I’ve received a few (8) emails and 28 comments from people disagreeing with my statement that this is the greatest series ever, so this review is a vague attempt to quantify it…but it’s more, simply, a review of another brilliant Test. Few can deny that the game we saw was brilliant theatre and a spectacular sporting occasion.
At the start of the fourth day, England were without their trump card, Simon Jones. Remarkably, given his outstanding improvement this series, he wasn’t missed too greatly; a wonderful testament to a collective team effort, showing this England side never need rely on one bowler, or one player. In Duncan Fletcher’s terms, Matthew Hoggard “came to the party” and, praised by Andrew Flintoff, he bowled his best spell of the series. Earlier this month, I wrote a piece for Cricinfo on his importance to the England side, but I was worried it [the article] would soon lose its relevance. Thankfully, Hoggard did once again “sweep the shop floor,” picking up two vital wickets. Two, you ask? Two? Not a massive haul, granted, but they were the two most important. Michael Clarke had looked settled, and batted so well in the morning session. Hoggard got his away-swing working perfectly and, pitching it up he drew Clarke into a wishy-washy poke to grab his wicket just before lunch. It was a vital breakthrough.
Clarke and Katich had arguably set the scene for an Adam Gilchrist batting bonanza. Indeed, Gilchrist’s intent was obvious, smashing two fours in quick succession. But Hoggard returned to trap him leg-before. Suddenly, Australia’s hard work by Katich and Clarke in the morning session had been thrown away. Their lead was futile, a handful of runs; but for another aggressive and brilliant innings by Shane Warne (how well has he batted this tour??), the target Australia eventually set would have been far lower than 129.
One hundred and twenty nine runs to lead the series 2-1. I was very confident it would be a walk in the park, but my colleage at Cricinfo was having kittens. He was an absolute nervous wreck from the start. As I said, 129 wasn’t enough for Australia “barring a Shane Warne special,” and while England did reach their target, it was not without considerable alarm. Shane Warne, again, threatened to end England’s chances of winning the Ashes, with a performance to win over a thousand more fans. He is an utter legend and we’re so bloody lucky to watch him perform. The situation was just perfect for him – backs against the wall, defending a target of 129, he took Trescothick, Strauss and Vaughan’s wickets to leave England 57 for 3. It became 57 for 4 as Bell, unwisely, tried to hook Brett Lee. When Andrew Flintoff and Kevin Pietersen were dismissed, my nerves suddenly went into overdrive. “Damn you, Will, and your cocksureness!” I told myself.
Geraint Jones followed, with a really dreadful smite off Shane Warne and suddenly, incredibly, England were 116 for 7. 13 to win. Three wickets left. Ashley Giles and Matthew Hoggard at the crease. How dare you give us another national coronary, England?! Giles and Hoggard saw England home in what Richie Benaud described as one the most tense matches he had ever come across.
I suppose, arguably, England should never have let Australia in with a chance. But Warne is Warne, and if this series has showed us anything, it is the power of a chastened champion.
At Old Trafford, I wrote the tide was turning. In fact, I wrote the tide had turned. England failed to win that (“England lack the killer blow” and all). And so we’ve seen it develop in this Test match, as England really demonstrated their total lack of fear of Australia. As a supporter who has for his entire life only ever witnessed Australia’s dominance over the Urn, it is a proud, special moment. Once again, England trounced Australia for 99% of this Test; brilliant team performance, and one individual again proving his might. Andrew Flintoff, future King, Prime Minister and anything else he wishes for! Already approaching legendary status before this game, his hundred (first against Australia in his first series against them) was a thing of beauty. It almost appeared pedestrian in its pace, yet came from just 132 balls and was the key to England reaching 477 (winning the toss and batting first). His muted celebrations said much about the man. There was no wild hoorays and badge-kissing; simply a raised bat, a standing ovation, and a smile which said “Ta – but this is just the start of things.”
I’ll do a blog and paper round-up later.