Well-pleased debutant ... Jackson Bird celebrates his first wicket. Photo: Sebastian Costanzo
JACKSON BIRD'S first ball passed unremarkably, but the crowd clapped anyway because he was new to Test cricket and because this was Boxing Day at the MCG.
So sounded the first soft note of a crescendo. It was followed by a throaty roar in the next over when Bird took his first wicket, bigger and louder roars from a crowd of more than 67,000 as Bird, Peter Siddle and Mitch Johnson ripped the heart out of Sri Lanka's batting, and yet more bellows of affirmation as Dave Warner looked like he would pick off the runs by himself, and before nightfall.
Only in the last hour, as Australia gifted Sri Lanka three wickets, and was spared two more by dropped catches, and the crowd thinned as the annual migration to the beach began, and a post-Christmas torpor settled on those who stayed, did the encores subside.
Mitchal Johnson ... with Bird and Peter Siddle ripped the heart out of Sri Lanka’s batting. Photo: Getty Images
There was another well-pleased debutant yesterday. Hours before play, as some breakfasted on eggs and some on beer, new MCG curator David Sandurski broke from his stage-setting duties to pre-empt a pitch that would be grassy on top, but granite-hard beneath, in the long Australian tradition.
His pitch proved as true as his word. Sri Lanka, for all its batting prowess, was at a loss to know how to cope with it, going at the bowling either too hesitantly or too assertively and then utterly recklessly until its capitulation was complete. Only elegant veteran Kumar Sangakkara got the tempo right, at one stage dwelling on 20 balls without scoring, then stroking Johnson for 15 in four balls, parry and thrust. This was Sri Lanka's only substantial act of resistance.
En route, Sangakkara became just the 11th man to post 10,000 Test runs, from the same number of innings and at a higher average than the more feted Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, and one innings fewer than Ricky Ponting. None of them had to do a sideline in wicketkeeping, as Sangakkara did again yesterday afternoon because of injury.
To be fair, Sri Lanka's paltry innings was the outcome not so much of a collapse as a detonation. Sometimes this summer, Australia's attack has looked not so much to be rotating as spinning out of selectorial control. Yesterday it emerged in yet another untried menage.
But you would never have known it. Bowling McDermott theory - pitch up and at the stumps, invite the drive, give the ball scope to swing - not one of the Australians gave the Sri Lankan batsmen a moment's respite. It had the effect of a siege. Johnson was hit for eight fours, all by Sangakkara, but unlike the Johnson of yore, this was not profligacy. It was the price he was prepared to pay as he sought to engage the Sri Lankan top order sometimes by the carrot, sometimes by the stick. Against the tail, it was strictly stick.
Bird was this day's revelation. He is tall, uses his height well, has a reliable aim and does a tidy line in outswing. Affecting cool at the end of his first over he took his cap, but walked to the wrong side of the ground, a classic beginner's lesson.
It was until the break of innings the last false step by an Australian. All catches were held, including one on the rocketing rise by Mike Hussey at uncustomary second slip, and a screamer by wicketkeeper Matthew Wade, tracking Sangakkara's top edge over his shoulder as it looped towards the sightscreen. Even Australia's manners were impeccable. At lunch, most went to Sangakkara to complement him on his milestone. It was the sort of nicety, suspending combat, that sometimes sets cricket apart.
Initially, Australia chased like a gallivanting puppy: 90 arrived at more than five an over.
Then, suddenly, Warner fell into an obvious trap at deep square leg, Phil Hughes authored yet another run-out - his this time - and Cowan edged to slip. Shane Watson and Michael Clarke might have fallen, too. This recast Australia plays boldly, but lacks the utter ruthlessness of old.