271,00 spectators watched the four days of an absorbing Ashes Test at the MCG. On Channel Nine the Test rated superbly, with 2.6 million viewers on Friday making it the highest-rating day two of a Test in Oz-Tam history.
So the question has to be asked: why did Channel Nine allow its Test broadcast to be trashed with the promotion of Piers Morgan purporting to face up to the thunderbolts of Brett Lee during the afternoon interval on the third day?
Morgan is a former entertainment reporter, then editor of a British tabloid and now a cheeky-chappie interviewer on CNN.
He has the personality dynamism of an uncooked turnip and the ego of a party balloon.
He is the sort of celebrity who creates a frisson about his personality by making an idiot of himself with outlandish ‘events.’
Take it from me who has at least faced up in a real match to a great fast bowler (admittedly in two short innings), the Brett Lee stunt was a potential death-trap for Morgan.
Sir Richard Hadlee has made this point. He is highly critical of Lee for deliberately bowling at Morgan, and hitting him four times. Any one of these hits could have caused Morgan permanent injury if they’d smacked into his heart or head.
I blame Morgan more, however, than Lee. Lee was doing what he has been doing professionally for nearly two decades, bowling fast and terrorising batsmen.
Moreover, he has a reputation for nastiness with the ball in hand that belies is clean-cut good looks and apparently friendly manner.
Morgan had serious delusions of grandeur in believing that he could face up to Lee and not make a fool of himself. You could see even before he took his guard that he had no idea of how to bat.
Then there was the sheer stupidity of him challenging Lee to ‘bring it on!’ after the first ball crashed into his ribs.
Morgan’s main idea of confronting Lee’s pace was to scuttle away into a corner of the net before the ball had been bowled. This set him up as a sitting duck for Lee to knock over.
I was disgusted with Mark Nicholas, Shane Warne and Michael Vaughan, the Channel Nine commentators, for their gushing and lying applause for the ‘courage’ (?) shown by Morgan in supposedly facing up to Lee.
Morgan showed no courage. Acting like an idiot with no understanding of the potential consequences of what you are doing is not a definition of courage.
The Test actually had its measure of courageous behaviour, virtually all from the Australian side.
I was critical after the first day of the Test of Michael Clarke’s decision to give England first use of the pitch. But as Sir Humphrey might have said, it was courageous.
At lunch time on the third day, Clarke’s gamble looked to backfiring on him. England were none down in their second innings, and 100 runs or so in front.
This was a terrific platform to make a substantial total and leave Australia about 350 runs to get in the fourth innings, the sort of chase that has rarely been achieved in the history of Test cricket.
As it happened, England collapsed after lunch. Clarke redeemed his mistake by some brilliant and courageous captaincy.
His use of Nathan Lyon was critical. Time and time again, in both of England’s inning, Clarke brought on his off spinner when Australia was in trouble.
And time and time again, Lyon did the job of either taking wickets or slowing down the run rate.
Any captain (but perhaps not Alastair Cook) can manage rampant fast bowlers.
The test of a great captain is how he uses his slow bowler/bowlers. Clarke is as good as anyone in the recent past. He trusts his spinner and he gives him fields he can bowl to with the expectation of taking wickets.
The contrast, once again, with the studied, slow-minded mediocrity of Cook’s captaincy was stark in this Test.
Australia’s final chase of runs was made very much easier by the way Cook kept Monty Panesar out of the attack, until too late, and then gave him fields that put no pressure, either attacking or defensively, on the batsmen.
You had to admire, too, Chris Rogers’ ton which set up the successful run chase.
Rogers has scored 64 first-class centuries in a long career. My guess is that no other current Australian batsman is remotely close to this tally of centuries.
He had, therefore, the right mental attitude to tough out the long innings required of him.
I also admire a batsman who knows his limitations and bats within them. It is not easy to have the courage of your restrictions when you are surrounded by players like David Warner and Michael Clarke who are as talented as any batsmen of the modern era.
This Australian side is a team that is greater in sum than the individual talents involved in it.
Darren Lehmann has created that wonderful and elusive element of a team culture where different players rise to specific challenges when the fighting response is needed.
This team culture is a precious thing and the selectors should be wary of fracturing it with a re-birth of the failed rotation policy.
Before this Australian leg of the back-to-back 2013/2014 Ashes series began, Ian Botham was predicting a 5-0 whitewash for England. It may be that he predicted the right outcome but got the winning team wrong.
A 5-0 Ashes whitewash has only been done a couple of times, in 1920/21 and 2006/7.
What a wonderful outcome for this current team of real Aussie battlers, led by one of cricket’s great captains, if they can win next week at the SCG and create their own 5-0 legend.