Blimey, good grief, cripes, crivens, stone the crows, sweet Jesus, oh my giddy aunt, wowsers, blooming heck, ruddy hell, shit the bed and fuck me sideways.
It is true that “even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day”, but this is an over-used cliche and not quite appropriate to describe Shane Watson’s 176 – his first Test hundred since 2010, his third overall, and his highest Test score. He batted very well in seeing off Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad and then showing no mercy to the two debutants (of which more later), plundering runs through the covers and down the ground. He showed tremendous strength and character when on 91* he misjudged a Broad bouncer, turned his head away and was struck behind the ear, just below the helmet. Along the way he survived being given out LBW to Chris Woakes and being dropped by Alastair Cook at slip (both of which occurred after he passed his milestone). He was eventually well caught at deep square leg by a diving Kevin Pietersen, at a point when a double hundred looked entirely feasible. But as fine as he played, there’s the niggling thought that it was more akin to a disfunctional digital clock deciding only to turn itself on when the circumstances suited. The day one pitch was a very decent batting track, offering only a little spin for Swann and with consistent bounce. Once the new ball had aged, there was also little movement for the quicker bowlers. It might be harsh to criticise a man who scored 176 (particularly when Chris Rogers, David Warner and Michael Clarke all struggled), but when you have been at the centre of so many problems over the past 12 months, your third Test century might have been a bit more valuable if it had come when the series was still alive.
Shane Watson’s innings was not the most incredible thing about this day. England selections in the last quinquennium have not always been as conservative as some might say, but when surprising choices are made, there is usually plenty of reasoning behind the decisions (such as the changing of the bowling personnel in Australia in 2010/11, or dropping Nick Compton earlier this year). But today’s selection of five bowlers including two spinners was staggering. There is enough speculation as to why Woakes and Simon Kerrigan played that readers can make their own mind up as to whether the decision was psychological, experimental, tactical or blind optimism.
The Warwickshire man was okay; after an expensive first spell he was more controlled later on and finished with a better economy rate than Broad – although Broad was a lot more dangerous throughout. As a consequence of his innocuousness, his advocates have turned him from a bowler who can bat into a batting all-rounder. But it was only his first day and a more balanced conclusion can be offered once the game is over – though it should be mentioned that being brought into the final Test of an already won (or lost) series can be a thankless task, as Joey Benjamin will tell you.
And so to Kerrigan. Few questioned his inclusion in the squad, because he clearly is a promising young spinner. In his four county seasons, he has taken 30, 26, 50 and 48 first-class wickets respectively. The 26 came in Lancashire’s Championship winning year, the 50 in their relegation season and the 48 are in Division Two this year. So it is not as if he is completely talentless. With Monty Panesar understandably omitted, the other candidate would have been the more experienced James Tredwell, the man who never lets you down, but has taken significantly fewer wickets for Kent in the same division. Moreover, Kerrigan’s left-arm spin would be the Panesar-esque contrast to Swann’s off-breaks. But being in the squad so that the coaches can have a gander at him is very different from debuting in the Ashes.
We’re not sure what Ian Botham said as he handed him his debut cap, but it definitely didn’t calm any nerves. His first spell (two overs for 28 runs) was the worst we can recall at this level – and we sat through the 1990s golden era for English spinners. His second was better, but that’s like saying Babel is better than Sigh No More.
England need to attack whilst the ball is still new: Steve Smith will be vulnerable starting again and after nightwatchman Peter Siddle comes the re-re-re-re-adjusted Australian lineup of Haddin/Faulkner/Starc. However another 100 runs or so will make it very difficult for England to win this match, particularly as they will probably be batting last.