Dear American Sports Fan:
Last night, while you slept, on the other side of the world, 22 men battled to one of the most thrilling, nail biting, edge of your seat, and hard fought draws in recent memory.
That’s right, a draw. Not a tie. A draw. The two teams did not end with the exact same score. Instead, time and daylight ran out and one side couldn’t get the necessary runs to win whilst simultaneously the other side just could simply not get their opposition out.
You might scoff, you might dismiss me, and you might laugh: but it was the pinnacle of everything you love about baseball, gridiron football, and basketball.
You missed it. But you would have loved it.
The two teams involved were England and New Zealand. This was the 97th time the two teams had faced each other in a Test match. A history that dates back to 1930…
The game lasted five days. There were over 2,700 balls delivered. And yet somehow, despite all logic to the contrary, the game was not decided until the final ball was delivered…
The fifth and final day started at 10:30am Auckland time, mid-afternoon on the American east coast. You were still at work when it started, in other words, but it would be well after midnight on your watch before it was over.
New Zealand led England by an insurmountable total; and all they needed to do to win the match, and the series, and make history, was to get six more English batsmen out. All England needed to do was bat all day long. From the time you were still at the office until well after you were tucked in bed and dreaming…
And that is exactly what they did…
Matt Prior, England’s wicket-keeper, a hard nosed, blue collar cricketer, entered the game with England only having three outs left. The day was barely two-thirds over. And under immense pressure, he batted for almost four and a half hours, scoring 110 runs, and leading England’s inexperienced lower batting order across the finish line…
Stuart Broad, England’s vice captain, not known for his batting, still managed to stay out in the hot Auckland afternoon sun for over two hours. He blocked 77 balls bowled at anywhere from 30 mph to 80 mph. Some were at his head, some at his ankles, some bounced 20 feet in from of him, some tailed in the wind, some spun in the dirt. And yet, somehow, with a little bit of luck, he saw off nearly 13 of the 90 overs England needed to get through in order to save the match.
And with four overs left to get through, 24 more deliveries, New Zealand struck: Broad edged to a fielder in the slip position: out. Then James Anderson, another Englishman not known for his batting, did the same thing.
New Zealand was one out away. One out away from beating England in a Test series at home since 1985.
And on came Monty Panesar. A brilliant spin bowler, but thoroughly inept with the bat.
This was the scene, as New Zealand pressed Panesar and Prior for just one…more…out….
— ESPNcricinfo (@ESPNcricinfo) March 26, 2013
All 13 men on the field at the time, 11 fielders and two batsman, all within meters of each other. One side just trying to hang on, the other begging for one more out. It was easily the most the absorbing 20 minutes of sport I had ever experienced.
You would have loved it.
And somehow, England, despite all of the pressure of the moment, made it through, and saved the match. Matt Prior dragged his entire team over the line.
Meanwhile, Brenden McCullum, playing with a severely pulled hamstring, hobbled around the pitch, positioning his fielders like a grandmaster chess player.
And New Zealand bowlers, on day five of play, steamed in again and again and again – each delivery more desperate and exhausting and knee pounding than the one before it – searching and searching and searching for that one magical delivery that never came. Tim Southee: 180 balls bowled in a day a half; Trent Boult 174; Bruce Martin 234…
…think about that next time your starting pitcher gets pulled on 85 pitches with a three run lead…
Nine hours of brilliant sport, on the other side of the world, while you slept.
Too bad you missed it, but I will be forever grateful that I didn’t.