4th Ashes Test, Melbourne.
Australia 327 and 263/4d - England 491
2017 has ended in much the same way that it began; in a flood of despair flanked by incredulity. It seems fitting therefore that I should end 2017 with yet another piece of despair, or a piece of joy depending on your perspective.
As an England fan, I fully expect that at what ever sporting endeavour that an English team is in, that they will fail and fail brilliantly. This match has failed at failing; unless of course the point was to experience that unique joy of giving England a faint sense of hope of victory then crushing it in the din of silence that comes after a draw.
The Fourth Test in the 2017/18 Ashes series has ended in a very unsurprising draw. The curators at the MCG have prepared a wicket which would still be more than capable of being batted on, during day 10 of a timeless test. This pitch, had more in common with the runway at Tullamarine Airport than with a a normal playing surface.
Since the curators' main job in any cricket match is to do whatever they can to ensure victory for the home side, then the curators at the MCG have failed in their job miserably. I'm sure that any Australian side having gone 3-nil up, would want to carry on with their steamrolling job and go on to score a 5-nil whitewash but there was never going to be any result within five days in this pitch.
The two absolutely fundamental concepts which must be adhered to in order to win a cricket match are that you must score more runs than the opposition and you must close the opposition's innings twice. That last point is undoubtedly the thing which England has failed to do this summer. Of the four test matches which have been played this summer, England have only seen Australia's innings close twice in one match and even then it wasn't because they took all twenty wickets. To wit:
1st Test - took 10 wickets. Lost by 10 wickets.
2nd Test - took 18 wickets. Lost by 120 runs.
3rd Test - took 9 wickets. Lost by an innings and 41 runs.
4th Test - took 14 wickets. Match drawn.
If you can not take 20 wickets in a test match, then you can expect to win nothing.
I don't mean to say that Jimmy Anderson is getting too long in the tooth or that Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Moeen Ali haven't been effective enough because they've performed reasonably adequately; it's just that Steven Smith, David Warner and the torrent of tediousness that has been the Australian batting line-up this summer, has been solidly dug in. To that end, it is what you should expect from the home side who should in theory always be more adept at coping with the local conditions.
The critical day in this test match was on Day 4 when, Jimmy Anderson who had been left out in the middle at the close of play the day before, was dismissed on the fist ball of the day's play. Day 4 should have been a day of removing Australian wickets left, right and centre but when the rain came and destroyed that hope, this task was shifted to Day 5. There still should have been wickets taken left right and centre but instead, there was only resoluteness and two wickets removed. 8 wickets short, is an incomplete job.
What is noteworthy about this fourth test, which would otherwise be as dull as dishwater because it is a dead rubber, is that finally this England side have learned the art of digging in and building a stone wall of boredom. Granted that they still did not manage to take twenty wickets in this match either but collectively they hung around long enough for Alistair Cook to remain unbeaten on 244 and carry his bat; which gives him the honour of being the top scorer of anyone in test history who has carried their bat from the beginning to the end of an innings. It is almost as if scoring a double century is incidental, despite it being a major achievement in itself.
I must admit that I quite liked Joe Root's dismissal of David Warner for 86, when Warner holed out to James Vince, but only after Joe Root bowled filth for a delivery; which should have been dispatched to all points of the compass. Yet again we see that bowling rubbish against decent batsmen who don't expect it, brings results that it really doesn't deserve.
2017 began with an orange man being installed in a white house; it ends with a blue cap being thrown on a field of green. If you are an Australian fan, then you'll be happy with the summer but disappointed with the 4th Test. If you are an Australian fan, then the darkest night has already past; the worst can not happen any more. A draw ends the possibility of a whitewash; now comes the crushing silence.