Brian Viner: Can you see what it is yet? R Harris and a picture of gloom in the Aussie dressing room

The Last Word
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Can there be any better way of being woken up on a dark and snowy winter's morning than by Michael Atherton saying, as he did at around 6.25am yesterday, "This is a desperate situation for Australia"?

I suppose there are some men who might prefer to be shaken from their slumber by Nigella Lawson saying, "Shall I bring you breakfast in bed, darling?" but for me, Athers gets the nod. And better still, he swiftly followed up with "It's a glum-looking dressing room, isn't it?" It was, too. Ricky Ponting, doubtless still coming to terms with his fifth golden duck in Test cricket, and in his 150th Test to boot, wore the expression of a man trapped at a performance of Wagner's Ring Cycle, having thought that he was going to the theatre to see Mamma Mia. On the other hand, the Australia captain was plainly in no mood to sing along to "The Winner Takes It All".

By the time Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook arrived at the crease, I was properly awake, which was just as well, because otherwise I might have been thrown by the graphic a few minutes later showing the bowling figures of R Harris. How fantastic is it that the Australian opening bowler in Adelaide is an R Harris? Never mind that it's Ryan rather than Rolf, to make up for Sir Elton John's declaration earlier this week in these pages that he hates "Two Little Boys", someone should commission some new lyrics for this Test match: "I'm Jake the Peg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um, with a deep fine leg, diddle-iddle-iddle-um..."

I digress from citing popular songs, and possibly not a moment too soon. Besides, I'm writing with England's first innings only an over old, and by the time you read this, anything might have happened. But in five-day cricket you have to take your pleasures when you can, as indeed the Aussies did on the first day at The Gabba last week.

Hat-tricks, catches and a catch-22

I once got into conversation with a cab driver in Liverpool, who was cock-a-hoop having just watched his 10-year-old son score nine goals in a school football match. "Three with 'is left peg, three with 'is right, and three with his 'ead," dad reported, proudly. At The Gabba, similarly, and on his birthday, Peter Siddle achieved the best kind of hat-trick: one lbw, one bowled, and one caught in the slips. And they were proper scalps, too, not hapless tail-enders. But both the cruelty and the beauty of cricket is that a towering individual deed can end up counting for practically nothing. It was England's great achievement in Brisbane to send Siddle away feeling gloomy.

Whatever now unfolds, the contrasts with 2006-07 could hardly be more stark. There's real dynamism in the field, too. Mike Gatting says he can't recall a single catch dropped by his 1986-87 team, the last to bring home the Ashes, and that's what it takes to beat the Aussies on their own soil, not to mention the brilliant first-day run-outs yesterday of Simon Katich and Xavier Doherty. Four years ago the boot was on the other foot.

But best of all yesterday was seeing Ricky Ponting so clearly rattled in his exchanges with Andrew Strauss as the players left the field, stumps and daggers being drawn simultaneously, you might say, although "handbags," was the verdict in the Sky commentary box. This put me in mind of an image on the previous evening's Ten o'Clock News, of the designer handbags ordered for the wives of Fifa delegates by the men running England's doomed bid to host football's 2018 World Cup. It was a useful reminder that for anyone who supports the England cricket, football and rugby teams, every sweet kiss on the forehead will either be followed, or preceded, by a brutal smack in the chops.

Butt's Hong Kong odyssey may not prove to be so odd after all

The news that Nicky Butt, once a European Cup winner with Manchester United, has signed for South China of the Hong Kong First Division was no doubt overlooked by most British media outlets on Tuesday, although in the South China Morning Post, as you can imagine, it was headline news. I happened to be in the Far East, where there is a deep reverence for all things United; indeed, at the vast Venetian hotel in Macao I saw a Manchester United shop bigger than the one at Old Trafford.

For fans of South China, the hope is that 35-year-old Butt will help to deliver a place in the Asian Champions League. Certainly, he has arrived at an interesting time. The Hong Kong Football Association has a record of ineptitude that makes our own FA look like paragons of common sense, but the government out there recently commissioned a Football Development Strategy that includes plans for a National Football Training Centre not unlike the one somewhat belatedly being built here. Evidently, football in Hong Kong, like Nicky Butt, is going places.

My flight out east was with Air New Zealand, whose new safety video is presented by Richie McCaw and other All-Blacks legends. You have to love an airline, and for that matter a country, that buckles up on the instruction of rugby players.

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