Tuesday, 13 September 2005

Catches win Ashes

“Best. Series. Ever. That was the text I got from a clearly giddy Andrew ‘Chas’ McDevitt at quarter to 3 on the Saturday of the 2nd Test Match at Edgbaston. A perfectly reasonable emotion considering all that has gone on since July 21st…[but] remember though that this text was sent before the 2-run squeak the following morning, the titanic last day pursuit of 10 Australian wickets at Old Trafford, the nervy run chase at Trent Bridge and the see-saw high-scoring draw at The Oval.”

Perhaps it’s a trifle arrogant to quote a post of my own in advance of its publication. 'Bookending: a cricket experience', available from all good web-browsers from Thursday, hopefully. Consider it Hobo Tread exclusively serialised in Hobo Tread, if you like.

I use it because there is no more succinct way to describe this remarkable, unreal series, the like of which we are unlikely to see again. Never has a sporting encounter given me so much joy, or made me feel quite so sick. This series has played on the nerves and, aside from England’s Lords death-throes and the bizarre Oval wind-down, the initiative has passed between England and Australia with astounding regularity. England though, since Lords, have remained largely in control of the music while passing around the parcel. We have not battered anybody but have sat heavily down on the see-saw more often than we have been catapulted into the air. The tactical battle was brilliantly won by English cricket’s awesome asset that is the Fletcher/Vaughan combination, and the majority of the titanic individual performances came from those clad in those 3 lions.

Part of the magic has been just how much this has meant to both sides. The spirit of the England side is inspirational and could teach our pampered footballers a great deal, while Australia never said die at any stage. The Ashes could have been retained until about half an hour into the final session of the final test. Let us not mock the Australians as they have played their part in the scintillating action. Indeed we should not forget that in 8 tests between them during this series, the twin geniuses of Warne and McGrath have taken nigh on 60 English wickets.

With so many catches dropped by both sides, it may be considered that this was not the ultimate display of professional cricket, but for me this was indicative of how MUCH it mattered, rather than an indication of any lack of skill in the field. The number of shelled chances from otherwise safe hands, like those of Flintoff and Warne, has contributed to the unbelievable drama.

KP, honest, is no slouch in the field but dropped all 6 that came his way. I’m sure all will be forgiven now he has contributed a maiden test century when it really, really mattered (during which of course he was put down thrice). It was the final show of brilliance required to tie up what the team of 11½ (no disrespect to Paul Collingwood, whose hour with Pietersen was more vital than may be remembered in the record books) who worked so beautifully as a solid unit.

I wrote a week and a half ago that I genuinely believed that Hampshire would win the C&G Trophy and that England would win the Ashes. I say this not to boast as prior to the series I was hedging my bets at a 2-2 Aussie retention. This wavered further after the Lords defeat, although even when Australia only needed 10 to win at Edgbaston, I still thought we’d win that game, so it wasn't all pessimism. I wasn’t quite as convinced when it was down to 3, I will admit.

In addition I’ve been banging on all summer, more in hope than expectation, that the King of Spain would score an Ashes 100, mainly cos I remember Jack Russell getting a ton back in ’89 and I believed a decent non-specialist would get something big, possibly in a lost cause. Surely Asher G’s quite brilliant, expertly paced 59 was the equal of a century, given the circumstances.

During the summer my confidence has built mainly through the quality of the England performances such as Gilo’s unpretentious displays, the manner in which I have seen them (which I will discuss in future posts), and some excellent early fist-pumping colour commentary from my chum Mr McDevitt.

The drama of it would have been unscriptable, and I think the spectacle of it, and the humour which has pricked the tension throughout, has benefited from Mr. Brent Bowden’s authoritative but perfectly eccentric participation in 3 of the 5 encounters. Some people think his signalling is too off the wall, but you need characters like him, particularly in a game as odd as cricket. Part of the reason I like him is that when asked why he hooks his finger when giving a batsman out, he replied that it was partly down to arthritis, and partly the entertainment aspect of the game.
You can understand his bounding 6 signal, crumb-sweeping 4 and, errr, fellating call for drinks playing to dramatics, but a hooked finger? I can only assume it’s his joint agony manifesting itself at 45˚ whereas a jaunty 90˚ with a kink is the full showbiz, but you’d have to ask him where pain stops and vaudeville begins. It would not have been the same without him though, or Messers ‘Message to you’ Koertzen and Steve Bucknor and their slow-death efforts, or indeed the farcical, but certainly sweet, ceremonial removing of the bails at the end of the final Test.

It has all combined to make my summer. A Test season that ends as a cartoon Richie Benaud waves goodbye at the climax of Channel 4’s 7 years upping the ante of cricket broadcasting, which was quite emotional in itself.

Remember, you can check the Aussie perspective, on what must seem a huge calamity for them after talk of 5-0 from Thomson and McGrath, at these sites.

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