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The Liebke Report Card: Stuart Broad fell flat on his face and fought with a robot - at least England gave us some laughs

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Expert
16th January, 2022
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Off to Hobart for the fifth and final Test of the Ashes series, with a desperate Pat Cummins striving for his first Test match win in 2022.

Here’s my report card for the fourth Test.

Falling flat on your face
Grade: A-

The Test began spectacularly. From the very first ball, Stuart Broad’s legs gave way beneath him just as he was about to celebrappeal a ball that hit Dave Warner’s pads. The stumble left him sprawled out on the green deck, head half-turned back to the umpire.

At first, most fans took it as yet another sign of Broad’s comic mastery – a bit of slapstick to get everybody in the mood. But one that also functioned as an artistic interpretation of England’s entire Ashes tour to date.

Stuart Broad

(Photo by Matt Roberts – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

As it turned out, this would not be Broad’s strongest comic contribution to the Test. Later, he unleashed a furious outburst at a robot. It was a cricketing concept that the rest of us had never even considered as a possibility, but one that was as delightful as it was unexpected.

For all the criticisms of England’s performances this series, only the Ashes could give us the previously unforeseen notion of Stuart Broad’s hatred of robots.

That hatred will not only serve us well in the upcoming technology wars against the machine uprising, but will also fuel the Ashes contest for at least another 150 years.

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Before Broad’s remote control car-fuelled eruption however, we learnt that his first ball tumble was not just slapstick. It also served as a wonderful mesmerising set-up to hypnotise Marnus Labuschagne into eventually doing the same later in the innings.

Labuschagne’s comic stumble saw him fall away from a Broad full ball that crashed into his stumps. Two great collapsing comedy cricketers at the very top of their game.

As the old saying goes, there are only two kinds of leaves. Ones that don’t involve Marnus Labuschagne sprawled out on the ground as the stumps are scattered behind him. And ones that do.

Batting collapses
Grade: B-

The literal physical collapsing of Labuschagne and Broad contrasted nicely with the metaphorical collapsing of both batting line-ups.

Australia were first. Sent in to bat on a green pitch, and with Broad and Ollie Robinson moving the ball off the seam, Australia lost David Warner and Steve Smith for ducks, along with Usman Khawaja for six, as they slumped to 3-12.

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In such conditions, captain Pat Cummins would surely have been tempted to declare and send England in instead. What an outstanding piece of tactical captaincy that would have been. Challenge England to match Australia’s 3-12d against himself, Mitchell Starc and Scott Boland. Game on, I’d have thought.

Alternatively, it might have challenged Joe Root to counter-declare. And well, heck, now you’ve got a Test match brewing.

Travis Head
Grade: A

Travis Head certainly seemed to like the idea of Cummins declaring and exploiting the conditions. He immediately set about supporting his skipper by thrashing the ball to all parts in the most obvious display of declaration batting you’ve ever seen.

Unfortunately, Head was almost too successful, partnering first with Labuschagne and then Cameron Green to race Australia past 200 and into the realms of a more normal Test match, one without the exquisite thrills of double dog dare you declarations.

Head brought up his century off just 112 balls and was then dismissed the very next ball, further augmenting the comedy credentials of this Test.

After all, it takes genuine comic talent to be dismissed before the standing ovation at the ground and the stream of deserved social media praise online for your century has even completed.

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Travis Head celebrates his century.

(Photo by Matt Roberts – CA/Cricket Australia via Getty Images)

Nobody else was game to follow Head’s lead, however. Instead, England staggered to 188 in their first innings, before Australia went for another top order collapse in their second, all out for 155.

Mark Wood’s bounce-em-outs meant England needed 270 for a thrilling consolation victory that would also see Hobart definitively stripped of all future Ashes Tests.

Australia’s niceness
Grade: C

England’s chances of securing the win were boosted enormously by Australia’s newfound willingness to take pity on the old enemy. In England’s first innings they dropped multiple chances behind the wicket and also failed to review others that were taken.

It was a wonderful display of the spirit of cricket from Australia, who must surely now be officially the new nice guys of world cricket. Ugly Aussies no more. Lovely Aussies instead. Sorry, New Zealand. You’ve been usurped.

Pat Cummins of Australia celebrates the wicket of Ollie Pope of England during day three of the Fifth Test in the Ashes series between Australia and England at Blundstone Arena on January 16, 2022 in Hobart, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

(Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

An alternative theory for the dropped slips catches was posited over on Fox Cricket. There they blamed not Australia’s niceness, but rather the slips being positioned too close together. It was certainly possible they had a point.

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And often when somebody is trying to make a point to me, I do find that I’m too dim to understand it in their first 70 or 80 attempts. That’s why Shane Warne is my favourite commentator.

Yet another theory was that it was all next level ruthlessness from Australia. After all, why settle for dismissing batters once per innings when you could exert your dominance multiple times before finally sending them on their way?

A far more efficient form of mental disintegration than working them over one innings at a time.

Cameron Green
Grade: B+

Could England exploit Australia’s fumbling hands and DRS reluctance to win the Test? Oh, you sweet summer child. Of course not.

They did give one last dollop of hope for their fans waking up back home in the form of a 68-run opening partnership. But after that, they signed off with a more characteristically hopeless 10-56 collapse.

Cameron Green celebrates.

(Photo by Steve Bell/Getty Images)

The collapse was triggered by Cameron Green, who took the first three wickets of the England innings before politely stepping aside to allow his more senior bowlers (excluding Nathan Lyon – who according to his Cricket Australia contract was in Hobart to hit massive sixes out of the ground and nothing else) to finish England off.

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As giant baby cricket boys go, Cameron Green is surely one of the very best.

But despite the 4-0 defeat, it wasn’t all doom and gloom for England. Before this Ashes series started, England did not have a single player in their squad with a Test batting average in the 40s. By the end of the series, they’d finally managed to move one (1) batter into that range.

Congratulations, Joe Root (49.23).

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