It was a Test match dominated from start to finish by the ball. Played on a greenish Gabba wicket still moist after days of heavy rain, the contest was one where batsmen were never fully “in” and bowlers were never far from their next wicket. The figures tell the story: 40 wickets fell for 815 runs over three-and-a-bit days.
The only two innings of grit and substance were Michael Clarke’s 98 in the first innings and Simon Katich’s heroic knock of 131 not out in the second, carrying his bat through the innings and scoring half his team’s total in the process.
When the dust had finally settled or, in Brisbane’s case, the wind and rain had finally died down, Australia had not only won by 149 runs, but left-arm paceman Mitchell Johnson had walked away with the Man of the Match Award. And therein lies one of the more baffling decisions handed down in recent Australian cricket.
Normally these sort of awards pass without much notice or comment. In a team game, they’re not that important, just a line alongside an asterisk at the bottom of the scorecard. But Johnson getting the nod ahead of Katich defies logic and explanation. As verdicts go, it was an absolute rolled-gold Barry Crocker. One wonders who made the call; whoever it was, I hope they don’t get the deciding vote at the next Federal Election.
Johnson took 9/69 for the match, impressive figures for sure. But of the top six Kiwi batsmen, the specialists, he claimed just four of the 12 over two innings. His other five victims were batsmen in the bottom half of the order, that’s to say the bunnies. For any half-decent seamer, the removal of these tailenders carried all the difficulty of shooting fish in a barrel.
Katich, meanwhile, defended stoutly, putting a huge price on his wicket while some teammates sold theirs for tuppence. He bunted the ones and twos and dispatched the loose ball with aplomb. It was a brilliant knock. And without it, Australia would have been in serious danger of losing the Test.
If he’d made 31 instead of 131, the Aussies’ lead would have been barely 220. And the Kiwi batsmen would have walked out to the middle with a spring in their step, and hope in their heart. Chasing a total of 320-odd is a different proposition altogether.
Coincidentally, there had been some murmurings after Australian rugby league captain Darren Lockyer won the Man of the Match award on Saturday night — down the road at Suncorp Stadium — even though his Kangaroos were beaten by New Zealand by 14 points in the World Cup final.
But the Johnson decision was a true Robbert Klomp moment. Klomp, of course, was the Carlton defender who, in the early 1980s, was awarded best player on the ground by Lou Richards and Channel Seven’s commentary team after a Tuesday night game at Waverley. The prize was a 22-inch TV set (ah, those were the days). Trouble was, Klomp finished with just six kicks, one mark and three handballs for the entire match.
In the days before commentators were force-fed stats every five minutes, Lou and co had to rely purely on their instincts in awarding the votes — and they got the wrong man. And it remained a running joke on Seven for, oh, about the next twenty years.
If only the adjudicators at the Gabba yesterday had an excuse that was half as good.