Act I, Scene V

And that’s that. England are 1-0 up in the Ashes despite a thrilling fight back from the Australian lower order.

This was the best Test I have ever witnessed. It simply had everything. It was a non-stop thrill ride from the moment Agar received his shock selection to Haddin being given out via DRS.

When writing about Agar’s 98 a couple days ago, I mentioned that the difference between 99 runs and 100 runs in a five day Test is minimal at best. Boy was I wrong. If Agar gets one more boundary before getting out and ends on 102, then Australia maybe come back from lunch only needing 11 to win, and while that probably wouldn’t have changed the outcome, it surely would have upped the tension at least a couple more notches – if that was even possible.

I don’t mean to pick on Agar, what I am trying to say is that the beauty of this Test was that, in the end, every single ball mattered. Every run mattered. Every no ball, every wide, every leg bye.

Tests are long affairs, and very few supporters watch every single ball; we go about our lives, we go to work, we go to the market – and even when the Test is on, we all space out now and again, as the ball gets soft and the match slows down and it is dot balls and blocking and part time bowlers – but in Tests like we had here this week, it turned out that all of those dot balls mattered in the end, all of those easy singles mattered…every last delivery contributed to the shockingly taut finish we were all lucky enough to enjoy this morning.

But I think what made this a great test, instead of just merely a very good one, was that it never stopped surprising us. From the aforementioned selection of Ashton Agar to Siddle’s five-fer to Bell’s century to Haddin’s positively brilliant innings, the match just kept coming at us with something new to behold, swinging back and forth like the pendulum on a profoundly well tuned and expensive clock. Even this morning, when it looked for all the world like the total Australia were chasing was just simply too high, Haddin and Pattinson were still able to not just make England sweat, but make themselves, and all of us, believe that Australia might very well win this thing.

In the end, Jimmy Anderson proved too much, Haddin edged to Prior, and England celebrated like they had just won the World Cup.

*

I guess you could say that the better team had won – and in cricket is very rare for the better team to lose – but I think the third and final reason that this was a great Test was because these two teams are far more evenly matched than we all thought they were. If England really was better than Australia by a country mile, as some pundits declared, then this Test would have been a snooze. But it wasn’t. And this bodes well not just for the next four Tests in England, but for the five in Australia to follow this winter.

If you are an England supporter I suggest you do one thing and one thing alone, however: pray for the health and safely of one J. Anderson. For without him, I think Australia win this Test, and win it handily.

Anderson bowled 55.5 overs in this test, 14.5 overs today alone – and Lord’s is three day’s from now.

Pray, England. Pray.

*

Regarding the match ending the way it did, on a reviewed decision: It was the right call. Haddin was well and clearly out. There was a sound and there was a nick on Hot Spot. By the letter of the law, the third umpire had to give it out. But my gut tells me that he didn’t nick it. I have no idea why I think that, but I don’t think he was out. Again, I am not saying the ending was a farce or the decision was wrong, I am just telling you what my gut is telling me: Haddin’s bat didn’t touch the ball.

Now, some will bemoan the fact that the match ended via DRS, and others will sarcastically say that it was a fitting end, but here’s the deal: DRS is part of the game. And if it had ended with Swann bowling Pattinson, it would have been no more fitting an ending then what we got at Trent Bridge today. Love it or hate it, DRS is here to stay, and we need to start getting used to it as a very real, and very important, part of cricket.

And DRS is also one of, if not the, main reason why the Australians lost this Test. Forget Anderson’s 10 wickets, forget Bell’s 100, forget Cowan’s golden duck, forget run rates, strike rates, economy rates and every other stat out there: Australia lost this match because they mishandled their reviews, while England did not. The most telling stat of the entire match is as follows:

Australia were correct in two of their nine reviews. England? Three of their four.

*

This morning I found myself pulling for Australia. Mostly because a wicket meant the fun was over, while runs meant it would get to keep going.

However, I was also supporting them because they are (or were?) the underdogs in this series, and neutrals love to support the underdog.

I bring this up solely because it must seem so utterly and completely odd for long time cricket followers to see neutrals supporting Australia for that reason. Australia: one of the most dominant cricket teams the world had ever seen, reduced to underdog status. Against England. My how things change.

*

I was very excited for this Test, and for this series. My expectations were admittedly through the roof, which is never a good thing as it is just asking for disappointment. But not only did this match meet my expectations, it exceeded them ten times over.

This was easily the best Test match I have ever seen. It is going to stay with me a long time. Here’s to nine more just like it.

And now the curtain closes on Act I, and the circust travels south to St. John’s Wood. Thursday cannot get here soon enough. Lord only knows what we will be treated to this time around.

See ya then.

 

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8 Responses to Act I, Scene V

  1. Russ says:

    Good piece Matt. The great matches stay with you, particularly if you’re invested in them. I can list the close ones I sat through, mostly losses, without drawing breath: Adelaide 93, Sydney 94, Port Elizabeth 97, Barbados 99, Edgbaston 05, Wanderers 11. Others too, draws in Cardiff 09 and Manchester 05, losses in Mohali 10 and Melbourne 98, the win in Sydney 09. Lesser games, lesser series, but in the infinite (as you call it) space of test cricket, they stand out like beacons.

    There is a desperation to the finish, the depletion of resources until the worst batsmen are facing tired bowlers with five days of effort culminating in a single ball. And that desperation is an addictive drug. You’ll find yourself checking scorecards and clearing your schedule if it even looks like a test is going to the wire.

    Actually I suspect you already do.

    • Matt says:

      Not having a personal investment has made it difficult for matches to stick with me, but this one felt different. I hope to someday have a list like yours and of course it will start with “Trent Bridge 13”.

      Desperation is the right word, too. And while I love many sports, Test cricket is the only one that provides the kind of palpable tension we saw yesterday in Nottingham. It’s a cliche but Test cricket is a novel, and the long, slow build up to the final desperate scenes make the climax far more interesting and memorable.

      Lots of talk about Jimmy Anderson today, but upon reflection my hero of the match was Haddin. Stand your ground, hold it together, and drag your brothers in arms across the line. And he almost did too. Damn near.

  2. 5w_haul says:

    this is why test cricket is so great

  3. It was a gripping Test; not always of superb quality but with enough moments of excellence sprinkled throughout to not let it down, and just the whole entire passage was completely nerve-wracking. I was convinced Australia had the upper hand after England’s first innings. Then at 119-9 Australia surely had no way back. Then England were suddenly with bloody Ian Bell at the crease! Then Broad and Bell surely win the game for England, setting them 300+ to win. Err, this is a good start from Watson/Rogers, a bit worrying…phew Swann pegs them back! Err, Haddin. Someone get Haddin. Please. Seriously. I hope the umpires take them off for lunch. Haddin is still there. Oh, God. Oh, Jimmy.

    • Matt says:

      Ha. I was happy I was a neutral on Sunday – my heart would not have been able to take the stress if I was supporting Eng or Aus. The silence from the Trent Bridge crowd that first 40 minutes was downright eerie!

  4. JP Daugherty says:

    Great post Matt. Here are my thoughts: http://jpsworldofsports.blogspot.com/2013/07/1-0-england-also-boom-boom-is-back.html (it gives you a shout out). Also a little bit on the enigma of Shahid Afridi.

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