The first thing to be said of a test in which a side batting third can score 517/1 is that the wicket was not fit for test match cricket. The second is that, for once, this did not matter. Hilarity trumped common sense. None of us, not being present for the Melbourne test in 1912, can recall the 323 run stand shared by Jack Hobbs and Wilfred Rhodes but, somewhat sadly, that’s now been wiped from the record books by Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott.
Actually, the wicket was worse than even 517/1 suggests. The teams combined for a score of 624/2 in the second innings. That’s a Sri Lankan level of blandness and were it not for the novelty of the matter, right-thinking cricket supporters would be annoyed that a once-fascinating test match was ruined by the Gabba wicket.
The novelty matters, however and in the end just about saved the contest even if one cannot escape the suspicion that England may have batted Australia into selecting a better team for round two in Adelaide. I also suppose it’s churlish to point out, again, that Trott shouldn’t be playing for England and that Cook’s technical problems will return sooner rather than later? He’s in the side for the next 18 months anyway.
Although England have evidently established a psychological bridgehead, the notion persists that there’s still little between these sides. Michael Vaughan said last night that if England had made 350 in their first innings they might have won the game. Perhaps. But they didn’t and nor did it require great Australian bowling to dismiss them. If they can bat poorly once they can bat poorly again.
In the end, then, this first test may be seen as something of a phoney war from which it is difficult to draw firm conclusions. Australia certainly don’t look a desperately strong side but England aren’t a juggernaut either. Jimmy Anderson surely won’t be as unlucky as he was on the third morning but, then again, this might be his best spell of the series. Nor, alas, did Graeme Swann suggest he will terrorise the Australian batsmen. Both teams, in fact, looked a bowler light though this too may be a feature of the conditions.
So it’s much as we were after five days of fascinating but ultimately inconclusive cricket. The feeling, special to test cricket, that something interesting or important is about to happen remains the case now that the opening skirmish has finished. A modest advantage to England who will draw encouragement from the manner in which they saved, then dominated, the match. On the other hand, Australia have the chance to regroup and call upon reinforcements for Adelaide.
As for that 1912 match at Melbourne: you may feel some pity for an Australian attack confronted by a batting line-up of Hobbs, Rhodes, Gunn, Hearne, Woolley and Mead. Over their war-interrupted careers they would accumulate 288,199 runs and no fewer than 713 first-class centuries. Add SF Barnes to take the wickets and it doesn’t seem a fair fight. No wonder that even an Australian side featuring Trumper, Hill and Bardsley was defeated 4-1. The English skipper, JWHT Douglas was unkindly-but-amusingly referred to by the Ockers as "Johnny Won’t Hit Today" but with that batting line-up at his disposal he didn’t bloody need to, did he?