hrs to lunch. So forecasting to Drinks is over a longer time frame. I reckon England 7/280 but that assumes the tail has a little bit of wagging in it!

An interesting and enthralling first part session since at Drinks England are 6/288 Ali 25 and Curran 22. Both have been dropped to simple catching chances whilst Malan scored 62 before Smith caught a scorcher at slip. Intriguing session with the Richies in full voice (and occupying a whole seating block) especially since the Australian sitting beside me asked who they were and why they were dressed in beige suits, shirts, ties, silver wigs and waving rubber microphones! I explained that they were paying homage to a great commentator and test cricketer but they replied that they had never heard of Richie Benaud ! They had heard of Shane Warne however but they are attending their first ever cricket match here today. How much they understand could be revealed later!

As well as the Richies who are very well behaved and organised, there’s the Warnies and here in Sydney the Barbie Army (not the dolls) who arrived in full cooking gear ready to cook as well as having their own musical band and songs. If anything the Aussies know how to enjoy themselves- and being slightly mad, no one asks them to explain!

And taking of not needing to explain, there’s one spectator keeping their own scorebook (nothing wrong with that) but doing so with a pair of Y-fronts on your head under your sun hat? Can anyone explain? Being English I’m not inclined to ask!

Also Nathan Lyon is a master craftsman and can only get better! He’s been unlucky so far but there’s a lot more to come.

Forecast for lunch 8/340 and England getting towards a score they need to post to have any chance in this match. Less than 350 and they could be in trouble as this pitch looks good for batting today and tomorrow!

Lunch England all out for 346. Curran chopped in with a good of streaky 39, he needs to tighten his game a bit just to reduce the risk of getting caught. He’s s bit too loose with some shots (hangover from one day stuff) but once he does become a bit more circumspect for test cricket he will be good. Broad also contributed a fiery and short 31 – Smiths tactics against him were to try the short stuff time and time again but it failed. Perhaps the 50 at Melbourne has restored some batting confidence- again mind stuff!

Slightly early post lunch start by 10 mins so forecast for first drinks break of the arvo session 0/42.

Drinks 1/53 Warner 36 Khawaja 16. Broad got England off to a great start taking Bancroft for 1 with his second ball. At long last and how many times has this been said since November 23, B&A pitched the ball up and found the right length! Seems that eventually coaches get through to these two! Unfortunately Curran was not able to replicate the length required and went for a few.

Ali came on after 8 overs – what ever happened to the spinner not appearing until at least 30 overs had been bowled with the new ball? Lyon came on after 7 this morning. Mason Crane is now into the attack and clearly nervous but is doing Ok.

Australia are looking to press on this arvo- forecast for tea 1/110.

Tea 2/96 Khawaja 36 Smith 3. Warner went for 56 chasing his fourth consecutive first innings hundreds in four years at the SGC. Anderson and Broad brought back after 25/30 overs to try and find some reverse. Looks as if one of B&A will need to take 10 wickets in the game as the other England bowlers don’t look like running through the batsmen cheaply (famous last words?). There are 34 overs remaining so there will be some overtime tonight. Forecast for drinks 2/147.

One other aspect from today has been the sheer joy of watching spinners in action. Three on show so far – The mastery and skill of Lyon, the relatively middle class spin from Ali and the raw inexperienced yet promising debutant Crane- sheer delight!

Drinks 2/147 forecast spot on for the first time! Khawaja 69 Smith 20. Consolidation by Australia as mix of English bowlers strive to take wickets. Cranes leg spin is growing in confidence as he tools away. There is talent there to exploit but will England have the courage to persevere with him and just play Ali as a lower order batsman who can bowl a bit but who else would miss out?

Forecast for close 2/197. Smith is now the third fastest test player ever to 6,000 runs – only Bradman who also played his first class cricket here at the SCG and in NSW and Garry Sobers were faster! And they both were knighted?

And at last…Bairstow and the slips are standing one pace nearer the batsman- again been an issue all series long but has this forced Root to wear a helmet at second slip? Surely an English first?

Close of play 2/193 Smith 44 Khawaja 91. England’s struggles with the second string of the attack is clear for all to see as expected. They will need a very good target to set Australia in the 4th innings if they’re going to have any chance of winning.

And a day for wearing jocks on your head!