Chris Waters '“ The Ashes: England fightback enables WACA opening day to end on positive note
'THERE IS no evidence, either from The Sun or via our own intelligence, to suggest the current Test match has been corrupted.'
So said Alex Marshall, the International Cricket Council’s head of anti-corruption, after claims yesterday by the English national newspaper that the Perth Test has been targeted by spot-fixers.
According to The Sun, a pair of Indian bookmakers working with an Australian known only as the “Silent Man” were charging up to £138,000 to influence aspects of the game, such as the number of runs scored in a specific over.
Although no England players were implicated, the gang claimed to have recruited one former Australian player and the episode cast a shadow over the start of the final Test to be staged at the WACA.
Without wishing to trivialise the serious issue of corruption in the sport, which remains an ongoing battle for cricket’s administrators, it is tempting to quip that the current Test must indeed have been corrupted judging by the evidence of the first day.
Why, it stared back from a very scoreboard which showed that England – 2-0 down in the series and consistent strugglers with the bat – were sitting pretty on 305-4, recovering superbly from 131-4 thanks to an unbroken stand between Dawid Malan (110) and Jonny Bairstow (75).
Indeed, the evidence would be utterly conclusive, one might mischievously suggest, were England to go on to win the match and even more damning should they go on to win the series and become the first team to recover from a 2-0 Ashes deficit since Don Bradman’s class of 1936-37.
But, joking aside, how refreshing from an English perspective that the tourists’ batsmen were the ones finally influencing crucial aspects of the game in a positive way, their efforts suggesting that the series might not, after all, be as much of a non-event as it is hoped that the corruption allegations turn out to be.
Malan, perhaps the nearest thing that England have to a “Silent Man” of their own, to judge by his cool and unflappable exterior, was the personification of class and courage as he scored his maiden Test hundred – England’s first of the series.
Prior to this innings, the Middlesex left-hander had not quite done enough to suggest that he was part of the solution to England’s top-order batting troubles as opposed to being part of the problem.
But this was a display brimming with slick drives and a willingness to fight fire with fire that can only inspire confidence.
It will also leave the England selectors – if not quite high-fiving themselves silly while dancing around the Christmas tree – at least patting themselves on the back in quiet congratulation.
Almost as refreshing as the quality of Malan’s performance was the understated manner in which he celebrated his hundred.
There was no David Warner or Kevin Pietersen-esque orgy of self-glorification, the look-at-me-everybody jumping up-and-down and punching of the air.
Malan simply took off his helmet and quietly acknowledged the dressing room and the crowd, fighting back tears of joy as he did so.
He later admitted that he did not really know how to behave in that moment of euphoria, which had been so many years of professional toil in the making.
Although it was a case of “cometh the hour, cometh the Malan”, Bairstow’s role should not be overlooked.
The Yorkshireman, who was promoted one place to No.6 in a clear admission that England blundered by sticking him down with the tail in Brisbane and Adelaide, showed exactly why he is one of the world’s best batsmen.
There was great maturity in the way that Bairstow played, providing Malan with the perfect foil.
Although some feel that he should be batting even higher than No.6, at least England have got Bairstow into a position where he can more likely influence the course of events.
According to Ricky Ponting, the former Australia captain, Bairstow is now England’s second-best batsman behind captain Joe Root.
It was a perception heightened by yet another failure for Alastair Cook, who marked his 150th Test appearance by departing for seven, trapped lbw by Mitchell Starc.
Mark Stoneman, looking every inch England’s senior opening batsman at present, showed particular pluck against a pace attack that relished the fast WACA surface.
Although dropped twice and struck a nasty blow on the helmet by Josh Hazlewood, Stoneman played nicely for 56 before gloving a Starc bouncer to the wicketkeeper, a somewhat controversial dismissal given that third umpire Aleem Dar did not appear to have watertight footage to jusfify the decision.
After James Vince was caught behind for 25, and Root strangled down the leg-side for 20, Malan also had his moments of fortune – not least when he was dropped on 92 by Cameron Bancroft in the slips off Starc.
However, he stood tall at a time when England could well have subsided to 200 all-out, which might have corrupted their Ashes challenge once and for all.