Test Match Misery: An Abject Late-Night Collapse
England’s bowling performance was quite good. The pitch looked to flatten out after the new ball, and after the summer of struggles, there was widespread support of the theory that England’s batsmen would be back on form this winter. They were back on form alright – the form that typified the patented middle-order collapses of the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
The collapse itself:
The second day performance gave me a stark and unpleasant insight into just how miserable following English Ashes tours must have been 10-15 years ago. England started well enough, but the worry began with Trott’s dismissal on the stroke of lunch. Johnson’s first short ball was played terribly, and from that moment on his body became a target. Trott’s attempt to jump across his stumps and waft at the ball backfired, as he nicked one down the leg-side. A really bad innings. Even so, two down is not the end of the world.
Pietersen joined Carberry, and Australia applied the squeeze. KP was dropped by Siddle off his own bowling, before clipping a juicy half-volley on leg stump straight to Bailey at mid-wicket. The wicket came after him, and Carberry especially, had become bogged down. Pietersen’s poor execution acted as the trigger for one of England’s classic middle-order collapses.
Carberry had played very well, leaving pretty much everything outside off stump, and working anything leg side for runs. He looked a bit tentative against Lyon, which helped to build the pressure, but he continued to protect his wicket, which was no bad thing. The issue came when Johnson switched to round the wicket. Carberry’s trusted technique was now thrown into doubt, as he couldn’t adapt to the new angle. A couple of play-and-misses off short pitched deliveries was followed by an edge to slip off a fuller one. From over the wicket, he’d have left all three, but the change in angle shrouded his mind in doubt. A clever tactic, and Johnson was starting to look menacing after what had been a loose opening spell.
Bell was joined by Root. Time to steady the ship boys. But when the middle-order collapses get going, the side sinks faster than the Titanic. Lyon was getting a bit of turn and bounce from around the wicket. Bell went onto the back foot and defended softly, only edging it onto his pad, allowed Smith at short-leg to take the catch. Prior came in next ball and played the same ball with the same lapse in judgement, Smith having to dive to take the ball. Two painfully soft dismissals, and now England were well and truly up against it.
Root was panicked by the situation, and aimed an expansive drive at a ball well outside off, only managing to edge Johnson to third slip. Swann was caught at bat-pad off the same bowler soon after. Tea came with England having lost 6 wickets for just 9 runs in a mad spell of batting, where the runs had dried up and the confident techniques had completely deserted the batsmen.
Broad batted well after tea, but there was only so much respite he could give to England. 136 all out represented a woefully poor effort, with England having cracked under the pressure of tight bowling and genuinely quick short stuff. That said, the consecutive dismissals that fell to Lyon were the most painful. And it all started from Pietersen’s poor execution when England were on 82/2…
Australia had bowled really well indeed, and the atmosphere inside the Gabba was absolutely explosive. It was a session to show just how exciting Test Cricket can be. But all that was lost on me. I cared little for the excitement and the drama, because it had left me in a state of physical and mental chaos. The heart had been ripped out. Hope had turned to despair. And it was four in the morning…
Witnessing the carnage:
I’ve seen some collapses in my time. The best of which was at the end of 2012, when I’d travelled to Cardiff in the hope that Kent might win and gain promotion to the first division of the county championship. From 137/3, we lost 10 wickets for 40 runs, which included the beginning of our follow-on attempt. Witnessing that was pretty bleak.
But 6 wickets for 9 runs in an Ashes Test? That trumps it. And that’s not the worst of it. As wicket after wicket was tossed away, the real thing that brought the desperate misery of it all home was that glance at the clock. Having watched most of the first day, and had minimal sleep, I’d stuck with England throughout the second night, only to be rewarded at 04:15am with one of the most abject collapses I can remember. Any technical proficiency or skill in coping with quick bowling had disappeared, and replaced with the incompetence demonstrated so often these days in the first innings of an away series.
Having invested so much time and effort to stick with your side, seeing the clock read 04:15am made the carnage at the Gabba even worse. In a number of crushingly relevant ways, it was our darkest hour.
Once it’s started, you can’t escape. I was left sat there in a daze right up until the close of play at 07:30am. I’d wanted to go to bed to avoid seeing Australia rack up the runs, but the tiredness had deserted me. All that was left was a feeling of resignation at the ridiculousness of the cricketing spectacle, and the hour of day at which I’d witnessed it. I am still shaking my head right now thinking about that collapse.
That was the first full-day, all-night Ashes vigil I’ve managed to achieve in my fledgling life thus far. I was born in the 90’s, so it was only fair that I got an overdose of what it was like watching England down under in that decade. Misery, despair, and overwhelming tiredness.
And yet I’ll be watching day three. Cricket, bloody cricket.