The Liebke Report Card: ‘Shafique’s willingness to drop Warner means he can never be an Australian selector’
It is a known statistical fact that almost seventy per cent of viewers of the first day of the Boxing Day Test are fans of varying degrees of cricketing knowledge and interest.
Relaxing on a recliner, leaning back in a blissful state of semi-somnolence, a beer at the ready while they nibble on the refrigerated remnants of sumptuous Christmas meals, allowing the unfolding match to cascade over their senses, over after over, hour after hour, like a gentle, rhythmic wave.
In the spirit of the season, allow this report card for the second Test between Australia and Pakistan to similarly wash over you.
You may also have a beer, if you so choose.
Boxing Day Lethargy
One person who was very much enjoying the post-Christmas state of languor was Abdullah Shafique, if his drop of David Warner in the third over of the first day, after Pakistan had won the toss and sent Australia in, can be taken as any indication.
And let us assume, for the purposes of this paragraph, that it can be.
Shafique’s ongoing willingness to drop Warner will surely at some point cost him dearly; by which I mean, he will never get a well-paid job as an Australian selector.
It was not, however, his most expensive drop of the Test. But we’ll get to that.
Australia were eventually all out for 318 in their first innings, early on the second day, with Marnus Labuschagne top-scoring with 63, followed by extras with 52.
Let’s be frank – extras’ fine form is going to make it very difficult for Sundries to regain its spot in the team.
Despite all this, the highlight of the innings was Joel Wilson, international cricket’s guessing-most umpire, firing out Mitchell Marsh in consecutive balls, only for the shaggy-maned, prairie-roaming, bovine all-rounder to overturn both decisions via DRS.
By the time the second faux-wicket, a caught behind, was revealed to have at no stage touched Marsh’s bat, instead clipping his pad, third umpire Richard Illingworth was done with it.
“Screw it. I can’t even be bothered with the ball-tracking, Joel,” he said. “Sort yourself out. You’re on screen now.”
Annoying Pat Cummins
For most of Pakistan’s first innings reply, the visitors refused to follow the script that most attendees of the MCG expected.
Sure, Imam-ul-Haq was out cheaply, but a 90-run partnership between Shafique and captain Shan Masood was not what the crowd had come for.
Why were Pakistan so stubbornly refusing to do the right thing and collapse in a miserable heap? Incredibly annoying.
And apparently nobody was as annoyed as Cummins himself. For the Australian captain eventually brought himself back into the attack and proceeded to take a spectacular caught-and-bowled to break the partnership.
He followed that up by bowling Babar Azam the following over for one run, finishing with five wickets as Pakistan were eventually all out for 264.
Third Umpires Being Trapped In Elevators
As we all know, cricket is the greatest sport on Earth.
We were reminded again of this truth as Australia prepared to resume their second innings after lunch on the third day. That’s when play was delayed for several minutes because third umpire Richard Illingworth was, uh, trapped in a lift.
I mean, in terms of the best sports, it’s not even close, is it? A key match official being trapped in an elevator feels instead like something that would bookend a clip show episode out of the worst kind of 1980s sitcom – something called For Good or For Illingworth, perhaps – in which Richard would spend the episode trapped, reminiscing about important and beloved scenes from previous episodes, saving valuable production money with every spliced-in flashback to a recycled clip.
Eventually, Illingworth escaped, presumably by using one of those little emergency phones they have in there: “I’ve checked the ground level and it’s a legitimate entry point. Just rock and roll the elevator. Yes. Clear gap between first and second floor. Can I have the third floor when ready.”
Perhaps the most embarrassing aspect of Illingworth being trapped in the elevator, though, was that the Australians were right in the middle of demonstrating how easy it was to get out.
In fact, either side of the elevator-trapping break, hordes of them did so, as Pakistan surged back into the Test, reducing Australia to 4/16, a lead of just 70.
Marsh and Steve Smith then combined, however, to extend the lead to 223, before Marsh, the beneficiary of Shafique going all Clumsy-Hands again when he was on 20, was eventually dismissed for a counterattacking 96.
In contrast to Marsh, Smith spent his entire innings mistiming every shot, following each such error by furiously gesturing the trajectory he’d intended.
If you’ve ever seen Smith bat, you’ve seen such hand-waving from him before, and I hereby submit this neologism to all modern dictionaries:
to gesture with Steve Smith’s arm or hand, to express an intended trajectory of a shot, or delivery, of a cricket ball (esp. in frustration)
As Steve Smith drove straight to cover for the umpteenth time, he expressed his annoyance by trajesturing that he’d intended to place the shot squarer in order to beat the fielder.
There you go, lexicologists. If you can pop ‘Bazball’ in your big word books, you can surely add this.
Doing Things Yourself
Some late order runs from Alex Carey on the fourth morning saw Australia set Pakistan 317 for victory.
‘Far too many’ was the opinion of most pundits, as well as the punditry of most opinion-makers.
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But, for the second time in the Test, Pakistan stubbornly refused to stick to the script. They instead free-form improvised their way to 5/219, taking suggestions from the audience and ‘yes-and’ing one another to the brink of a superb win.
At which point, a deeply fed up Cummins sighed once more and muttered ‘Fine, I’ll do it myself’.
The Australian captain then proceeded to take 1) the ball, 2) a controversial wicket, 3) another five-fer, 4) a ten-wicket haul, 5) the player of the match award and 6) the extra half-hour (although not necessarily in that order), as Australia won the second Test by 79 runs.
Give that man an extra serving of Grandma’s Christmas trifle.