We arrived in Sydney near midday on New Year’s Eve. Already crowds were gathering in and around the harbour for the celebrations and the fireworks display.
The harbour is a wonderful sight. The coat-hanger bridge and the opera house are so familiar as to be almost clichés, though the size of the opera house came as a shock to me. The ferry boats are great, too, little ones scuttling in all directions and the bigger ones plying the route to Manly. They belong in the same ‘steampunk’ universe as the old Melbourne trams.
This is visually the most exciting city I have ever visited.
On New Year’s Day, with a few thousand others, I took the big ferry to Manly, near the mouth of Sydney Harbour. A short walk across a spit of land and you’re on the Pacific Ocean or Tasman Sea side of the resort, as opposed to the calmer waters inside the harbour. A lovely beach, but too crowded on this occasion.
The following day we had our guided tour of the city, which included a morning stroll from Bronte Park past some delightful little bathing and surfing beaches, finishing at Bondi Beach, still very quiet early in the day. We continued by coach and, our guide being female, we were well informed about all the shops in Sydney – redundant knowledge as far as I was concerned. She sounded exactly like Dame Edna Everage, so I was kept amused. Sydney has impressive architecture, too, and lovely parks.
We finished with a cruise round the harbour, which was superb. Next day it was back to cricket action, with England looking to win the series outright.
Australia won toss, 134-4, (rsp).
England were unchanged but Australia had to replace Ponting, Clarke taking over as captain and new boy Khawaja coming in as number 3 bat. Another debutant, spinner Beer, came in for the injured Harris. To the delight of the Barmy Army, Johnson kept his place.
Clarke’s captaincy began with a tricky decision. It was an overcast day and the pitch looked mottled, patchy green. But Sydney is supposed to be spin friendly, and England had Swann, so he batted.
Playing out of character, Watson and Hughes stuck it out for 29 patient overs before Tremlett got Hughes on the stroke of lunch; 55-1. The left-handed Khawaja looked a real talent from the start, no sign of nerves at all, but Bresnan dismissed Watson and Clarke. The bonus wicket was Swann getting Khawaja just as rain began to fall; not another ball was bowled this day.
The SCG is scarcely less impressive than the MCG, at least on the inside. But surrounding space is at a premium and we were cooped up in the narrow confines of the Victor Trumper Stand during intervals. For some reason there were no passouts available, and the food and drink outlets were hopelessly inadequate. Fortunately, our seats in the Trumper Stand were exactly opposite the old Pavilion and Ladies’ Pavilion, which have been retained as the ground has been developed into a ‘stadium’.
No advertising signs have been allowed to sully these lovely old buildings, and the view we had, from third-man or wide long-on, is the one on all the postcards. I feel so privileged (though poorer) for having been there.
Australia 280 all out, England 167-3
It seems silly, with hindsight, but just for a moment there was this sinking déjà vu feeling as first Johnson smashed the bowling and then England, following a bright start, lost wickets in quick succession. This was Perth, all over again.
The day began well for England, with Haddin going cheaply. Hussey and Smith put together a partnership but never looked like getting away against disciplined bowling. Collingwood struck a huge blow when he bowled Hussey, the last delivery with the old ball. The new one soon accounted for two more wickets, but a frustrating and entertaining stand between Johnson, who has batting ability, and Hilfenhaus, who hasn’t, saw 189-8 eventually become 280 all out.
Strauss wasn’t concerned as he put together a run-a-ball 50, but he and Trott fell in quick succession, and we all held our breaths as Pietersen looked like being out almost every ball. He was out before close of play, but Cook survived being caught off a no ball.
An exciting and incident packed day ended with England still ahead in the game, but only just.
Australia 280, England 488-7
The late Jane McGrath was in everyone’s thoughts today and the SCG was a sea of pink in a huge show of support for the McGrath Foundation; old and young, Pom and Convict, all united in a good cause. Pink stumps were used throughout the match.
Today, also, England won the Test series. Even the England of four years ago would have struggled to lose from this position. Remorseless Cook and glorious Bell scored centuries. Cook threatened, but fell just short of, a double ton. Then Prior put the bowling to the sword late in the day.
There had been a moment of controversy, at least in one person’s mind, when Cook was almost caught at short-leg by Hughes. The picture shows a couple of Australians appealing, while Hughes himself is in an attitude of “I’m not sure”. The England players had no complaints, and the replay showed the ball had bounced, but a certain knight of the realm, commentating on TV, saw this as a case of Australian cheating.
Australia had fielded with wonderful commitment throughout a hot day, good character from them when they must have known all was lost.
England 644 all out, Australia 280 and 213-7
Prior duly completed a thrilling century, well supported by Bresnan, then Swann cut loose before the innings ended shortly after lunch. England’s lead was 364, one whole Hutton ahead.
Our boys had shown what a good batting pitch this now was and I had expected Australia to get runs on it, but this lot were shot to pieces. Gone. Brains scrambled.
For the third time in ten innings the opening partnership was broken by a run out, Watson going this time. I have no insight into Test cricket, but if this were a club side I think there might be a few fists flying in the dressing room by now, though Hughes v Watson would be a physical mismatch, and if Hughes tried to use his bat he would probably miss.
With Swann tying up one end, though there was little turn for him, the quickies worked their way through the batting, two wickets for each of them. Johnson, mocked all the way to the wicket, was bowled first ball, prompting Strauss to claim the extra half hour, but the lads looked jaded after a long day.
Australia, 281 all out, lost by an innings and 83 runs. Series: 3-1 to England.
A rain delay and a partnership between Smith and Siddle postponed the inevitable, but Siddle eventually holed out against Swann, and Anderson and Tremlett finished the job with the new ball.
Unable to resist one last trip on a cute ferry, I spent the remainder of the day on the gorgeous Manly Beach.
We enjoyed a lovely farewell dinner at a floating restaurant in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. I had kangaroo, tasty as well as symbolic, despite being told that all kangaroo eaten in Australia is road-kill. Was this a wind-up? I just don’t know. The following day our group split several ways, some going home, others to various Australian destinations
I opted for three nights in tropical Northern Queensland, which turned out to be a mistake. It should have been a week. Or a month! Too soon it was time to fly home, departing from Brisbane Airport just as the floods were rising in the city centre.
What a difference four years can make. Obviously the Australian side is far weaker, but it seems to me the England side is proportionately stronger, even though the personnel – especially the batting – is much the same as in 2006-07.
Strauss should have been captain on that tour, but Flintoff was given a job he was clearly unsuited for, and organisation under Fletcher seemed non existent. No warm up games, quirky selections, poor team spirit. I came away feeling let down, that I cared more about the cricket than did the England players I was trying to support.
This time, under Strauss and Flower, I saw what I would expect from a top professional side. Apart from poor old Collingwood, all the batsmen who had had technical or temperamental issues seemed to have sorted them out. Cook’s head was still, his balance good. Pietersen was no longer missing straight balls from slow left-armers. Bell looked a million dollars, the best looking England player since the Graveney of my youth. All of them batted without that mind-killing fear.
The fielding was athletic and keen, fitness levels were exceptional, and Strauss always looked as though he had a plan. Prior has improved his keeping and is unrecognisable as the fumbler of Sri Lanka and West Indies tours.
Above all, it was the bowling that impressed. Anderson was as smooth as silk, the finished article now. I groaned when Tremlett replaced Broad. However, someone has done a remarkable job with Tremlett. The Rose Bowl pussy-cat has been transformed into – if not quite a roaring Surrey lion – then a pretty handy tall fast bowler. A guy who now doesn’t give up and hold his back the first time he is hit for four. The physical attributes, the height and the action, were always there. Now England has a real asset.
And what about Bresnan? I have probably seen near 50% of the overs Tim has bowled in first class cricket, but he never performed like he has on this tour. He was superb, quick without straining for it, accurate as a Statham, and obviously doing enough with the ball, old and new, to cause problems to the batsmen.
The Australians were scared to death of Swann. Green pitches nullified his wicket-taking but played into the hands of the superior (except at Perth) English seamers, yet Swann still played an important part in giving his captain control through the heat and burden of the day.
So England now has a strong hand of bowlers: to the team in Sydney, add Broad and Finn, Onions and Shahzad, plus Panesar. That’s two full Test-strength attacks, nearly all still youngsters. With the likes of Rashid and Hampshire’s young Briggs to come, the future looks rosy.
In the batting, Morgan is set to replace Collingwood, and Davies has impressive credentials, in addition to his keeping. Then there is competition from youngsters like Bairstow and Lyth, Leicester’s Taylor and Vince of Hampshire. A lot of talent, and these are just the ones I have seen.
Not only has the England team improved, so have these supporters. A bigger repertoire, more tuneful, less confrontational, funnier – an all round improvement from them. Indeed, the abiding memory of the whole tour is of watching England crush the poor old Aussies, played out to a background of Sloop John B, the Barmy Army version of that song, lustily and tunefully sung by a choir of hundreds.
And we did just that.