Ashes tour diary: Another day another duck as Ben Stokes makes his own fun

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 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A nervous few hours lie ahead for the future of this series. England players underwent immediate testing at stumps after four positive tests in their camp emerged on Monday morning. Positives will throw the rest of the action into doubt.

Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley, an Englishman, sounded a highly optimistic – perhaps naively optimistic – tone in a press briefing during the first session, while there are media reports that special efforts are being made to get next week’s Sydney Test on.

Some, including Michael Vaughan, have even suggested that the remainder of the series should be held in Melbourne, where rules over close contacts and isolation are currently less stringent. More likely is that New South Wales will relax its Covid protocols to protect the Test. What’s for certain is that players on both sides have no interest in being thrown into a sterner bubble.

This was not the only Covid outbreak of the day, with a member of Channel 7’s backroom team testing positive, leading to their commentary team being made to isolate while test results came in. Once those results came back, around lunchtime for some, the regular team were able to return.

Quote of the day

“Hotspot is f**king useless.” That was Marcus Harris, speaking to Ben Stokes, after an inside edge saved him from being dismissed lbw on 36. Harris was given out, and reviewed. The edge appeared visible, but nothing showed up on Hotspot. The snickometer (RTS) picked it up, and Harris survived.

All fun and games

At drinks in the afternoon session, Mark Wood was called upon by Fox’s spidercam for one of their peculiar and pointless in-play interviews. Stokes – who has turned one of those down in the series so far – decided to have fun with it, squirting water at his Durham team-mate.

Boland of Hope and Glory

What a couple of days in the life of Scott Boland. On Sunday, a first cap, a first wicket, and a first catch in Test cricket for Australia on Sunday, all on his home ground. On Monday, did things get even better? He scored his first Test runs and then cleaned up Haseeb Hameed and Jack Leach in a stunning end to the day.

His every move was cheered by the MCG crowd. Before he was off the mark, the umpire decided that a run to Australia’s total had come off his leg, not his bat. The whole crowd booed.

Duck watch

Another day, another duck stat. Dawid Malan’s first-baller – a very marginal lbw call off Mitchell Starc – was England’s 51st of 2021.

Malan has been performing well since his recall in midsummer, and this was his first duck. Indeed, he therefore became the 20th man to make a duck for England’s Test team this year. He will be the last new ducker, as Stokes is off the mark and all England’s remaining batters have at least one.

A few minutes later, Leach shouldered arms to make it 52 for the year. The record, 54 in 1998, remains a possibility.

As both Hameed and Zak Crawley got off the mark – just – the count of openers’ ducks concludes at 14.

TV stars

Covid has created understandable anxiety among Victorians (Melbourne has endured more days of lockdown than any other city in the world) about attending a big event such as this, leading to crowds down on previous Tests here (it doesn’t help either, that no English fans have been able to travel to Australia).

Close to 110,000 people have attended the Test so far, but the viewing figures on TV have been superb. 1.84m people tuned in on day one, the best figures for Test cricket in Australia since Boxing Day in 2014. Pay TV service Fox had 526,000 viewers, while Channel Seven drew 1,308,000. That is 27% higher than Boxing Day last year, when Australia did not play quite as well…

All of this is a reminder of what is at stake over the next two Tests. Much hangs on the Covid results tonight.

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