Sports

Cricket: The Pink Ball Diaries, Live from Adelaide – Day Two

On day two tradition and modernity collided at one of the world’s most beautiful cricket grounds. Simon Day reports from Adelaide.

New Zealand 202 & 116/5

Australia 224

Attendance 42,372

The Adelaide Oval was already the perfect venue for the launch of day-night-test-cricket. It’s controversial and mostly stunning $500+ million government funded redevelopment of its arched red bricks and white marquees has created a wonderfully modern stadium that remembers where it came from. The hand operated Edwardian scoreboard is charming. The Moreton Bay fig trees, originally planted to keep out freeloaders from watching cricket without a ticket, are a feature piece of the ground. The redbrick was retained in the borders of the the western stands. And now more than 50,000 people use the stadium most weekends in its shared use with the AFL.

It’s the perfect city stadium – a ten minute walk across the river from the central city. The riverbank entertainment district is focused around the stadium. There’s a fine dining restaurant inside the eastern stand.

When Nathan Lyon walked, and then returned to the middle again, modern and traditional cricket clashed, and the Oval was even more symbolic. I suddenly joined the traditionalists and felt angry that I couldn’t see the St Peter’s cathedral to the north east of the ground, or the Adelaide Hills to the south, now hidden behind the Oval’s giant white sails. As Lyon started hitting sweep shots to the boundary modern cricket lost its rationality and its virtue in my bias mind.

However brief his acknowledgement that he feathered the sweep onto his body and into Kane Williamson’s reverse cup, his guilt was revealed in the instant when he saw the thin hotspot on the big screen display and turned towards the dressing room. Then the third umpire, who deserves to be named as Nigel Llong, claimed there wasn’t sufficient evidence to give him out. Anything could have created the white mark on the infra red display, he said.

On Channel 9 Ian Smith sarcastically wondered if Lyon had hit a wasp.

Lyon, was on zero when he headed off the ground and then turned back. He went on to score 34 in a 74 run partnership with Peter Nevill. In a low scoring match that has constantly posed test cricket’s greatest question: “who’s winning?” those runs could be definitive.

The internet went to work on Llong for the rest of the afternoon.

During the first half of the first session as New Zealand bowled and fielded like geniuses I embarrassed myself twice as I rose out of my seat in the media room and cried “COME ON!” My fingers turned towards my face like a cobra an ironic mimic of Lleyton Hewitt. My voice faded as I slunk into my chair when the three long rows of print media slowly spun in their chairs to see who had compromised their journalism.

I removed myself from the press corp to join the gang of New Zealanders beneath the scoreboard, squashed into a section between groups of excitable shirtless Australian youths. Despite the success of the New Zealand cricket team over the last two years, there is a residual pessimism among even the most devoted Black Caps fans, scarred by so many years of failure to reach potential. They have a defence mechanism to talk shit about their own team. A way to preempt failure just in case it arrives.

When Brendon McCullum brought Mark Craig on to bowl, two rows of Kiwis regurgitated a Sydney Morning Herald column about his poor bowling in the previous two tests. Then he got a well-settled Steve Smith with a perfect off spinner that took his inside edge as the Australian captain tried to attack. Four balls later I was at the urinal when a huge cheer went up. I debated with my steel walled colleagues whether Siddle had hit a six or a four. He had in fact been caught at short leg. The Adelaide Oval is perhaps the only place in Australia where New Zealanders have a voice.

Even more important than the runs Lyon’s bizarre reprieve added, it was the time closer to the dreaded “twilight” it took the Black Cap innings. The evening session was again the most captivating as the New Zealand team collapsed a second time and the momentum shifted to Australia. Even without Mitchell Starc the Australian bowlers always appeared on top. Josh Hazlewood reminds me increasingly of Glenn McGrath.

Three times the New Zealand batsmen reached at balls outside stump that didn’t need to be played at. Three times they were out caught behind the wicket. Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum had both smashed a bunch of boundaries before they lent over their front pads. Today BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner had the tough task of getting New Zealand to dinner for a chance at twilight revenge in the Adelaide sunset.

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 28:  A general view at dusk during day two of the Third Test match between Australia and New Zealand at Adelaide Oval on November 28, 2015 in Adelaide, Australia.  (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 28: A general view at dusk during day two of the Third Test match between Australia and New Zealand at Adelaide Oval on November 28, 2015 in Adelaide, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Adelaide was also the perfect city for the inaugural day-night-cricket match. The city loves test cricket. Per capita it has attendance rates as high as Sydney. At times the choreography felt like a product launch. Everywhere Adelaide was tickled pink. The Channel 9 commentators, whose investment in the new format’s success can’t be ignored, repeatedly labelled the test “historic”.

At times, particularly in a hilariously hyperbolic and corny video track that played ahead of the first (historic) evening session, it felt like a motivational sales seminar. The images were impressive, the Adelaide skyline especially, but the constant reminder of the historic occasion, buttressed by repeated comparisons with the Packer revolution and tributes to the people who made this historic event possible, lent it the air of an infomercial more than a cricket game.

From the hill in the cool breeze of the Adelaide evening, we were already sold, without having to listen to Tubby and Heal’s twangy sales pitch.

Adelaide afterthought

Steven Smith does not bat like a dolphin.

Yesterday morning I went swimming with bottlenose dolphins off the Adelaide metropolitan coastline (day-night-test benefits). I hung onto a buoy at the end of a long rope dragged behind a catamaran. Beneath me a pod of dolphins barrell rolled flashing their white bellies as they skimmed along the sand. A mother with a calf glued to her chest stared me in the eye. Their dance was graceful as they spun through the water and agile as they carved through its surface.

Smith is the opposite. He twitches, fiddling with his gear before he looks up at the bowler. Then he hops and shuffles across the crease. His shoulder arms leave ends with his bat facedown, pointed down the pitch towards the bowler. His “Not Now!” call when turning down a run ends with the bat pointed at the non striker. His hands run through awkward planes that slice the ball through the off side. His wrists whip the ball from outside the off stump through the leg side.

Yet the eccentric technique, and his attacking mindset, is just as enchanting to watch.


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