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The Liebke Report Card: Khawaja proves Warne principle, while Alpha Pat is most Australian captain ever

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9th January, 2022
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With the Ashes secured, Australia and England headed to the SCG for the traditional pink rain-delayed Test.

Here’s my report card for the fourth Test.

Steve Smith’s Fear of Rain
Grade: D

A rainy first day saw Australia make only 3/126, the highlight of which was Bangladesh beating New Zealand in a Test over the ditch. The rain continued on into the morning session of the second day. Every time even a hint of Sydney mist threatened to blow over the SCG, umpire Steve Smith took the opportunity to summon the covers and race off the ground.

Of course, what most people don’t realise is that Smith, much like Bruce Willis in Unbreakable, loses all his superhuman powers when he comes into contact with water. So, perfectly justified on all fronts for Smith to be scurrying away from the scattered day two showers.

Still, should the more traditional umpires have allowed this behaviour? Shouldn’t cricketers be expected to be a bit hardier than this? Why, I once saw Chris Lynn hit a six out of the Gabba on his way to 75 (32) in the pouring rain. And yet these players go off for a bit of drizzle? Crazy.

What I’m saying here is that the Ashes should instead be contested via a series of domestic franchise T20 matches. Hobart Hurricanes v Northern Superchargers, please.

Usman Khawaja
Grade: A

Despite his best efforts, Smith eventually had a drop of rain fall on him and was dismissed. This was followed by the departure of Cameron Green and Alex Carey. Despite those wickets, Khawaja batted on.

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He’d already been given a life when both Jos Buttler and Joe Root managed to drop him off a single Jack Leach delivery. Good slapstick from the pair, but England at their comic peak would have also dropped the catch into the helmet behind them for five penalty runs. They needed to lift, and soon managed to do so by having Ben Stokes injure himself while bowling pointless bouncers.

Usman Khawaja after scoring a century

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Khawaja, meanwhile, was joined by Pat Cummins, who did his best to inject his own brand of humour into the Test by suddenly hogging the strike heading into the tea break with the new number five stuck on 99. But the captain couldn’t sustain the bit, eventually turning the strike back to Khawaja who promptly completed his century to the cheers of an adoring crowd.

A beloved cricketer is Khawaja, and it just goes to further prove my theory that an excellent way to choose Australian cricketers to admire and support is to simply look at the ones Shane Warne dislikes the most. Never fails.

Cameron Green’s Puniness
Grade: D-

After slumping to 4/36 in reply to Australia’s 8/416d, things looked grim for England. But then Green cannoned a ball into Stokes’ off stump and failed to dislodge either bail. Pretty weak sauce from Australia’s tall-rounder.

It was a moment that was replayed across the world. Even Sachin Tendulkar took to social media to muse about whether there should be a dismissal called ‘hitting the stumps’ for when the ball has hit them but not dislodged the bails?

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At first, you think, why does Tendulkar hate bails and their fundamental role in the game? But then you realise that with no bails to burn there would have been no Ashes. Sachin’s jealousy knows no bounds.

Still, umpire Paul Reiffel was on board with Tendulkar. He fired out Stokes based purely on the vibe of the whole thing. Felt like it should be out. Let’s give it out. A wonderful human response that was immediately cruelly undone by our all-powerful computer-driven DRS overlords. For how long are we to put up with our machine conquerors and their insistence on abiding by the actual Laws of Cricket?

If Stokes cared one iota about humanity and our never-ending silent struggle against the rising robot enemy, he would have walked. Is Ben Stokes a traitor to mankind? Sadly, the answer is yes.

Declaring On A Hat Trick Attempt
Grade: A+

After Australia wrapped up the England innings early on the fourth day for a lead of 124 on the first innings, they set about setting a target, despite some setbacks settling in.

One of those setbacks came in the unexpected form of Ollie Pope, in as a substitute wicket-keeper, who had a hand in the first three wickets to fall. With other England injury replacements roaming the field like bemused water buffalo, there was surely hope that every single Australian batter would be dismissed by a substitute fielder.

Instead, Leach bowled Smith to bring Khawaja and Green together. This time, the pair put on 179 runs together, with Khawaja bringing up his second century of the Test. (See? We told you that 37 in 2011 was promising.)

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And still Cummins didn’t declare. Not declaring when everybody wants you to do so (including the opposition) is one of my favourite things that a captain can do.

But not, as it turns out, my absolute favourite. Because after Leach dismissed Green and Carey in successive balls, Cummins finally called the Australians in, denying Leach the hat trick attempt. An absolute masterful act. Most Australian captain ever. Shame on anybody who doubted him.

Oh, sure. Cummins will have his excuses. He’ll claim he wasn’t even padded up to bat since he was getting ready to bowl. Or that, in fact, he’s done Leach a favour because England fans can now forever embrace the possibility that he was denied a hat trick rather than the shameful reality that he would almost certainly have missed out on one.

: Pat Cummins of Australia celebrates taking the wicket of Mark Wood of England during day five of the Fourth Test Match in the Ashes series between Australia and England at Sydney Cricket Ground on January 09, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe - CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Pat Cummins of Australia celebrates taking the wicket of Mark Wood of England. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

But don’t let Cummins’ excuses fool you. Only a bowling captain truly knows the damage they can inflict by declaring on a hat trick. Exquisite stuff. O Captain! My Captain!

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Rounding
Grade: B

Cummins’ late declaration also meant that the CricViz boffins gave England officially a 0% chance of winning the game. Now, obviously, it wasn’t literally impossible for England to win. It meant merely that England had less than 0.5% of a chance of winning, and, hence, was rounded to zero. Still, I’m all for this 0% rounding if it means we avoid the inevitable onslaught of tiresome Jim Carrey ‘so you’re telling me there’s a chance’ quips in commentary. Another tick for Captain Cummins.

Oh, and the result? Not an England win. Just as CricViz predicted. Instead, a boring old draw, nine wickets down or something. Batten down, everybody. Here comes the rise of the machines.

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