When we began Test Match Sofa in summer 2009 I promised myself that we would never become jaded or bored by the cricket we were watching. We would never fall into the trap of sounding like we wished we were anywhere but in front of the telly soaking up our favourite game. After all, I'm content watching six overweight blokes comically swishing the air at beach cricket, or indeed spending a whole season experiencing the unfathomable lows that attend every day of being a Surrey CCC season ticket holder, so what horrors could possibly accompany a simple ODI between my beloved England and their oldest foe?
Well, I've finally seen the barrel scraped and yet have two more of these ludicrous encounters to endure. At the Gabba on Sunday, England's batsmen contrived dismissals that had they come from the bats of Hansie Cronje or Salman Butt would have invited an international enquiry.
For in truth the pitch, whilst slower than Brisbane pitches in normal summers, was perfectly acceptable. England's bowlers, led by the estimable Chris Woakes and, for a time, by the ODI debutant Steve Finn, had restricted Australia to a well under par 249 all out. There was some distinctly substandard bating as usual from the Aussies; perhaps top scorer Michael Clarke (54 from 72 balls) being the worst culprit. Marsh has looked all at sea since getting his ton in the second match. David Hussey has disappointed throughout, but even amidst the sea of mediocrity Australia has managed to conjure competitive totals thanks to everyone getting double figures, albeit not much more.
Woakes was a revelation. For such an inexperienced bowler, and one with no express pace, he demonstrated variety of speed and consistency of line that stifled all Australia's batsmen and he well deserved his figures of 6-45 (the second best by an Englishman in any ODI). Ably supported by Collingwood who bowled his ten overs straight through for 36 runs, and only occasionally let down by Shahzad's wilder offerings, Woakes will have felt the cosy glow that comes with putting your team on top, and might have settled down to watch a regulation run chase.
But then he looks too smart for that. Instead he was probably in the nets practicing his batting in the safe and certain knowledge that his team mates would struggle to chase down 50, let alone 250.
Within 6.1 overs England had lost their top three; Prior tried to late cut a full ball that hit the top of off stump at express pace (I know commentators complain that they don't see enough late cuts, but I'm really not sure we meant people to try executing this deftest of shots off 90 mph half volleys). Strauss, next ball, showed the kind of strategic phlegmatism normally associated with Japanese kamikaze pilots and pulled straight into the hands of square leg, and then Trott managed to get caught at leg gully low down to Bollinger’s right. This at least had the merit of being the only time I’d seen someone get out that way since the limit on leg side fielders was imposed following the Bodyline series of 32/3.
There then followed a passage of play commonly known as "lull". Lull is good. Lull is what wins batting sides matches. Lull is what the Aussies have been imposing on the middle overs of innings for 15 years and winning as a result. The way of lull is to embrace the relaxing qualities of the pushed single into the massive gaps on both sides of the wicket once the power play restrictions are lifted. When defending a total of 250, the fielding side can ill afford lull to take over for more than 15 overs or else the game will get away.
Pietersen and Bell were in just such a phase, cruising along at 5 an over for 15 overs with no alarms. Clarke, not the sharpest tool in the box, looked more clueless than usual as he surveyed a bowling attack without teeth, a wicket without devils and two of the better batsmen in world cricket comfortably helping themselves to singles with the alacrity of a child who’s been left in charge of the sweet tin while his parents go out for the weekend.
But then an awful thing happened. Hastings bowled an over that went for 2 runs and poor old KP became instantly bogged down. Scoreboard pressure got to him. After all, the rate had crept up to a daunting 5.3 an over from its original 5.0. Hastings bowled a slow looping long hop, Pietersen, who had committed to the shot 5 minutes earlier, top edged and thereafter began a slide of woefully depressing proportions.
It's hard looking back to decide which of Bell, Morgan and Collingwood played the worst shot; probably Morgan trying to hit against the spin of Smith having faced only three balls. But then again Bell's limp attempt to run a ball down to third man and playing on was pretty close.
In short, England subsided to 145-9. Finn and Anderson put on 53 hilarious runs for the 10th wicket and Finn came within another six of being the first number 11 to top score in an ODI, but it was all rather pointless.
I've said it four times before and I'll say it again; England's batsmen are in the very worst nick. Maybe they have mentally left Australia. If that is the case can I urge them physically to leave as well and so spare us any more of this needless torment. I can't believe the Aussies are taking much confidence from this either, as their batsmen crumble to England's second and third string bowling.
Form and the motivation to apply ones skills are capricious beasts and they may well return by the time of the World Cup. Meanwhile I advise you to head to the nearest beach and watch some proper batsmanship by a bunch of middle aged fat blokes and their 8 year old children flapping around with a tennis ball.