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The Liebke report card: 'More nineties than downloading Alanis Morissette off Napster'

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20th December, 2021
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With England having earned no money from the first Test after being behind on their over rates, both teams headed to Adelaide for the second Test of the series. (Idea: If you want cricketers to get through the overs faster, why not simply play the Benny Hill theme music all day? It’s got to be better than that bloody Barmy Army bugler.)

Here’s the report card for the second Ashes Test.

The Novel Coronavirus
Grade: F

Before the Test began, Australia were thrown into disarray when Pat Cummins found himself seated beside one of the handful of people in Adelaide who tested positive that day to COVID-19, the novel coronavirus you may have recently heard about.

As a result, Cummins was forced to immediately isolate for seven days, rendering him unavailable for this Test (he was later permitted to return home to New South Wales, provided he did so in a single bound).

With Josh Hazlewood also out with a side strain or something, it meant that both Jhye Richardson and Michael Neser slotted into the Australian attack. As bowler rotation policies go, Australia’s is unnecessarily convoluted, I’ll give them that.

Jos Buttler’s Inconsistency
Grade: D

New captain Steve Smith won the toss and elected to bat. As you’d expect, Marcus Harris was swiftly dismissed, this time to a spectacular diving catch from Jos Buttler behind the stumps, who leapt almost in front of leg gully to drag the chance in. It was part of a wildly inconsistent match from Buttler, who went about dropping several much easier chances before later getting rid of Harris cheaply again with another spectacular effort. Unluckiest man in cricket is Harris. Or, given his Test average, the luckiest. It depends on your perspective, I suppose.

Joe Root captain of England Jos Buttler of England react after dropping Marnus Labuschagne of Australia on 95 and during day one of the Second Test match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at Adelaide Oval on December 16, 2021 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Mark Brake - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

(Photo by Mark Brake – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Should Harris have fallen over while watching Buttler’s first innings catch, perhaps bonking his head in despair and allowing Usman Khawaja to bat in the second innings as a concussion substitute? Of course. Obviously, Captain Cummins wouldn’t have allowed that kind of shady gamesmanship, but with the backup skipper in charge for this one, surely it was time for a little bit of grey areas lateral thinking.

Marnus Labuschagne
Grade: B

Much like David Warner in the first Test, Marnus Labuschagne rode his luck with the bat in this one. After the inevitable dropped chances from Jos Buttler, he was eventually successfully caught behind off the bowling of Ollie Robinson shortly after bringing up his century.

Sadly, however, a check of the front foot discovered that Robinson had overstepped and Labuschagne was reprieved. Weird. Weren’t we assured that if England’s bowlers had been notified about their no balls in Brisbane like was being done here in Adelaide, they would have been able to correct the overstepping? Something doesn’t add up.

But even when the run machine that is Labuschagne was actually dismissed, Australia didn’t let up. (Reminder: While a lot of people like to call Marnus a run machine, it’s actually pronounced ‘run ma-scagh-nay’.)

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Australia crashed their way to 9/473d shortly before the day two evening session, with Steve Smith joining David Warner in being dismissed just short of a century (Warner for the second time this series!). More nineties than downloading Alanis Morissette off Napster, this Australian top order.

Comedy Cricket
Grade: C+

As Joe Root and Dawid Malan (easily my favourite partnership where both batters have both first and surname only one letter substitution away from a palindrome) batted sensibly in the first session of the third day, a flaw in the humorous potential of this Ashes series became very apparent.

For as difficult as it might be for Australian fans to admit, when England stop doing their highly entertaining comedy cricket schtick, Australia seem utterly incapable of picking up the slack. They are instead forced to rely on the commentators talking bollocks, like amateurs.

Luckily, it turned out that Root was simply waiting for his fans back home to start waking up before he unveiled England’s day three japery. Sure, it was just another collapse, but you don’t mess with the classics. Root was dismissed by Cameron Green, and his side then lost 8/86 to add a bit of mirth to proceedings.

To their credit, Australia tried to go with England. At one point Mitchell Starc caught a six then stood on the rope. Later, when Australia refused to enforce the follow-on, Harris and Warner came up with a funny run out bit. Both those moments show that Australia are trying to go with their more hilarious opponents. But they seem to be totally comedically outclassed at the moment.

The Escalation of Craziness
Grade: A

Question: You’re at an Australian cricket ground during the Ashes, coming out to bat under lights against Mitchell Starc wielding a brand new pink ball, with the home side almost half a thousand runs ahead. How do you open?

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This is the challenge Rory Burns has struggled to deal with. And yet, on a day that began with Joe Root being hit in the nuts in the nets and continued with Smith almost being out twice in his first two balls, Ollie Robinson bowling off spin and substitute fielder Usman Khawaja dancing for the Barmy Army, perhaps the single craziest thing to happen was Rory Burns surviving fifty deliveries under lights.

Well, it was the craziest thing, until Root was dismissed in the final over, after bookending the fourth day’s play by being hit in the nuts yet again.

Brought it full circle. Magnificent storyteller is Joe Root.

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Then on the final day, Buttler trumped even this nonsense. He was reprieved, fittingly, by a wicket-keeping error that allowed him to push more than 200 balls into a heroic attempt to ensure England escaped with a draw, only to then undo it by clumsily stepping on his stumps in the final session.

And Buttler’s not even considered one of the funny ones. Australia are in grave danger of being completely swamped by an endless barrage of England comedy cricket. They need to lift if they are to stay in this slapstick contest.

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