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England regain the Ashes

In circumstances which for an hour or two were excruciatingly tense, but which in the end bordered on farce, England today regained the Ashes, by not losing the final test at the Oval to Australia. Champion Aussie bowlers Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne gave England a fright by having them five down by lunch, and it looked as if Australia could soon be in and knocking off the runs. But a first test match century by Kevin Pietersen – what a day to pick! – soothed England nerves. Once it became impossible for either side to win, everyone wanted to end it – England and their fans to celebrate, the Aussies to say their goodbyes and get out of there. But the idiot laws of cricket, or lack of the right law of cricket to cover the situation, caused an absurdly anti-climactic period during which the umpires first said that the light had got too bad, and then faffed about while everyone else just stood about, before they eventually declared the game over.

Channel Four had no intention of just switching off their television coverage, but after all the foolishness, things got back on track, with the celebrations duly being drowned with red, white and blue confetti, jetting out of confetti machines.

It had looked, after more seriously farcical proceedings yesterday when not very bad light had stopped play for the second half of the day, as if the final day might, as a result, not be very tense, but McGrath and Warne soon saw off that idea.

Warne also got two more wickets at the end when it no longer mattered, bringing his tally in the match to twelve, and his tally for the series to forty, if my calculations do not deceive me. Despite ending up on the losing side, Warne has been the Man of the Series for me. Without him, England would have been out of sight in this game by the end of the first day. But Warne beat England back from 82-0 to 131-4, and it was game on from then on.

The turning point of the series, it is pretty generally agreed, was when Glenn McGrath, who dominated in the first test at Lords, trod on a ball and hurt himself just before the start of the second game. He missed that game, and was never the same deadly accurate bowler again, despite manful efforts. In that one moment, the series went from being Australia’s for sure to anybody’s, and it stayed anybody’s until late this afternoon, when England finally got their noses properly in front.

Duncan Fletcher, the Zimbabwean who has been coaching England for the last few years, had to be told to smile at the end, and he fleetingly obliged. He must have been doing a lot right. He is good at avoiding the limelight.

But most of all, I think the difference was sheer luck. England played very well indeed, but they also had just that tiny bit more luck of the good sort, and just a tiny bit less luck of the bad sort. The commentators talk about how England “dominated more”. But England damn near lost that second game, and coming back from 2-0 down would surely have been beyond them. England won four tosses out of five, which made a big difference. And just to take today, Pietersen was nearly run out, and was also dropped three times before he got seriously going – although you could say that this is only fair considering that Pietersen dropped every catching chance that came anywhere near him all summer.

I want to believe that Shane Warne is one of the very greatest players there has ever been, what with England having finally got him to be in a losing Aussie team. But Flintoff got the “Man of the Series” award. But I suppose they have to pick someone from among the winners. (Maybe Warne lost it by fluffing the easiest chance Australia had today to get Pietersen out, and with it, as it turned out, Australia’s best chance of winning the match and keeping the Ashes.)

Read more here, a lot of it by our very own Aussie, Michael Jennings. Scott Wickstein reckons the Aussies did not show England sufficient respect. Maybe.

Finally, a word of praise for all the people associated with Surrey Cricket Club who were responsible for the vast, flat arch of a new stand that now graces the Oval. It has turned a great ground into a ground that is less great in size, but even greater as a place to go and to see.

25 comments to England regain the Ashes

  • Keith

    Congratulations, you Pommy bastards—a magnificent effort.

  • steve

    Never mind the Ashes, what about the World Cup? Perhaps we’d win that if only Australia entered it too. Godd job the Brazilians, Germans, Italians and Argentinians never took up cricket.

  • Eamon Brennan

    I think you are overdoing the fairminded English thing there Brian.

    The simple fact is that England outplayed the best team in the world over five tests. There was not a single passenger on the team. Vaughan has had a tough time finding runs recently and even he managed a match winning performance.

    There have been some foolish comments in the MSM about this being a passing of the torch. I would say that this is premature at the very least.

    What England can take pride in is the fact that there is no other test side in the world capable of living with the Australians over 5 tests. This victory was not won by default. It was earned.

    Eamon

  • Pete_London

    Brian

    Sheer luck my arse. No-one could watch this series and not conclude that England were the better team and deserved it. And don’t worry, although Flintoff (deservedly) received the ‘Man of the Series’ award, Warne is still one the greatest ever cricketers.

  • HJHJ

    Has there ever been a sporting series of any type like this? The tension, day after day, was unbearable.

    We knew really, we just knew, before it all started that there was something special about this England side. We just didn’t know whether they were ready yet – and after the first Test we thought perhaps not. Never did we expect such incredible matches – one after another.

    But they outplayed an outstanding Australian team at, or close to, the peak of its powers. It was relentless, they always came up with something more when it was really needed. Flintoff made it seem like England had 12 players and is clearly now the world’s greatest all-rounder.

    To give credit to Australia too, they were like one of those vampires in a Hammer horror film that keeps coming back to life when you thought they were dead.

    What can you say about Shane Warne? At times, Australia’s best batsman as well as the greatest spin bowler in history. And Brett Lee – if only he were English I’d pick him every time for his attitude if nothing else.

    Doesn’t it feel good to have the Ashes back where they belong?

    As an aside, I read yesterday that Cricket, surprisingly, is the world’s second favourite sport (after football, i.e. soccer) in terms of followers. This is largely, of course, due to its popularity on the Indian subcontinent.

  • I agree: my lingering images from this series will be of Warne at his absolute peak. Neither he nor McGrath – and try to ignore the horrible fact that we’ll see neither here again – paid us anything other than absolute respect, and the amazing sportsmanship that marked the series stemmed from their attitude, Brett Lee’s (his bowling on this last day had a fabulous last stand quality) and Flintoff’s. Unbelievable stuff: it’s hard to care who won.

  • HJHJ

    James,

    I have to disagree. It’s precisely because we cared who won that made it so agonising to watch.

    It would still be the greatest test series ever were we neutral, but who wants to be neutral watching a series like that?

  • RAB

    Nobody round my way was neutral.
    I walked up to the corner shop at the tea interval to replenish supplies, to find people of four cricketing nations cheering England on.
    The shopkeeper a Hindu, customers from S.Africa, Sri Lanka and Jamaica and I , all jumping up and down shakeing the shelves watching Pietersen slap them all round the ground.
    It has been a joy to watch this contest. Sheer poetry. The best sport and spectacle it is possible to see.
    I always feel sorry for those nations that don’t play it.Especially America. You see all those folks in the shop I mentioned above, well we all come from different, and sometimes conflicting cultures, but we all speak CRICKET. We all have that common language.
    It’s a commonality and a place to start.
    Magic, simply magic!!

  • Mark H-J

    And to think you predicted this very event, a couple of months ago!

  • HJHJ

    “Thankfully there is no test at Headingley this year.
    And Andrew Flintoff is no Ian Botham”

    Posted by Michael Jennings at July 4, 2005 03:26 PM

    No Michael, he’s better.

  • I think luck played a part, but not nearly as much as the fact that Vaughan is a vastly better captain than Ponting.

  • Pete_London

    Tim

    And not nearly as much as the fact that our batsmen were better and we had four pacemen and a spinner all playing their part.

  • But they outplayed an outstanding Australian team at, or close to, the peak of its powers.

    At or close to the peak of its powers? Hardly. The Aussies have been on the wane for over a year now.

  • Sorry, I didn’t mean to take anything away from the English victory. IMO, the best side won. That doesn’t change the fact that the Oz test cricket team is looking a bit past it.

  • England did play some magnificent cricket, and they thoroughly deserve to whoop it up, along with all their long-suffering fans.

    I’m really disappointed in some of the efforts put in by some of the Australian players, but England really made the most of it and played brilliantly.

    Hopefully the natural order will be restored at the end of next year when England pay us a visit.

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    The Ashes are dead, long live the Ashes!

    I’m actually a bit disappointed the whole thing is finished. The World Cup next year is going to be like an entree to the main dish of an Ashes rematch. The pajama game will never come close to a test match series between two closely matched teams.

    Greatest ever series, I’m not sure. I think there is an argument to say the India/Australia series of 2000/2001, a rampant Australia running full tilt in to VVS Laxman and Tendulkar.

    Bring on 2006/07!

  • Tim Sturm

    I think you are selling your team a bit short Brian by putting down luck as the most important factor.

    Although its true Australia probably wouldn’t have lost if McGrath hadn’t trodden on that ball, they also wouldn’t have lost if they had taken their catches, had decent back-up bowlers and hadn’t been outplayed by the opposition.

    Well done Poms.

  • PJ

    As one who cares nothing about sport, I can’t help notice how lucky Bliar has been yet again to have various news stories such as panic-buying at the petrol pumps, bad riots in Ulster, inflation rising and so on, knocked down the front page. I’m not trying to promote any conspiracy theory, just noting that the man has the luck of the devil.

  • JSAllison

    I’ll presume that ‘pajama game’ refers to the one day limited overs matches. I’d be happy to see those this side of the Atlantic. You can see sumo highlights, but no cricket… come to think of it, we don’t get buzkashi, either. We do get teen male mating rituals, er, x-games.

  • Brendan Halfweeg

    The pajama game is indeed the limted overs one day game, generally 50 overs per side, although variations do exist.

    Think of test match cricket series like a world series or championship play-off, albiet played over 2-3 months. The best of them develop their own life, with mini-dramas, conflicts, heros and villans, individual battles, personality clashes, the lot.

  • dmick

    I’m not trying to promote any conspiracy theory, just noting that the man has the luck of the devil.

    surely that’s IS rather has the ? ;)

  • Andy Cooke

    By the way, England won 3 tosses, not 4. Australia won the toss for Tests 1 and 2, England won the toss for Tests 3,4 and 5.

    The misconception comes from Ricky Pontings mistake in inviting England to bat first at Edgbaston (to be fair, if you are confident that you’re the stronger team, it’s often a good idea – and after Lord’s, he was fairly confident (plus the fact that the side batting second at Edgbaston seems to have a slight statistical advantage)).

  • The Ashes
    A fitting title for a once glorious and now clapped out husk of a nation.

  • Adam

    The main diference luck? I hope you’re joking.

    England were by far the best team in this series. Had it not been the rain at Old Trafford, we would have won 3-1, and I seriosuly doubt if the Aussies would have chased the 307 at The Oval even if they had the time.

    Even if McGrath had played, I think England would have still won – he is always lethal at Lord’s because he is a master of the slope. Don’t let anyone con themselves into thinking he would have been as good at Edgbaston or Trent Bridge.

    England out bowled, batted and fielded Australia You can create your own luck in sport, and if Australia are gonna play rugby to warm up and leave cricket balls lying around, it’s their problem.