How wrong can one be? By the end of the Brisbane and Adelaide Tests, there were only Poms to be seen in the stands. The impression was that the Aussies were deserting their ailing team in their hour of need. I thought Perth might be similar.
When I arrived here on Tuesday afternoon, part of a very visible Brit invasion there didn’t seem to be much of a local Test-match buzz around the place. The prevailing mood among the Australian cricket writers I spent Wednesday evening with was gallows humour.
But the Waca is sold out for the first four days, there was a great atmosphere yesterday despite Aussie batting woes and there were plenty of touts outside the ground this morning.
It was over 30 degrees by the start of play. Hot, hot, hot out here in the West. And it got pretty wild as the morning went on. Even the members’ areas were more like Headingley’s Western Terrace than the Lord’s Long Room. No egg-and-bacon ties here, only ruddy cheeks fuelled by an Australian comeback of far greater strength than their beer.
I left the press box after Alastair Cook’s dismissal. He played a loose drive but it was a good ball. No drama. England still well on top after a first hour that indicated for all the world that a long, desperate day in the field lay ahead for the Aussies.
I’d just entered the Lille Marsh Stand – one of the members’ areas – when Jonathan Trott’s grounded edge landed just in front of Michael Clarke in the slips. The crowd thought it was a catch and started barracking Clarke.
But next ball he’s out and the roar goes up. I’m more worried about blocking people’s view but there’s a definite sense of unease. My path along the concourse of the stand is blocked because KP is just about to emerge from the dressing room. He’s accompanied by someone I guess might be Sam Dickason, son of Reg England’s security overlord. He stands sentry, near the top of steps as Pietersen and Trott pass each other without a glance. KP looks grim-faced and focused. There’s a buzz. Suddenly the West Australians are smiling again, chirruping at Pietersen as he enters the field. The Aussies were here in body if not in spirit but now they have rediscovered their throaty voice.
I’m on my way up to the commentary boxes at the top of the Lillee Marsh Stand. The broadcasters get a wicket-to-wicket view while the written press are at midwicket. It’s a circuitous route to get there and an eventful journey.
My first call is the BBC Radio 5 Live box to catch up with Mark Pougatch. As I enter the box, he’s on air talking to, I’m guessing, the Up All Night programme back in the UK, and Pietersen is hit on the pad by Mitchell Johnson. He’s out and Pougatch’s voice goes up several decibels. The producer gestures to Alec Stewart, sitting next to Pougatch, to put his headphones on. There’s a referral and Stewart leans back to look up at the replay. He thinks it might have pitched outside. Sadly not. It’s pitched middle and is hitting middle. It has swung a lot. England are 82 for 3.
Michael Vaughan enters the box and Pougatch asks him about Perth four years ago: Australia 244, England 215 in the first innings; Gilchrist 57-ball ton in second innings; England lose by plenty. We’re not in that situation yet are we? I ask Geoff Lawson as he gets a coffee. He makes a disparaging remark about Mitch managing to land three balls. Trouble is he kept on landing them.
In the Sky box at the other end of the corridor, Nasser Hussain is sanguine too about England’s predicament. The pitch is good, the ball’s getting old.
But by the time I’ve done my quarter-circuit of the ground and got back to my seat England are 98 for 5 with Strauss and Collingwood gone as well. The game has turned on its head and the Waca is rocking like it did four years ago.
Where to turn for English solace? South Africa, of course. They chased 414 to win here in the fourth innings two years ago after being 94 behind on first innings. So a quick email to Mickey Arthur, then South Africa coach now in charge of Western Australia, for some crystal-ball action. Maybe England can turn it round like his side did? Different pitch to 2008, he says. So that’s a no, then.
John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer. Follow him on Twitter @WisdenCric_John
Read more on the Ashes:
Why it’s good for English players and Anderson to go home
The real Australian selection policy: Alex Bowden
Aussie press round up, day one: columns of conviction
The A-to-Z of the Australian cricket in 2010 by Alan Tyers
Some thoughts on Perth prospects from Sam Collins
Australian have started to sound seriously crazy – Daniel Brigham
Ricky Ponting on the edge – John Stern
Lawrence Booth picks his Broad replacement
Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss on leadership
“Where is the leadership?” John Inverarity
Alex Bowden points the finger at Australia’s forgotten failure