For six weeks the two debutants, Usman Khawaja and Michael Beer, have been all dressed up with nowhere to go. First Khawaja was added as cover for in an initial squad of 17 and then as cover for Ponting in Melbourne. Beer was playing a domestic game for the Warriors in Brisbane when he was flown across the continent to the WACA.
They have sat like wall-flowers hoping someone will ask them to dance.
On a dark and dank day in Sydney both were granted a waltz on the SCG. Michael Clarke won the toss and both Hughes and Watson tried to leave as many balls as they could. There was a refreshing desire to play themselves in. It was slow going but then there is a time to waltz and a time to hip hop.
Tremlett and Anderson were tight and brisk but not threatening. Watson and Hughes were not prepared to take any liberties and the longer they survived the easier it would get for Khawaja and Clarke.
The irony was that this was the end of the series and it showed how difficult it is to get rid of bad habits. The disrespect shown by Cricket Australia to the traditions of Test cricket had been both careless and unthinking.
The litany of inadequate preparation and muddled selections has been well documented. When CA trumpets the gate takings and healthy revenue in March please remember that our cricket this summer has resembled a patient with chronic afflictions.
At no wicket for 55 and one over to go for lunch, the crowd groaned as Hughes played at a wide one and was snapped at third slip by Collingwood. The hard work had been done and a rich harvest waited after lunch. Unfortunately he lost patience and bit the apple.
An innings half-finished like the trail-end of a twitter message.
Khawaja would not be eating any lunch and would fidget for forty minutes while all of Australia waited for him to take to the dance floor.
The ovation Usman got would have flattered the Belle of the Ball. Tremlett had an unfinished over and, perhaps, unfinished business, as he had, once again, been the pick of England’s bowlers.
The ball was short and on Usman’s hips. He was untroubled in putting it away for two. The next ball was short. He pirouetted, a la Ponting, and pulled it emphatically, for four. The shot was forward of square and showed the quickness of his feet and the agility of his mind. The young man was away and these were the two most assured shots of Australia’s innings up to this point.
Usman must have invigorated Watson because he greeted Anderson with a well drilled boundary past wide mid-on. A single brought Khawaja to face Anderson and the first ball was placed wide of mid-wicket for a single. Watson hesitated but there was no disaster this time.
Every debutant needs luck and Khawaja edged Tremlett short of second slip. But any nerves were dispelled with the next ball that was wristed beyond square for another boundary. Then he slashed over third slip for an injudicious two. He saw the over out with two studied forward defences.
Suddenly there was vitality about Australia’s cricket. UK (my nickname for Khawaja) may just have taken the momentum away from England!
24 runs had been added in three overs and UK had 15 of them from just 10 balls.
Both Watson and UK showed a learned disposition to leaving the good balls. And the conditions were, indeed, helpful for bowling. Why had Australia been ignorant for four of the previous Tests? Or were they just slow learners?
More luck came Khawaja’s way in the 38th over as UK flashed Tremlett between third slip and gully. In the air but fortuitously between the fielders.
This is the luck that deserts ageing captains.
Watson had been diligent for 44 overs but once again squandered a good start. The delivery from Bresnan had no threat, real or imaginary, yet Watson poked at it as he would a daddy long legs spider. Strauss took it low to his right. Nothing escapes this spider!
Clarke made his way on to the arena to a mixture of cheers and boos. His first ball was crisply driven through cover point for two. His first stint as top dog on the watch would be revealing of his worthiness or otherwise.
Unfortunately, Clarke did not further his cause, cutting at one which was too close to his body. There had been an extended rain break and this was only the second over after resumption. To say the shot was careless would be an understatement. UK, at the other end must have wondered at the frivolousness of his Captain.
3 for 114 represented a spendthrift’s disregard for his ancestor’s hard earned wealth.
Khawaja and Hussy would have to resurrect Australia’s innings under skies that remained more threatening than the bowling.
UK unfurled another sumptuous pull off Bresnan to again state his intent. He was not going to go into tortoise mode. The bad offerings would be summarily dismissed. Good batsmen make the bowlers bowl to them. Khawaja continued to be discrete outside his off-stump. Not willing to get too close to his dancing partner!
Khawaja fell as soon as Swann was introduced. This was astute captaincy by Strauss. He moved midwicket to silly point leaving just mid-on and square leg by the umpire. Khawaja like a moth to the light committed cricketing suicide.
Good bowlers make batsmen play shots they normally would not.
Khawaja showed enough to suggest he will get better but the questions will persist about Australia’s overall levels of concentration and application.
Khawaja perished because he was emboldened and took liberties with his dancing partner. The longer the courtship the more productive the liason.You cannot rush the batting Gods on your first date!