Solid: Matt Renshaw plays a shot during day one of the first Test against Pakistan on Saturday. Photo: Tertius PickardWith allowances made for daylight savings, television schedules and stopping Queensland’s curtains from fading, the inaugural pink-ball Test match at the Gabba started only two hours later than the old red-ball ones.
A sense of novelty brought in several thousand more spectators than the number that would usually watch Australia play Pakistan, but the predominance of shorts, thongs and broad-brimmed hats under a brutish sun was a reminder that this is a cricketing evolution, not revolution.
Not a new version of Test cricket but the old one, just a little later in the day.
On the field, the new reality also enveloped the old as Matthew Renshaw reiterated his determination to be cricket’s youngest fogey.
The 20-year-old’s batting in Adelaide was not so much a pastiche of old-school defensiveness as a sensible response to circumstances. Here, on his home ground, he had a clean canvas on which to express his philosophy of batting, and it was delightfully classical. One of the most satisfying aspects of Renshaw’s innings was its steady rhythm. He might belong to the age of the 21st century tweet, but he paced his impressive 71 like a 19th-century novel.
He was also following the recent footsteps of England’s baby opening batsmen Haseeb Hameed and Keaton Jennings. Next thing you know, 20-year-olds will be growing long beards, cycling on fixie bikes and riding wooden surfboards.
At the start, Renshaw practised leaving the ball and then did it for real, again and again. Aren’t millennials meant to be attention-deficient and heedless?
Renshaw’s first runs, off the ever-challenging Mohammad Amir, came from a sketchy leading edge through gully, but he learnt his lesson, keeping a sedulous straight bat. When Yasir Shah came on and gifted him runs on the on-side, Renshaw took them in small sips rather than trying to gulp down too much at once. So much for the young not having any control of their appetites.
Offered the chance to come forward and drive, Renshaw did so handsomely, holding the pose at the end of his shots in such resemblance of a former Queensland/Australian opener that if there was a Matthew Hayden lookalike competition now, it is unlikely Matthew Hayden would win it. So much for the young not respecting their elders.
After just two Test matches, Renshaw already cuts a familiar, stable figure at the top of the Australian order, as if he has been there more or less since 1994.
It can be surprising how quickly the outlandish can come to feel like the new normal. SpiderCam has not gone away, but familiarity has bred contentment. It has only taken three matches for day-night Test cricket in an Australian summer to pass through feeling wrong, via not quite right, on the way to normality. With repetition, we cease to notice. This is a general rule of life, with the exception of snoring spouses.
One of the beauties of Test cricket is how it is continually creating new normals. The fact that so much of Thursday’s play consisted of left-arm fast bowling to left-handed batting, as if a mirror image of cricket, passed without comment.
But back in cricket’s early days, there were moves to ban left-handed batting because it was deemed unfair. That might have been subjective, but it was universally agreed that leftism was ugly and potentially seditious. Taste is absorbed by time, however, and the varieties of leftism on show at the Gabba were pretty to watch, ranging from Amir’s sleek athletic guile to Wahab Riaz’s burly belligerence bearing all the subtlety of a nightclub doorman.
Rahat Ali was rubbery of action but rigid in his focus on keeping the ball one side of the wicket. Even when he shied down the pitch in anger, his throw followed a fifth-stump line.
On the batting side, as if influenced by his young partner, David Warner carried out an experiment to see whether a traditional start, patiently laying the foundations for a long innings, was worth pursuing. Out for 32 in the time it usually takes him to make 100, Warner will no doubt conclude the experiment was a waste of time.
Steve Smith still fidgets as much as he always did, but the eye has ceased to notice it. The Australian captain’s more or less uninterrupted three-year run of form continued with a half-century before the main break. Whether that break is called dinner or lunch makes less and less difference, as Australia looked to its captain and champion for stability and salvage, in pretty much the same way as it has done for 140 years, by night and by day.
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