In a lot of ways, Ashes series are like birthdays.
Off to Taunton for the Australians, where they faced Pakistan, a team more often described as ‘mercurial’ than even Rami Malek’s performance in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie.
Here are the ratings for the World Cup match between Australia and Pakistan.
The main miracle of the match was that it was taking place at all. The previous two games of the World Cup had been rained out, and the weather forecast at Taunton had also been grim prior to the day of the game.
What had caused so much rain to dog the tournament?
Was it because there were only ten teams in the tournament? Is rain nothing more than Ireland’s tears?
Or is rain caused by those dreadful heavy zing bails, whose gravitational pull summons the clouds ever closer?
Or perhaps the absence of reserve days causes rain, as some kind of karmic retribution for ICC arrogance.
Who can say?
Ultimately, we can never know what causes rain. Science has never been able to understand the glorious mystery of precipitation. It remains a meteorological riddle. And we are all better for that crass ignorance.
Pakistan won the toss and elected to bowl first, looking to exploit a greenish tinge to the pitch. But Australia’s openers were aggressive and put on a 146 run opening partnership in just 22 overs.
The fearless aggression of the openers was fuelled by the knowledge that, thanks to a Marcus Stoinis injury, Shaun Marsh was back in the side. And, as a bonus, because of that very same injury, Mitch Marsh was also on a plane on the way to England to stand by. What an injury! Great stuff from Stoinis.
As much as certain sections of the Australian fanbase might like to complain, it’s clear that the prospect of Marshes lurking expectantly around the team provides a kind of comfort blanket to the rest of the team.
For not only did the openers bat with archetypal hostility, the rest of the batting line-up also embraced their true selves.
Was Glenn Maxwell’s 20 (10) more Maxwellian than Usman Khawaja’s 18 (16) was Khawajish? Or did the SMarshness of Shaun Marsh’s 23 (26) trump them both?
It didn’t matter. What mattered was that this was an Australian team being true to itself. And if collapsing from 1/223 to 304 all out with an over to spare was part of that truth, then so be it.
The main reason that Australia crumbled so badly at the back end of their innings was primarily down to the bowling of Mohammad Amir.
Yes, Wahab Riaz had bowled with hostility early on, regularly reaching 88mph. I like it when a bowler hits 88mph. I always feel as if we’re only a bolt of lightning and a flux capacitor away from seeing Aaron Finch batting in the 1979 World Cup.
But it was Amir who provided the initial breakthrough of the innings, removing Finch, before tearing through the middle order to finish with figures of 5/30 from his ten overs.
Bizarre to think that Amir had bowled so much dross prior to the World Cup that Pakistan hadn’t even selected him in their initial squad, when all along he was capable of bowling like this. In retrospect, that was weird behaviour from him.
Australia’s main problem in defending their lacklustre total was that they’d replaced Adam Zampa with Kane ‘Don’t Call Me Jhye’ Richardson, leaving them with Glenn Maxwell as their main spinner.
Would Finch have the guts to use his four frontline seamers to bowl the first forty overs and try to bowl Pakistan out? And then only if that didn’t succeed, begin to think about his fifth bowler? That would be the courageous course of action.
It would also open the door for Maxwell to try to somehow bowl ten consecutive overs. An impossible task under the Laws of the game. And yet, you’d never write Maxwell off, would you?
In the end, Finch lacked the fortitude necessary for such a plan, instead throwing Maxwell into the attack willy-nilly and also bowling himself.
Which, I guess, is a different kind of bravery.
Pakistan’s chase got off to a rollicking start when Babar Azam sensually drove through the covers and down the ground to purr his way to 30 off 28 balls.
It was beautiful stuff from the number three, whose timing was all effortless erotica. As he caressed his way along, Australia must have been having second thoughts about their decision to score roughly sixty runs fewer than they’d been on target to make.
But then Nathan Coulter-Nile dismissed him, like the soulless monster he is.
From there, Pakistan’s chase started and stopped, never quite being in control, but never quite being out of it either.
Even at seven wickets down with Wahab and captain Sarfaraz Ahmed at the crease, batting solidly, needing 44 runs from 35 balls to win, they were still a chance.
But Finch brought Mitchell Starc back, and then reviewed a caught behind decision that detected the tiniest UltraEdge mark as the ball passed Wahab’s bat.
Starc followed up the Wahab dismissal by castling Amir. And then Maxwell ended the match with an absurd piece of fielding, leaping to snare a ball about to bounce over his head, then spinning and knocking down the stumps from side-on before Sarfaraz had even begun to think about returning to his crease.
Still, it’s interesting to think that if Wahab had applied just a little sandpaper to his bat, he might not have edged the ball that triggered the end of the Pakistan chase.
One to ponder for all the sandpaper-naysayers out there.