Sunday, August 7, 2005. The fourth day of that year’s second Ashes Test. At the beginning of the day Australia required 107 runs to win. England required three wickets. The batsmen at the crease were Shane Warne and Brett Lee, with Michael Kasprowicz waiting in the rooms.
On the second last ball of the match Brett Lee played the ball through the covers. The Australians in the crowd didn’t see the fielder near the boundary and initially cheered as though it was going for four. It was swept up by the fieldsmen and Lee and Kasprowicz swapped ends for a single.
Harmison ran in to bowl the next ball. The crowd was relatively quiet and subdued. The English fans had arrived that day expecting to see England quickly take the last two wickets and the series levelled. Instead they had witnessed a gritty fightback from Warne, Lee and Kasprowicz.
The ball wasn’t particularly brilliant: it wasn’t fast and it was probably too far toward leg stump. However it rose on Kasprowicz awkwardly and he badly fended it off. The ball caught his glove on its way past and Jones leapt for it. He had missed many throughout the day, but not this one.
He appealed. England appealed. Billy Bowden rose his crooked finger. And an entire country erupted.
For so long England had been bullied by the “convict colony”, but now they had fought back and won in one of the greatest Test matches ever played. Order, in their imperial eyes, was on its way to being restored.
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Australian cricket fans were filled with sadness last week when Mitchell Johnson announced his retirement. We were sad that we’d never again be able to experience the thrill of watching Johnson rip through opposition batting line-ups. There were a couple of positives, however, as it prompted me to read as many current and past articles about Super Mitch, and it also meant that I had a reasonable excuse to be able to spend a somewhat unhealthy amount of time watching YouTube clips of old Johnson performances. And all of the articles, and all of my YouTube surfing, led to one place: the Adelaide Oval.
Just from writing the name of the ground, anyone with a passing interest in cricket knows what I am referring to. Finishing with figures of 7/40, including a spell of 5 wickets in 24 balls, this was match in which Johnson confirmed that the 2013/14 summer would forever be remembered as The Summer of Mitch. He had performed brilliantly in the first Test, but many thought he was favoured by the Gabba pitch and that the old Mitchell Johnson who inspired a song about bowling to the left and the right would be seen on the batsmen’s paradise that is the Adelaide Oval. But that Mitchell Johnson would never be seen ever again. This was Super Mitchell Johnson, and not the one which the English fans sang ironically about.
On the second day of the Test I arrived home from my shitty job and grabbed a beer from the couch and eagerly awaited the beginning of the English innings. Such was the excitement that Johnson has caused in the previous Test, a success starved nation was keenly interested in cricket and wanted to know what would happen when we next saw him. It was exhilarating.
Almost every ball was 145+ km/ph, many were 150+. Alistair Cook, the king of patience and restraint, was nervously swinging at the balls he would normally watch pass him by. The ball to which he would eventually lose his wicket to was the perfect ball. It was fast and moved just enough for Cook to miss it. It was not perfect in the sense that Ryan Harris’ first ball wicket in the third Test was perfect, as that truly was the ball you would pick if you only had one ball left to try and win a match, but perfect in the sense that it was the perfect ball for Mitchell Johnson to bowl to send a message to the England team that his performance at the Gabba was not a fluke. When you combine all of that with a lot of pace and an agitated Cook you arrive at the perfect storm and you end up with this:
Johnson’s ball had something that Harris’ did not: brutality. After the Harris ball you can imagine Cook saying, “Fair play to him, even Bradman would be in the same position as me if he faced that ball”. But after the Johnson ball all I can imagine him saying was “Fuck me! I’m scared! Get me off this tour!”
The Cook dismissal was the catalyst for the devastation that occurred the following day. This Test confirmed that there was nothing Cook and his team could do. They just had to ride out this series and hope that Johnson landed awkwardly on a cricket ball one morning before a Test.
I listened to the spell on the third day whilst travelling on the train to my sister’s house. I was jumping around in my seat. I wish I was there. The excitement of that day has been captured brilliantly two great articles by Jarrod Kimber and Geoff Lemon. I might be a loser with an unhealthy obsession with sport, but the last paragraph of Kimber’s article physically moved me. Not in the George Costanza eating a mango kind of way, but in the hairs on your arms standing up and shivers down your spine kind of way. It is a lengthy article that I recommend you all read, but in the interest of time, here is the final paragraph:
Stuart Broad saw something. Perhaps he just didn’t want to look at Johnson. Not square in the eyes, at least. He pointed to a shiny bolt and turned a ravenous crowd into a screaming beast.
Johnson was already in his dream over with two earlier wickets. He had already bowled his dream ball to Cook the night before. He had already played his dream Test the match before.
Broad wasn’t delaying a ball, he was delaying inevitability. Certainty.
Johnson delivered a fast ball on leg stump. There were days, whole seasons, perhaps even whole years, when the same ball would have been flicked to the boundary. Broad would have fidgeted with his gear while Johnson put his hands to his head.
Now England believed every ball would be a wicket, and so did Johnson, so did everyone.
Broad hopped away from the ball, Broad’s leg stump hopped too.
Mitchell Johnson ran frantically down the pitch. Like he was in the world’s greatest dream.
No one watching this spell could actually believe he was doing this. Let alone the bloke bowling it. He couldn’t believe how easy it had become.
It is a beautiful piece of writing that captured the moment so well. Given the delay in sorting out the sight screen issue, the ball was actually called by Mark Nicholas from the boundary as he was conducting an interview and didn’t have time to go back upstairs to the main commentary team before the ball was bowled. His call is one of my favourite pieces of commentary ever.
“The crowd are with Johnson. This is like the days of Lillee and Thompson. In comes Mitchell Johnson now. Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! How about it?! How about it?! It’s barely believable! The Adelaide Oval has gone off! And so must Stuart Broad!”
It was barely believable, but it was real. All cricket loving Australians will die a little bit happier because of that wicket. It put Johnson on a hat-trick that sadly did not eventuate.
Reading all of the Johnson articles over the last week has been so enjoyable because they all convey the magic of cricket. The thrill of The Summer of Mitch can never adequately be replicated in words, but writers can try. That summer is something that the cricket loving nation of Australia will never forget. Just like we will never forget Bodyline. Just like England will never forget the 05 Ashes, and Botham’s Ashes. And reading all of these Johnson articles over the last week or so has been extra enjoyable because they left out something that was so common throughout the Summer of Mitch: the incessant referrals to the third umpire to check Johnson’s front foot.
I don’t have the resources to check how many of Johnson’s wickets in The Summer of Mitch were referred to the third umpire to check his front foot, but from my memory it was a lot. (Side note: Can someone please make a DVD that is just made up of Johnson’s spells in this Ashes series? I would buy that DVD and I would pay a lot of money if it had special comments from Super Mitch). It definitely happened in the Adelaide Test, and it happened in the three most memorable wickets. Cook, Broad and Anderson. Thankfully Johnson’s foot was behind the crease on all occasions and those beautiful wickets retained their status. But, for a few moments the sporting nation of Australia drew its collective breath as it considered that all its raw and unbridled joy at those wickets may be taken away. For a few moments, the magic of cricket stopped.
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There are not many things that I like about the BCCI, but I do respect them for their refusal to use the DRS technology. The ICC was basically forced into the decision to use technology such as hotspot as it became embarrassed by TV stations showing that an umpiring decision was incorrect, with their being no recourse available in the game. India refuses to use the DRS as it doesn’t trust the technology.
Last summer it was great watching cricket and seeing an LBW and not having to worry about the player reviewing the decision. We were free to celebrate without the expectance of a review. Of course, there was still the annoying referrals by the umpire to check the front foot on some dismissals. But the experience was still at least half better.
Once you introduce technology it is hard to ever reverse that decision, but when cricket is fighting for the attention of audiences around the world, administrators should be looking to retain the advantage it has over other forms of entertainment. Sport is best when watched live, and the reason for this is because it is unscripted so when something magical happens like Johnson bowling Broad after everything that came before, it really is “barely believable” and our primal emotions surge through us. But checking that his front foot is behind the crease when the umpire standing less than 2 metres away can’t tell, diminishes the moment. It removes the element of unexpectedness and instinctive emotion. It makes it less magical and more like everything else.
People don’t watch cricket with the hope that by the end of the day they will be able to say that the right umpiring decision was made 100% of the time. And if they are, they have never been satisfied in the 150+ years that cricket has been played. People watch cricket with the hope that they will witness something thrilling, brilliant, and unexpected, something that jolts them out of their seat and something they will remember for years to come. The DRS and video reviews can either diminish those moments, or remove them from the history books before it is even written.
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After Jones caught Kasprowicz, the English players all jumped into each others arms. Not before Harmison, then Flintoff went to Lee and Kasprowicz to console them for their loss. Flintoff’s embrace of a devastated Lee is an iconic image of modern cricket.
But if that game was played in 2015, it is likely the photo would never have been taken. For if it was in 2015, Kasprowicz may have had a review left, and if he did he would have used it. Regardless of whether he thought he hit it or not. And that raw emotion of an entire nation would have been put on hold for a while as they checked the video to see if it hit Kasprowicz’s glove.
If he was found to be confirmed out, England still would have celebrated and it still would have been a fantastic match, but it wouldn’t have been the same. Flintoff’s consoling of Lee and Kasprowicz wouldn’t have meant as much because the adrenalin wouldn’t have been running through his body in the same way.
And if it was 2015 and Kasprowicz reviewed the decision, the third umpire would have given him not out. The ball did hit his glove, but his glove was not touching the bat. If that happened then Kasprowicz and Lee may have scored the remaining three runs and Australia would have been 2-0 and all but retained The Ashes. But if that happened then we would have missed out on one of the greatest series ever. We would have missed out on the photo of Freddy. We would have missed out on the unencumbered English celebration. And whilst the correct decision would have been made, cricket would have been much the poorer.