Review: England v Australia, Old Trafford

Old Trafford, England v Australia, 2005 – the match which set ablaze the Ashes. England were so good, and dominated it with such gusto, that this humble blogger proclaimed the tide had turned. And to get so close to winning, it is surely like a loss to England – and a win to Australia. But that doesn’t tell the full story of what we saw.

To have witnessed a drawn match (which did go down to the wire again, despite my plea that it wouldn’t!, was commonplace in previous eras, and indeed in the early 1990s. However, these days it’s all about runs, wickets and 3/4 day Tests – the one-day format has infliltrated into Tests, which is partly the cause for Cricket’s high in Britain at the moment. The main reason is England’s continued success, of course.

Old Trafford saw England continue its momentum gained from Edgbaston, in that thriller, but no one expected a similar nail-biting encounter. There was a nervous stage, for English fans, as Ricky Ponting threatened to go for the win. But, needing over eight per over to achieve it, it was never seriously in the running. England took wickets regularly throughout the day, except that of Ponting whose innings was one of guts, determination and a mass of skill. Outdone by England’s bowlers in the previous three Tests, his eyes revealed his motives at Old Trafford: he was never going to give in to England, especially when all his colleagues collapsed around him. A fabulous knock.

His innings aside, England again dominated Australia’s batting machine on day five. Once Ponting was ninth out, for 156, English hopes were understandably high. Unlike Edgbaston, in which Mike Kasprowicz replaced an ankle-injured Glenn McGrath, Australia’s tail was weakened by McGrath’s prescence at Old Trafford. His plucky pronouncement that he was overdue batting promotion would only have amused England – he is a dreadful batsman and a classic number eleven, but must be given credit for his obdurity in this Test. Given the pressure he was under (he came in with five overs to spare), his innings of nine balls was one of his most crucial.

Much credit and respect must go to Brett Lee, too, who again thwarted England’s bowlers. While Australia’s top-order have really not looked the force they can be, their tail-enders have been brilliant. Shane Warne is a most-underestimated batsman – damn him! – but even he must admit he’s played out of his skin this series. As it stands at the moment, he’s hit 204 runs at 34. More than Langer, Martyn, Hayden, Gilchrist & Katich. More, even, than Andrew Flintoff and Ian Bell, and only one run behind Andrew Strauss! Quite remarkable, and damn him for his brilliance!

Simon Jones' amazing wicket to dismiss Michael Clarke

Key moment of the day (match?): Simon Jones going off with cramp during the latter overs, as England’s desperation increased. Jones had, once again, bowled quite superbly, including a spectacular delivery to bowl Michael Clarke. He cramped up, and Steve Harmison replaced him – but bowled far too short and wide, allowing McGrath to shoulder-arms and leave several balls. This was a big factor in England failing to take the final wicket.

So, who takes the momentum? Arguably Australia – it is, for them, much like a win, as Justin Langer himself admitted. But they were still outplayed and outskilled by an improving English team, for the majority of the match. As miffed as England will feel, they will be quick to remind themselves of their dominance in the past two Tests, as well they might.

My proclamation that the tide has turned still stands. I was crushed by the draw yesterday, and needed some time for the ramifications of it to fully absorb. Australia have the problems, not England: they have just two bowlers they can put their trust in, McGrath and Warne. Gillespie might have played his last Test of his career, and almost certainly the last of this series – but Mike Kasprowicz doesn’t frighten England as much as Australia need him to. Indeed, the manner of the draw – “captain stands alone as team fight for draw” – is worryingly similar to England’s performances of the past 20 years. One in particular

It was especially gutting for English fans, as cricket’s appeal in Britain soared to an unprecendant level of histeria. It is BRILLIANT news and long may it continue. I’ve even noticed it on this mere blog – over 3000 people (not hits, people) arrived yesterday alone. I’ll write more specifically about this later though.

All in all, regardless of the result, it was brilliant cricket. As Geoff Boycott said on TV, no one moved from their seats. They were glued there, and cheered and whooped all day long, much as we did from our sofas (and beds!). Cricket won the hearts of many in five days of unstoppable, brilliant sport. That’s the best result of all.

Stuff:

Cricinfo photo gallery. Andrew Miller’s verdict. Boycott says England must, and will, remain positive. Paul Hayward reckons Fred is the one They fear. Glenn McGrath thinks, well – need I tell you?

Blogs:

Dave provides his thoughts. Despite being awake for 36 hours, Scott found it enthralling. Stu is itching to find negatives for England, but concedes it is Australia who have the problems. Before the match was over, Darryl questioned Australia and whether it was the end of an era (what do you think now, Darryl, out of interest?). Jagadish nearly praises England, but is clearly happier with Australia drawing.

Crappy post, sorry; too busy to put my mind to it properly. Shall probably add more thoughts later.

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