The Liebke Ratings: First Ashes Test, part 1

Dan Liebke Columnist

By , Dan Liebke is a Roar Expert

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    The Ashes are finally here! And, sure, it’s crazy that we can’t say ‘Merry Ashes’ to one another any more and instead have to say ‘Happy Australia v England Test Cricket Series’.

    But despite that example of political correctness gone mad, it’s okay to be excited.

    Here are the ratings for the first couple of days of the First Ashes Test.

    Shaun Marsh
    Grade: C-

    The series began with a recreation of that distracted boyfriend meme. As always, the selectors were the distracted boyfriend, Shaun Marsh was the hot other girl and every other cricketer in the country was the disgusted girlfriend.

    Coach Darren Lehmann explained that Marsh was recalled because he was one of the form batsmen at first class level. Y’know, despite averaging slightly less than incumbent number six Glenn Maxwell after three rounds of the Sheffield Shield. And way less than him after four rounds.

    Lehmann also explained that the selectors liked Marsh’s experience. By which he meant, presumably, his experience at inexplicably coming back into the team.

    On the plus side, the selectors at least had the self-awareness to acknowledge that a Shaun Marsh recall brings with it fresh pain. In this case, a fresh Tim Paine, Australia’s new keeper.

    But all these plans and explanations were thrown into confusion when their little skit that began with ‘Shaun Marsh is back!’ suddenly evolved the day before the Test into a potential injury crisis of ‘Shaun Marsh’s back!’ Luckily, he recovered in time on the morning of the match for a third act plot twist of ‘Shaun Marsh’s back is okay. So Shaun Marsh is back. It’s okay.‘

    Banter
    Grade: D

    But the Shaun Marsh sideshow wasn’t the only piece of pre-series nonsense taking place.

    There was also terrible ‘banter’, with tedious pre-Ashes bluster from fans, players and Courier Mail newspapers about what each side was going to do the other.

    It seemed particularly ludicrous this time around. Can you imagine confidently making brash predictions about the likely cricketing performance of either of these two notoriously flaky sides?

    It’s impossible to predict what they’ll do in the next session. Predicting the result over a series is madness. Indeed, arguably the best thing about this Ashes series is that almost any final result is possible. This includes five tied Tests.

    Nathan Lyon led the pre-Test trash talk for Australia, explaining how he wanted to end the careers of England players. This trash-talking was mocked, primarily by Alastair Cook, who revealed all the pre-series chest-puffing nonsense made him ‘chuckle’. Impressive to hear that the CookBot now has a chuckling algorithm.

    But Lyon’s tedious banter was perhaps not as awful as it initially seemed. In fact, has he not painted England into a troubling corner? Now, no matter how terribly an England player is performing in the series, they’re going to have to retain them in the side. Or else run the risk of proving Lyon right.

    Who’s robo-chuckling now, Cook?

    Alastair Cook laments another Ashes loss.

    (AFP PHOTO / GREG WOOD)

    Fringe players
    Grade: B-

    When the Test finally began, England batted first. Mitchell Starc removed a badly malfunctioning Cook for two, the former England android captain chuckling spasmodically and erratically all the way back to the dressing room. But this wicket just brought James Vince and Mark Stoneman together and the pair put on a partnership of 125.

    This led some to wonder whether Lyon had meant they were hoping to end these guys’ careers as fringe Test batsmen.

    Perhaps. It certainly made Australian fans take a closer look at them. What they would have learned on that closer inspection was that Mark Stonemen is, in fact, not made of stone at all. He’s made of wood. It’s England fast bowler Mark Wood who is made of stone.

    Classic English eccentricity.

    Their partnership was only broken when Lyon brilliantly ran out Vince trying to take a quick single.

    Nathan Lyon

    (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

    Earlier, Paine had dropped a simple edge off Lyon’s bowling. So it was no surprise that Lyon executed the run out by throwing down the stumps at the bowler’s end, where Paine couldn’t ruin his moment of brilliance a second time.

    That’s why he’s the GOAT, people.

    Comedy
    Grade: B+

    A couple of wickets from Pat Cummins saw England end the first day on 4/196, a classic ‘honours even’ total.

    The next day, another strong partnership from Dawid Malan – batting like a young Dawid Warner – and Moeen Ali saw England to 4/246, before England lost 6/56 to finish 302 all out.

    The highlight of the second morning was Stuart Broad, still the funniest man in cricket. Faced with a barrage of bouncers, Broad unleashed a new comic routine he’d invented called ‘Oh, am I somehow off strike to Cummins again? Hadn’t even noticed’.

    Sensational stuff. Hardly surprising that Marsh dropped an outfield catch from him so he could let the comic legend continue as long as possible.

    Steve Smith
    Grade: A-

    When Australia began their reply after lunch, Broad struck almost immediately with the ball. He removed Australia’s debutant for the Test, Cameron Bancroft, for just five.

    Bancroft, named after a 1982 petition calling for Colin Croft to be suspended from Test cricket, was replaced by Usman Khawaja. Who was almost immediately out and replaced by Steve Smith.

    Smith then stuck around as David Warner and Pete Handscomb departed and emerged and then departed again. Throughout his innings, the Australian captain was utterly untroubled, his clear contempt for the bowling surpassed only by his equally clear contempt for the rest of his inept batting line-up.

    Australian captain Steve Smith

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    But just as all looked lost with Australia 4/78 after Handscomb’s wicket, a steady partnership with the next batsman in saw Australia safely to 4/165 at stumps on the second day.

    That new batsman? Shaun Marsh. So thank goodness he finally got a much-deserved opportunity at Test level.

    It’s an Ashes miracle! Happy Australia v England Test Cricket Series everybody!