A new year offers the opportunity to experiment with new things. Some things, like mixing what was left of the gin with a bottle of Kahlua we found under the sink, are perhaps best left untried. Although even then the opportunity to sample a new range of heavy duty carpet cleaners the morning after leads us to suggest that every cloud has a silver lining and that the forces of karma are truly at work in the world today. Or some new age hippy crap like that. We don’t tend to believe in that stuff anyway. Think it’s a bunch of bullshit. All we know is that we hope to get our kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames.
Such may be the attitude of players like Scott Borthwick, Gary Ballance and Boyd Rankin on the morning of the final Test of the Mega Super Dooper Ashes Extravaganza, 2013/14. Sure, they may have always dreamed of this day, of playing their first Test in the colours of their country (or adopted country, however you choose to view these things). Of getting stuck in and making a meaningful contribution. But not, perhaps, in conditions like this. This is less the changing of the guard then the third infantry wave on the opening morning of the Battle of the Somme. By now they may have realised that what seemed like a grand adventure only a few months ago has turned out to be anything but. The corpses poking over the parapet probably ought to tip them off that the next few moments of their lives will perhaps not be the most pleasant.
Of course the opposite could be true as well though. Although the circumstances may not be terribly advantageous, the opportunity is there to give the Aussies a right good licking. Like Jim Morrison suggested, its probably best to try and make the most of the time you have. Although we would suggest that the English players should stop short of engaging in a spot of indecent exposure during the post match ceremonies. Even Jim probably regrets that little episode.
There was a great deal of consternation when it emerged a few months ago that the SCG redevelopment wouldn’t be completed in time for this Test. As it turns out, a half finished stadium seems an appropriate venue for an occasion like this. We would never go as far to say that a Test involving Steven Peter Devereux Smith could be meaningless, but this one sure does feel…flat. Australia will be hoping to complete the whitewash of course, but they’ll also be determined to avoid letting England finish the tour with a Test win. Partly because the tourists don’t deserve one, but mainly because any result other than an England win would mean Australia would leapfrog them in the ICC Test Rankings.
There are injury concerns of course. Ryan Harris and injury concerns go together like Nintendo games receiving Game of the Year awards and outraged fanboys. The perception is that he will play, if only because nobody has the courage to tell him that he won’t be. Shane Watson is another matter, and if he doesn’t appear, then Alex Doolan will surely replace him. The selectors wouldn’t have bothered calling him up otherwise, and this is as good an opportunity as any to have a look at a player who has been considered the next man in ever since he hit a century against South Africa in a tour game on the same ground a little over a year ago.
Other than that there don’t seem to be any changes pending, and very much an atmosphere of wanting to finish the job with the same players that started the series back in Brisbane (although James Faulkner replacing George Bailey is still a possibility). Which, of course, means no second spinner, raising the possibility that Devereux will get a trundle at some point during the match. Suddenly this Test is looking a lot more interesting after all.
While a Test match result can never be written off as unimportant (unless it was prearranged three weeks ago by bookies, in which case who cares), what is more important for the tourists in this game is not whether they win or not, but rather their level of performance. Not so much the performance of the debutantes (of which we expect there to be several), who will no doubt be full of beans, but rather that of the old guard. Players such as James Anderson and Kevin Pietersen who, given that they have already been excused from the limited over shenanigans that is to follow, may already have one eye on the plane trip home.
But even more important again will be how these veterans treat the newcomers to the team. Given that Borthwick has hardly been setting the world on fire in Sydney Grade cricket, and that Rankin and Ballance have been trusted to do little more than carry the drinks this tour, all three (if they play) will need as much support as they can get. The Australians will no doubt be looking to get after them all, but if even some of their own teammates don’t think they are up to international standard, this could prove to be a long painful episode to endure.
It’s important for the English unit to finally come together as an actual team. That will be what most onlookers will be hoping to take from this game. If, during this Test, it still gives the appearance of a bunch of distracted individuals, each with their preoccupations, then the more things will have changed in the new year, the more they will have stayed the same.
Australia to sneak home, seven sore bottoms to one.