It can only be described as cold-blooded murder. The triumvirate of Australian seamers turned into vampires post the lunch break on day 1 of the third Test at Perth, seeking blood and continually bombarding the England batsmen with short-pitched deliveries.
Alastair Cook and James Vince had departed early in the day but as the heat turns up, the WACA is a batting paradise these days. Post-lunch sessions are tiring for the bowlers and batsmen flourish during this period, enjoying the true bounce and quick outfield on this ground.
But Australia would have none of that. On its farewell Test match, the fast bowlers decided to give the ground a fitting farewell. Hazlewood and Cummins charged in, extracted juice and life out of a dead, baked, sundried wicket and tested the strength of English helmets with some bedazzling short stuff.
Pushed on to the back-foot, Mark Stoneman, one of England’s most secure and assured batsman of the series, coped blows onto his head and ribs while Joe Root wasn’t spared either. Cummins kept targetting his LBW weakness that Root wasn’t quite expecting a leg-side freebie on his hips. He glanced too close and edged down the leg-side.
Root could not be faulted. Australia were relentless all afternoon that he had to go after anything remotely hittable. Stoneman resisted, fought, survived, looked more attractive than Cummins’ haircut, then succumbed.
But in between these two dismissals, the most important, yet seemingly irrelevant part of the day went by.
Dawid Malan walked out to bat.
It makes you think he is a Don Bradman. Or Vivian Richards. Or maybe a Kevin Pietersen. Or at least a Virat Kohli. Nah, he was, until today, a no.5 pushover, there to hide the Bairstows and Moeens. All that people remembered about him was a crackjacker of a yorker Kagiso Rabada greeted him with in Test cricket.
Yet, 338 balls later, he was walking England off the field to a rousing applause, with a maiden unbeaten Test century to his name. From 131/4, Malan and Bairstow had lifted them to 305/4, a position they could not even have imagined in their wildest dreams without the faces of Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood flashing by.
It may not turn the series or the match, but it showed that England meant business here at Perth. None of their batsmen had a century before the start of this Test but by the end of the day, the highest run-scorer from either side in this series was Malan.
The runs weren’t easy by any stretch of the imagination although the flattened WACA wicket makes you pity the bowlers. Make no mistake, Australia were absolutely ravishing on this day. They plugged away outside the off-stump, landed the ball fuller and found swing. When they were bored, they pushed in the grille-masher and it had England wincing in pain.
Not Malan, though. In the initial phase of his innings, Malan looked at sea against the short stuff. He must have seen Hazlewood crushing Stoneman’s helmet from the dressing room for he decided that he wouldn’t let the ball come to him, rather he would go for the ball.
The move paid off. It was possibly the most riskiest ploy an Englishman adopted in all of this series and the last in Australia. Taking on short-pitched bowling isn’t England’s forte. They are known to sway out of the line or duck away. Unless of course, you have South African roots, like Kevin Pietersen or Andrew Strauss. Well, Malan was brought up in South So that must probably be it.
Anyhow, the short point is that Malan’s plan worked. It pushed Australia on the back-foot even if the pulls and hooks weren’t quite nailed. Once he had them bowling fuller, Malan whipped and drove with the calmness of a bullock-cart rider, not worrying about the one-sided traffic that this series has been so far.
It was “war” as David Warner had described it prior to this series. One man against eleven, coherent, blood-seeking hounds. And then, Bairstow joined him. With a helping hand, Malan flourished. He played some outrageous shots all day but England weren’t bothered about how well his shots would fare in the beauty pageant contest. They had Vince for that. They wanted runs..and more runs…
Malan gave them that. 110 of them. And together with Bairstow, 174 unbeaten runs. It put England firmly in the driver’s seat and with a 450+ total in the offing, Anderson and Broad finally have something substantial to talk to Steven Smith about. He might disdainfully thump them but that is for another day. Today, it is all Dawid Malan.