- Greg Baum: Well, lads, we've landed in a right fine mess
- Chris Barrett: Pitched battle heats up as Australians close in for the kill
- Malcolm Knox: Stoic Joe Root offers more than token resistance
England's batsmen have had all sorts of drama facing Mitchell Johnson but one of their cocky countrymen reckons he'd be up to the task.
Piers Morgan, the former Fleet Street editor who is now a talk-show host on CNN, may have bitten off more than he can chew by boasting upon his own apparent ability to front up to express bowling. Morgan, a cricket tragic, was shooting his mouth off on Twitter on Sunday, saying he would "love" to face Johnson and that he "wouldn't back away", imploring England's batsmen to "grow a pair".
He won't end up having to face the frightening Australian left-armer but his social-media skiting is set to lob him in the nets facing the far from pedestrian Brett Lee. The former Test quick on Sunday challenged Morgan to front up against him at the MCG and the television personality has accepted.
"Absolutely no way will Piers Morgan will get in the nets," said a sceptical Shane Warne. "He hasn't got the courage. He's all talk." Morgan, however, is not backing down.
"Oh, I've got the courage all right," he tweeted to Warne. "Get down the nets in Melbourne yourself, and I'll hammer you too. "I've faced 90mph regularly in my net from a bowling machine. Never backed away. That's what helmets and pads are for."
Gulls back down
The new grandstands and the drop-in pitch are not the only things different about the Adelaide Test this year. The seagulls who traditionally invade the ground in the afternoons are nowhere to be seen and a farmer from the South Australian town of Naracoorte thinks he knows why.
A mate of ABC Grandstand's Kerry O'Keeffe, a former sheep shearer, believes the birds have stayed away this year because of the presence of Spidercam. "He reckons they think it's a big black eagle and are scared to go anywhere near it," O'Keeffe said. "It's only a theory but they were here in the two Sheffield Shield games here this season and there's been no seagulls during the Test."
Bird behaviour experts might scoff at the explanation but ground staff in Adelaide are not complaining. Keeping seagulls off the field has been a long-running issue at the MCG, too. After using wedge-tailed eagles, tethered to a handler, to try and scare off the birds, they've more recently turned to stringing parallel wires from the northern to southern stands to disrupt the seagulls' flight paths.
This week promises to be a special one in the career of Michael Clarke. Not only could he become the first captain in seven years to lead Australia to an Ashes series win, but he will be playing in his 100th Test at the WACA from Friday.
More than a dozen of Clarke's family and friends, including his parents Les and Debbie, are to make fly west to witness the milestone. Details of how Clarke's 100th match will be celebrated in Perth are still being finalised and while, by coincidence, Alastair Cook will also chalk up a century of Tests himself at the WACA, the England captain would probably swap the fanfare for that achievement for a few runs.
McGrath's bat is too big
Glenn McGrath is one of the greatest bowlers of all time but not often is his batting mentioned in the same breath as Bradman. It turns out that he has something in common with the Don, though. As a boy Bradman famously honed his skills by hitting a golf ball with a cricket stump against the base of his family's water tank.
And McGrath, according to Brett Lee, was also adept with a peg in hand despite his tail-end status.
"He used to bat in the nets left-handed, with no pads on and guys would be bowling leggies and he would not miss one ball with the stump," Lee said. "Then he'd go out there and bat, right-handed with a full-size bat and get rissoled every time. Steve Waugh walked up and said 'Mate, you are left-handed.' "
Plenty of England batsmen have been in physical danger in this series, but Australia's new short leg specialist, Steve Smith, is also prepared to put his body on the line. Smith snared two catches there off Nathan Lyon's bowling in Brisbane, impressing with his sharpness and agility.
"I'm not sure if that's the reason I'm there," Smith said before the Adelaide Test. "I think it's just because I'm the youngest." Smith is happy to take his turn under the helmet, having done the job in his early days for Sutherland in grade cricket. He is just thankful he doesn't have to field there to his own feisty but inconsistent leg spin.
"You've got to try not to be scared in there because, particularly if there's someone like me bowling, it can be pretty scary. It's always hard being that close to the bat but you've got to back the protective gear you've got on, and that your bowler is going to do a good job and hopefully take the catches that come."
Quick, sign up
Cricket Australia's decision to place Doug Bollinger on standby for the Perth Test did not stop a small band of the NSW paceman's most loyal fans from turning out in full voice at the SCG. A group of year 10 students from Marist College Eastwood, calling themselves "Bollinger's Boys", did their best to drown out the drilling from the construction workers racing against the clock to complete the new stand at the SCG.
They even appropriated one Barmy Army song, suggesting South Australia's Joe Mennie, who claimed two early wickets, bowled to the left and the right . . . we know how it goes. The group has their own Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts dedicated to their man. But they don't quite have the same following as the Barmy Army – you could be their first follower on Twitter if you're quick enough.
It seems Port Adelaide's footballers have taken a leaf out of England's fielding book rather than Australia's. Power captain Travis Boak and his deputy Brad Ebert might handle the Sherrin well but they are not quite as reliable under the high ball.
Taking part in a segment of Channel Nine's Cricket Show, the pair – based on The Tonk's inexact estimates – dropped far more than they caught. One teammate, John Butcher, asked the pair "Butter chicken for dinner last night lads?" while AFL talent manager quipped, "Lucky you can play AFL!"