A Sunday morning at the Oval. Bright sunshine and clear skies were on the menu as the World Cup favourites India and Australia faced off.
Australia lost the first Test ugly. The Ashes cauldron and an energised England proved to be the C.S.I. blue light to the Australian team’s hotel bed sheet.
All the stains and nastiness that we had pushed to the corners of our brain were revealed.
Despite not winning a series in England since Steve Waugh was captain, Australia were hot favourites. Then the Joe Root reprieve and the Moeen Ali onslaught arrived. Then there was the attempted onslaught against Ali, followed by Shane Watson’s lbw, Ian Bell’s mojo returning and yet another Watson lbw.
The game wrapped up just before rain wiped out the entire fifth day. Like I said, it was ugly.
But for all the doom and gloom there shines the most unexpected of lights.
It was expected that the selectors would make the decision to drop Watson (though Shane probably tried to review it) but that in all likelihood would not have been the case if Australia had won.
This is an Australian team after all that kept the same 11 players for the entirety of the last Ashes. Waiting for the Watson flower to bloom into the Jacques Kallis-shaped Terminator Australian selectors see when they close their eyes is all well and good when the team is winning, but with an Ashes on the line things change.
It’s a sad – but with hindsight a predictable – end to Shane Watson’s Test career. But the good news is that there is a young, brute of a replacement in Mitchell Marsh who should bring some much needed energy and youth to the Australian side.
The ‘Dad’s Army’ tag had been thrown out by Jason Gillespie prior to the start of the series. Though not entirely fair, the first Test showed that Australia had a very similar feel to the one England brought down under in the last series.
A largely successful side just passing their expiry date. An injection of youth in Mitchell Marsh will definitely help, as will the absence of Brad Haddin.
It’s not that he dropped Joe Root or that he batted poorly. It’s that Haddin did both. And he has been doing both for a while now (moreso the latter). On top of that, this was probably going to be his last series as he is in his late 30s.
Haddin wasn’t going to get dropped though. Too much of a team man, they say. He’s the kind of guy you want in the trenches, others say. He brings those intangible things that only the team notice, says the captain.
But Australia didn’t lose by intangibles they lost by a lot of runs and Haddin’s unfortunate personal issues may very well be the best thing to happen to Australia’s campaign. Peter Nevill is a tidy and hungry player who should be a marked improvement.
Looking at the team for the second Test now, Australia already look a younger and fitter side. The bed sheet is not spotless by any means but I will sleep a lot easier.