The last Sunday before the last Ashes Test

Quite a sad feeling, really, that it’s suddenly all come to an end for another 18 months. It does feel like yesterday that the Lord’s Test was getting underway, yet we’ve had four Tests squeezed in a matter of a few weeks. On the up side, there are but 15 months until the 2006/7 Ashes series begins; will England be defending them, for the first time in 18 years? Or will we be, once again, trying to wrestle them from Australia’s vice-like grip?

Frankly, we ought to be defending them when we next meet Australia. We’ve been the better side for the majority of the summer, bar a McGrath blitz at Lord’s. Another McGrath and Warne show might yet upset me, and the millions of English fans now hooked on the great game. Caged animal, backs to the walls, etc…buyer beware!

On what is the last Sunday before the last Ashes Test of the summer, there have been a veritable feast of words written in the press which I’ll briefly summarise…

Andrew Strauss’ diary for the Telegraph seems to get longer each week, and this week he’s written a very extensive and insightful piece.

Looking back, the first morning of the series, at Lord’s, seems like an age ago, but what is still very clear is the reception we received as we made our way slightly nervously on to the field that morning. Walking through the Long Room, we were met by the most incredible roar from members full of hope and expectation that this series was going to be different from its predecessors.

And

If I had been lucky enough to play in three Tests like that over the course of my career, I would retire very satisfied, but to have three in a row is astounding. All 22 players know that we have been part of something incredibly special over the past six weeks. One of the greatest series of all time is being played out, and it has created the best possible advert for the game.

That’s what has struck everyone who has seen this series: one after the other, each Test has matched and bettered its predecessor. You half expect one or two Tests to be rained off, or piddling out to a draw. Every bloody game has been painfully brilliant to watch; imagine what it’s like for the players involved!

He ends – not quite tempting fate, but… – with:

Regardless of the result, we will be determined to enjoy what could be the defining Test of all our careers.

Mike Atherton continues his excellent form (honk!) with a piece about Freddie. Jonny Wilkinson, David Beckham, and now Andrew Flintoff.

Rugby and football blossomed in the afterglow, much as cricket is doing now, but Wilkinson and Beckham have been in slow decline ever since. Wilkinson because his body cannot cope; Beckham because he cannot cope.

Regardless of the result at the Oval, Andrew Flintoff now walks in such company. Maybe he is not earning the dollars (yet) of the other two, but in terms of profile and popularity he bends his knee to no one at present.

Too true. Giant performances in the last three Tests, he will almost certainly be named as one of the men of the series – if not officially, then certainly by his teammates and the Australians. England needed something special from him, but I don’t think anyone quite expected he’d have such a country-binding affect. Oh to be seven or eight years old and have a hero like Flintoff to aspire to…

Meanwhile, Scyld Berry mentions something, and someone, we’ve all forgotten about: Duncan Fletcher.

More than anyone else, more even than Michael Vaughan, this England team are Fletcher’s creation, although he will always be first to give the credit to the players. Just as much as Jack, Fletcher can look at the England team and say “this is the house I have built”. The position which he took up at the climax – after sitting on the dressing-room balcony for most of the match – said so much about his approach. Close to them, but not of them. Ready to hand. ‘There’ – and Giles looked in for a chat before batting – but not imposing.

His influence cannot be underestimated, and should not be glossed over here so briefly. So I’ll do a post on him this week. But Scyld’s article comes with the depressing news that Fletcher has been turned down British citizenship. A win or a draw at The Oval might just persuade the Government to change their minds.

So, on to Thursday – and the weather is set fair (at the moment). Tell your friends; invite them over; crack open a beer / coke / tea / water; get your prayer-mats out!; “renew” your incontinence pants; change the nappies; charge your mobile phones in anticipation of “This is going down to the wire mate ru watchin?” type messages; don’t allow anyone with a heart condition near The Oval, or your TV; polish your voodoo dolls; tell everyone to come here and comment & chat like the crazed cricket-addicted fools we all are; are we in for another nailbiter?

May the best side win.

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