Ashes 2021/2022, MCG, Day 1: The Captain Returns
The Captain Returns
[Image: Eng’s captain Joe Root plays a beautifully controlled cut between the slips and gully for four runs.]
Note: All images are single frames selected and cropped from Cricket Australia’s video summary of the day’s play linked in Sources below.
Publication date: 2021-12-26
'Twas a poor day for the tourists. Attempts to raise spirits with positivity before the match amounted to naught as Australia's captain returned and, having won the toss, put Eng in to bat, and then took all three of the English top order wickets before lunch. The key word there is "took". It took some excellent bowling. Cummins had put his team in the field, and then played a bowling captain's "knock" by removing the top order before lunch.
What followed in the second session was the travesty. England's middle order gave their wickets away to risky shot selection such that all three of them were gone by tea.
[Image: Ben Stokes attempts an upper cut to see the ball fly to Lyon at gully.]
Despite a little flailing of the willow by the lower order, it was all over for 185 in the 66th over. Aus' under pressure opener Harris survived on 20 until the close of play with Lyon playing night watchman after Warner had scored 38 before being dismissed by the veteran Anderson. At 1/61 Aus have 9 wickets to recover the 124 runs of arrears and set a likely first innings lead.
Weather for tomorrow is mixed sun and cloud, with some rain in Melbourne's outer suburbs in the early morning, but none for the city, close to the heart of which lies the Melbourne Cricket Ground known simply by the locals as "the 'G". Thus, the pitch will dry and the sun will shine from late morning with the odd bit of shade. It'll be pure sunshine for the 3 days following. From this one can assume that day 2's morning session is critical for England. They need wickets, for the batting will only get easier as day 2 progresses, and even more into day 3. If these early wickets can be taken, a large dollop of belief garnered and a little luck found, Eng can hope to keep Aus' lead to a small amount and take the best of the batting to create a cracker of a Test.
But, those were not the words of the day. While that second session gifted Aus all three middle order wickets via brain fade, Aus' performance in the field was exemplary.
Starc leaked a few runs in the first session, and bowled the only "extra" of the day with his first delivery, a no-ball. No more runs were gifted to Eng; no more no-balls, nor any wides. Runs would need to be made with the bat or off the glove. Aus took every catch on offer with Cameron Green's leap forward from gully perhaps being the most challenging catch of the day.
[Image: After taking the wicket of Stokes (shown above), Green takes a great catch from gully to remove Bairstow from the bowling of Starc.]
Scott Boland, at 32 years of age is the oldest seamer to debut for Australia since 1950. He had a cracker of a day, taking two catches in the outfield, neither of which was difficult. But, you're on debut for your country and nerves can scramble the calmest of minds. Take those catches he did, and trapped Mark Wood plumb in front on middle stump.
[Image: Boland’s first Test wicket: Mark Wood 6, lbw b Boland.]
Being a local lad, when the umpire's finger was raised the 57 000 strong crowd lept to their feet in a roar. Wood called for a hopeless review, and as the third "red" showed on the huge screens at the 'G the crowd got to celebrate for their man a second time.
Boland has some aboriginal heritage, and is just the second (or fourth, reports conflict) person with this heritage to represent Australia. That 2 (or 4) stands starkly against the 463 woven into his precious "baggy green" cap.
During the start of day ceremony the crowd were treated to a "welcome to country" ceremony, a now traditional event at Australian sporting and other cultural events in which the local indigenous community welcome attendees to their land. It was especially poignant at such a signature event on the Australian cricket calendar and to have Mr Boland debuting for his nation. As a fitting cap to the day, Boland takes the final catch to end Eng’ innings:
An Evolved Mental Disintegration
During the reign of Steve Waugh as Aus captain during the early 1990s to early 2000's Aus were the dominant international team. They boasted a star line up of some of the best bowlers of all time and multiple batsmen who would later become captain. A part of Waugh's strategy was "mental disintegration", to apply sufficient pressure on the opposition that they began to doubt themselves. The declaration of this tactic was itself a PR campaign to augment any on field tactics.
The tactic was shelved under Ricky Ponting's captaincy, partially due to the legendary win by Eng in England during the 2005 Ashes series. During Michael Clarke’s later captaincy the narrative moved to "hard but fair". It was all about "the line" between allowable but fairly unsportsmanlike on field behavior and that which contravened the rules, if not the "spirit" of the game.
During this latter captaincy, the New Zealand cricket team experienced a period of rather devastating loses and chose to remodel themselves. Fair play and respect would be signatory in how they approached the game. Mistakes in play were to be acknowledged and learned from. Being beaten by a better team would lead not to recrimination, but lauding the play of their opponents. This approach was the core of Brendan McCullum's captaincy. This more "gentlemanly" approach saw a resurgence in their self-belief and on field performance, not to mention a huge increase in national public support for the team.
Meanwhile, Aus were still doing "the line". This all fell apart during what is known in Cricket lore as "sandpaper-gate". So much pressure to win existed inside the Aus dressing room that they resorted to leaping over "the line" and tampering with the ball, overtly, on field, on camera. Under the leadership of the post scandal captain Tim Paine, Australia dropped much of its aggressive on field behavior and moved closer to the model defined by McCullum.
Then something rather magical happened. Australia has been such a force in cricket for so long that there was only one trophy which was available to them that they had never claimed, that of the T-20 world championship. They qualified for the most recent tournament but were given almost no chance to win by commentators both expert and armchair. They lost their initial game. The British refrain of "here we go again" began to play. But, something clicked. They found a wellspring of belief to strive for each other to achieve the trophy rather than for the trophy itself.
Returning to Australia to prepare for the upcoming Ashes series the squad had changed. There would be alterations in the squad for the differing venues and format of Test cricket, but the new spirit would persist. Australia's then Test captain, Paine, was sidelined due to a sequence of off field events, and their leading bowler, Patrick (Patty) Cummins, was offered the captaincy. He was among the senior players who had helped inspire the change of belief which finally led to the first Aus T-20 championship trophy.
Now, almost half way through this Ashes series, this newly found spirit is shining under Cummins' leadership. Aus have needed to "dig deep" on occasion when batting. The stands between Warner and Labauchagne stand out. The determination and relentlessness of Aus' bowling attack is evident. The "bowling" captain's innate understanding of how an attack works in partnerships, and how some bowlers benefit from shorter spells while others like the spinner Lyon can bowl longer and move between attacking and defensive approaches, are evident on the scorecards.
At the wicket on day 1, Cummins wins the toss. He knew the weather forecast. He knows the ground. He took the calculated risk to bowl first in only his second match as captain, such confidence does he have in his attack. As if to say, "sorry I couldn't help in Adelaide" he removes all of Eng's top order in the first session. Who would not give their all for a captain like this?
Then, the mental disintegration occurs, not because of nasty words spoken on the field, but because of determined, intelligent and skillful play having "won" session after session, with two Tests in the bag. Eng's middle order threw their wickets away, the tail was quickly wrapped up, and a third of the deficit whittled down for the loss of one wicket.
As Harris and Lyon walked off, the mood in the dressing room would have been twofold.
Well played, Boland.
Welcome back, Patty!
Black armbands were worn on the day to commemorate Ray Illingworth, a former England captain who managed to win the Ashes in Australia during the 1970’s. He died very recently at the age of 89.
Grandstand at Stumps: MCG Day 1, Grandstand, ABC, 2021-12-26
Australia dominate on day one at Melbourne, Test Match Special, BBC, 2021-12-26
Ashes Daily - Melbourne Day 1, Geoff Lemon and Adam Collins, The Final Word, 2021-12-26
Cummins leads charge as Aussies dominate Boxing Day, Cricket Australia, 2021-12-26
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