London: Outside the famous Hobbs gate of The Oval cricket ground, there was a three minute silent protest an hour before start of play in the fifth and final Ashes Test, organised by the makers of the cricket documentary 'Death of a Gentleman'. They were campaigning to 'Change Cricket', to put pressure on the cricket administrators around the world, but especially the ones from India, England and Australia. They might as well be running the campaign for the current lot of Australian cricketers here on tour to change their cricket — so abysmal was their performance in Edgbaston and Nottingham.
Michael Clarke walks back after being out for 15 yesterday. Pic/Getty Images
It looked as if the Australian batsmen had heard the cries for change. After being inserted in, David Warner and Chris Rogers demonstrated the discipline that was conspicuous in its absence in the previous two Tests. For the first five deliveries that Rogers faced from Stuart Broad, the wrecker-in-chief at Trent Bridge, he shouldered arms. It was a sign of things to come.
May be it was the lack of pressure of nothing really riding on the outcome of this Test or may be it was the long break that allowed them to clear their minds, the Australian batsmen applied themselves taking a leaf out of the approach showed by their Women counterparts last week in Canterbury, and approached the task at their hands in a conservative, cautious way. There were the odd edges to the slip but soft hands ensured the miscues did not carry to the fielders. It seemed that they had finally learned the lessons and had begun to adapt to playing in English conditions.
At Trent Bridge, the first innings was over in just over 18 overs and here at the Oval, Australia went to lunch without losing a wicket (82-0). They had shelved their aggressive shots the entire first hour of the innings so much so that there was not a single boundary hit. It was only in the second hour of the day that David Warner tried to push the run rate up, and looked comfortable doing it.
Rogers played with the typical patience he has been throughout the series till a rising delivery from Mark Wood had him sparring to first slip. Steve Smith, under pressure from a sequence of failures after his double hundred at Lord's, followed in the path laid out by the openers. Warner, still fresh from being named the Vice Captain of Australia, reached his fifty, a rare first innings occurrence for him, and continued on his ways till he edge Moeen Ali to slip.
That brought about the highlight of the day. Michael Clarke, captaining Australia for the last time, was given a guard of honour by the English team and a standing ovation by the pro-England crowd, as he made his way to the crease. Thoughts of Clarke repeating Don Bradman in his final innings when the great batsman was bowled by Eric Hollies for nought in 1948 needing only 4 runs to round his average toan even 100 vanished when a defensive prod found the gap for the Aussie skipper. Even though his stay was short, he displayed more confidence in his strokeplay and positive movement of his feet facing the seamers, the virtues that had deserted him on this tour.
With Australia actually putting on a decent performance with the bat on the opening day of the Test, there are raised visions of the Test lasting beyond the farcical 2+ days of shambolic cricket that were witnessed earlier. Even though the Ashes have been lost, Australia would take heart from their batsmen sorting things out for themselves which can only hold them in good stead in the future. Their batsmen have shown they can change, and after all, change is good.