Win the toss… check. Opt to bat… check. 75-6… that wasn’t in the script!
Following an uncomfortable tour game against Western Australia, we fronted up against the whole of the nation on the very same turf in Perth. Opening duo Jean-Luc Chevalier (10) and Enzo Petit (19) started steadily as ever, reaching 25-0 before the former was bowled through his legs by a sensational swinging delivery from Mitchell Starc (2-56). That prompted an ugly collapse as the terribly out of form pair of Gilles Smith (4) and Youssef Rizvi (11) as well as an out of sorts Petit, all fell to the short ball. Zvonimir Pitko (5) and Marwan Leroy (0), two young players who both came out of the India tour with their reputations enhanced, soon followed as ignominy awaited our side. Cue Zidane Thomas, who mustered only 17 runs @ 4.25 in the India Test series, an aggregate that included a tortuous 15-ball duck in his final innings. Having retained his place he stuck to his guns to score a swashbuckling and crowd-lifting 41 from just 34 balls. He compiled a fifty partnership with his skipper Xavier Le Tallec who led from the front himself.
The recalled Paco Georges, fresh from first innings figures of 5-52 on the very same deck only a few days earlier, then cavaliered his way to a pulsating 52 from only 27 deliveries. Off-spinner Nathon Lyon (1-46) copped some disdainful treatment from the tall left-hander meanwhile Mitchell Marsh (0-27), who claimed 11 wickets in the tour game, went wicketless. Tailenders Louis Martin (0) and Mehdi Qadri (1) didn’t last long but Le Tallec finished 59 not out to haul his side to 236. Having being 75-6 we’d recovered to 144-7 and 223-7 before subsiding rapidly to 236 all out. Josh Hazlewood (7-63) was tormentor in chief meanwhile Joe Burns claimed four catches.
Despite folding quickly at the end, our lower order and importantly our captain had dug deep to keep us competitive. Le Tallec, Thomas and Georges displayed guts and were unfazed by having their backs firmly against the wall. They attacked and cleared the ropes on numerous occasions but this wasn’t just slogging. The trio played their own game and made the right shot selection, something our top/middle order could learn form.
On that note, an anxious wait… awaited the woefully out of form Smith and Rizvi who would need to contribute scores of substance in the second dig to retain their places in the playing XI come Sydney.
In response to our batting efforts, Australia then raced to 194-0 during which time we dropped four catches… none of which the game allowed me to try and catch! This included two edges off part-timer Jean-Luc Chevalier’s first over, the first over after tea. When we eventually clung onto an edge from Burns (58) off Chevalier (1-28), it was actually dropped by wicketkeeper Leroy but the fielding circle did at last appear and Smith reacted at slip. ANNOYING/FRUSTRATING/INSERT AS APPROPRIATE!
Our luck turned however as captain fantastic Le Tallec (1-38) struck with his first ball, the first after drinks, to dismiss David Warner for a magnificent 140, Leroy holding a smart catch. Leroy then clung on once again when Georges (1-121) lured Labuschagne (18) to nick his first delivery having switched to bowling around the wicket. We then ran Steven Smith (20) out as Australia tried to run on overthrows. We should’ve then run out Marsh without scoring but threw to the wrong end. After his outstanding performance in the warm-up match however Marsh’s (4) disappointing Test continued when he edged Qadri (1-86) to Chevalier. Qadri then found the edge again, this time off Oz captain Paine. The ball deflected off Leroy to Smith at slip who got his fingers under the ball yet the decision was not out. Tim Paine and his team can spout about “Elite honesty” but if they don’t back up their talk then their words are hollow!
Paine and Head survived one more over to reach the close on 274-5, a lead of 38 but that was some collapse having being 194-0. As the players left the field there were heated exchanges between our incensed fielders and the Australian batsmen. As things threatened to boil over an enraged Le Tallec shepherded his herd away and with the TV cameras and mics listening in to every word, he demanded that his side wait until tomorrow to respond… with the ball! We’d fought back superbly… twice. Could we do it again?
There are people in this world who think that Test cricket is boring, people who wouldn’t ever give it the light of day. Well those people missed out on a day of epic drama, collapses and comebacks, ebbs and floes and a little controversy too in Australia’s far west. What were they doing instead?!
Despairingly day two began with any hopes we had of continuing our fightback soon shattered. Australia’s overnight pair set about causing us severe and prolonged head pain! Travis Head reached fifty off the last delivery of the old ball as he and captain Paine lifted the hosts to 354-5, a distant 118 runs ahead.
The new ball did the trick though not in the way we’d expected. Head, set on 52 and with the Paine partnership up to 93, was run out courtesy of a boundary throw from Enzo Petit. By lunch however Australia were up to 381-6, a lead of 145.
Paine ascended into the nineties and seemed destined for a ton before Zidane Thomas intervened. Thomas trapped the Australian captain deep in his crease but Paine opted to review. For a moment it looked like height might save the Tasmanian but he’d used up all his luck in the infancy of his innings. It would’ve been a hollow Test ton and the bitterest of pills for our team to swallow. Paine departed for 90 and Thomas (1-92) provided him with the farewell send off that he merited!
Despite the departure of their captain Australia batted on… and on… and on… messrs Cummins and Starc took them to tea on 504-7 with the lead having ballooned to a whopping 267. Eight deliveries after the interval, Australia declared on 507-7 with Cummins 57 not out and Starc undefeated on 40. The lead was up to 271.
In our quest to make our hosts at least bat again, we lost Chevalier for just 1 with the score on only 11. The left-hander unconvincingly edged Hazlewood to Smith in the slips. That brought the hugely under pressure Gilles Smith to the crease. Yet to make a fifty in nine Test innings, Smith needed nothing less in order to retain his place for the second Test in Sydney. Pressure… what pressure? He promptly smacked Mitchell Starc (0-72) all over the park. His innings included a 97-metre 6 that nearly landed in the Indian Ocean! He passed fifty for the first time at the highest level and when stuck on 60 for almost half an hour, didn’t panic. He defended, left then eventually got going again. He did the same again when pausing on 84. All the while Enzo Petit, like Smith, kept the pull and hook shots in his locker to keep the Australian bowlers at bay. Petit’s innings was more attritional than Smith’s but it displayed classic Test match opening batting application and temperament. At the close the pair had compiled a partnership worth 126, Petit resolute on 28 and Smith sleeping a little uncomfortably on 86. Placed at 137-1 we still required a further 134 to make Australia bat again but once more we’d shown great heart and fight.
Australia commenced day three by providing byes and overthrows to help the partnership grow to 136 but soon made a breakthrough. With only nine minutes on the clock, Petit (33) defended a short delivery from Cummins but edged high to Smith in the slips and his 80-ball vigil had reached its conclusion. The score was 147-2 and the fall of wicket brought Youssef Rizvi, sweating over his place in the team, to the crease. Rizvi got off the mark first ball but to the next delivery Smith, like Petit, defended only to nick behind, this time to gloveman Paine. The Australian captain claimed the catch high above his head. Only ten minutes on the clock and all the previous day’s hard work was rapidly unraveling courtesy of Cummins’ (2-23) short stuff. Smith (87), trudged forlornly back to the pavilion. 148-2 still 123 behind. The century he had spent the night dreaming of remained just that… a dream!
Australia soon replaced spinner Nathan Lyon with paceman Josh Hazlewood and Zvonimir Pitko promptly became the third wicket to fall in the space of twelve minutes. Like Petit and Smith before him, he was at least trying to defend a ball that posed a question but Paine dived to his right to pouch another catch. Scores of just 5 and 1 in the match for The Iceman and 147-1 had slipped to 149-4. Next up Zidane Thomas resisted for a few minutes but then couldn’t, err… resist! The right-hander top edged a pull off Hazlewood into the grateful hands of Smith. 155-5 and Marwan Leroy striding to the crease on a pair. It would be Youssef Rizvi (5) who fell next however. His cluttered mind coming to the fore as be needlessly attacked Lyon and was bowled around his legs. In that moment, Rizvi knew that his responsibilities in Sydney would be limited to ferrying beverages. Having started the India tour with a First Class ton and Test fifty the runs have since evaporated for the diminutive dasher. Back to things at hand and we were floundering at 156-5 having lost five wickets for just nine runs!
Make that 9-6 as Le Tallec (0) joined the procession! The skipper played an unnecessary and ugly hoik off Lyon that was snaffled by Hazlewood. It was a poor end to a proud performance on his part. Leroy and Georges fought back with a whopping partnership of … 11 before Georges (4) went skyward off Lyon and into the hands off the waiting Warner. 167-8 still 104 away from avoiding an innings defeat. Three balls later Leroy (5) prodded forward off the roaring Lyon into the gleeful hands of the fielder positioned at silly point. 147-1 had become 167-9! Moments later Qadri (1) top edged to Warner off Hazlewood (4-33) and we’d lost nine wickets for just 21 runs. 147-1 had ignominiously subsided to 168 all out. All the character and guts we’d displayed up to that point had vanished. The margin of defeat an innings and 103 runs. Off-spinner Nathan Lyon finished with astonishing figures of 4-5!
On behalf of the team I’d like to apologise for the inexcusable nature of the batting collapse. Take nothing away from the opposition but our display on day three shaded all the progress, fight and never say die attitude that we’d shown on the first two days. Some players will pay with their places. Multiple changes will be made to the playing XI come Sydney!