Monday, August 24, 2009

Lazy Sunday

Here are my, verbatim, recollections of yesterday at the Oval -

The thought of Katich and Watson still batting after lunch had me waking up in a cold sweat at 5am earlier in the morning.

We need two wickets by lunchtime, five by tea time, then the next one after tea could see them thinking ‘might as well have a swing’ and it could all be over by six o’clock.

Forgo the first pint of the day – it’s been a long hard slog since Thursday morning and the liver needs a few hours to recover its shape.

After a few overs Katich pads up at a straight one from Swanny, and they’re one down. What is about Australians and straight deliveries? Are they stuck in the 2005 time warp and playing for non-existent reverse swing?

Next over, it’s Broad getting Watson. (Still think he looks like one of the German guards in the Great Escape – the one Steve McQueen nicks the keys from on his first visit to the ‘cooler’)

Warm applause for Ponting on his way to the wicket – nice to see and hear, but surely no chance of him doing a Bradman and getting a second-baller today. (Fate actually has something far more painful in store for him)

He and Hussey dig in – not looking in much trouble, although Broad bowls a nice spell for the first hour or so – reducing his pace and bowling cutters.

Lunch – we’re on schedule, but not sure where the three afternoon wickets are coming from. Despite all the puffs of dust coming up every time the ball hits the deck, the track looks dead.

In front of us on the edge of the square, Shane Warne is giving a leg spin masterclass to a couple of young England hopefuls. I listen in on the Sky earpiece - it’s utterly mesmerising. When you think about the pantheon of Cricketing Gods – Hobbs, Bradman, WG, Sobers – it’s mind-blowing that there’s a real live one in front of us casually bowling in a pair of shorts and a T shirt as though he’s on the beach playing with a couple of mates.

Afternoon session – I start on the beers because there’s no valium handy.

Ponting and Mr Cricket looking more and more confident – and we’re getting quieter and quieter. Apart from the Aussies in front who are getting louder and louder. Rather childishly I ask one of them for 'three pints of lager, a gin and tonic and three packets of salt and vinegar crisps' and feel better for about ten seconds, until Ponting crashes Anderson through the covers for four.

It’s been obvious throughout this test that Anderson isn’t fit. Sidearse tried playing like that at Edgbaston last summer and it cost us the game.

200 up and our bowling attack is an unfit Jim, Freddie on one leg, Harmy sulking and Broad and Swann…

Then mayhem – Freddie creaks to his right, picks up the ball and throws an absolute rocket to hit the stumps as Hussey calls Ponting for a single. As we wait for the decision I switch on the radio and Jonathan Agnew is going berserk – and a few seconds later, so do we.

Someone invokes Gary Pratt.

How many will Hussey have to make to make up for that? We decide on 250 plus.

Now it’s Clarke. I’ve previously gone on records as saying he’s one of the few Australian batsmen I’ve actually taken real pleasure in watching, but not today though.

I bend down to pick up my pint, and as I come up there’s a commotion out in the middle. Clarke has gone down the wicket and Strauss has fielded it and thrown down the stumps. Again, it’s referred, and again I tune into Aggers, who is now going out of his mind – “it’s out, no it’s not out – that angle looked in. here’s the third angle – and IAN BELL’S BOOT IS IN THE WAY SO WE CAN’T SEE IT.”

Hang on – it’s OUT.

We’re going mad now.

On the radio Tuffers takes over in the analyst chair from Matthew Hayden, and congratulates him on picking up two wickets for England. Steam emerges from the TMS commentary box…

Soon afterwards, it’s FIVE DOWN as Prior – who has kept pretty much faultlessly since Lords, stumps North. From 100 yards away it looks a borderline decision, but Billy Bowden is happy to raise the crooked digit without any referral.

I turn round for a high five from the bloke behind me, who misses my hand and slaps the bloke next to him round the face.

That’s the three I wanted this afternoon – with time to spare.

Now comes the final bump in the road – Haddin and Hussey.

At tea – we’re still on track, but need that sixth wicket to start breathing a little easier. I go for a lap of the ground to steady the nerves, and start making plans for the fifth day…

Typically Australia refuse to submit that easily and the batsmen are seemingly picking runs off at will. Swann is obviously going to have to bowl until his arm falls off, but it’s a toss up who could have any impact at the other end.

There’s a telling moment at drinks, an hour into the last session. Strauss rushes off the field, to either have a slash or more likely to ask his manservant to start running him a bath and press his dinner jacket. The England huddle looks rather bedraggled, a couple of players are sitting down and Cook seems to be wandering around in a daze. Within threee seconds of Strauss getting back to the group, he’s got them all up on their feet and listening with rapt attention to what he’s saying.

Ten minutes later, just as things start to get really edgy Haddin has a rush of blood and skies to midwicket. At that point we know.

Pockmeister next to me confesses he’s worried about a Mitchell Johnson hundred, but before I have a chance to come up with a suitable simile to that (‘Worried about being hit by a meteorite’ perhaps…) ‘Super-Mitch’ is caught by Colly – atoning for his previous drops.

Harmy is back in the attack by now – bowling very fast, as hostile as I’ve seen him since 2005. This begs the question of why the hell he hasn’t been doing that for England for the past couple of years. After the game he apparently had a monumental whinge to the Sky cameras about the criticism he’s had from ex-England internationals – but today really just proves their point.

Siddle then gets a leading edge to Freddie at mid off. That’s 8 and we’re all standing now – then we’re leaping up and down on each other as Clarke goes first ball. That’s 9.

Harmy is now on a hat trick to win the Ashes.

At the other end Hussey is holding firm – and I’m thinking that we simply need to target Hilfenhaus, but finally it’s Swann getting the Hussey BP to Cook and we go utterly mental.

The rest is a blur – speeches, trophy, fireworks, confetti, lap of honour, and we end up outside the White Bear as motorists hoot their horns as they drive past down Kennington Park Road.

Better than 2005? We decide ‘different’. A draw was enough in 2005 – whereas we had to win this one.

And glory be, we did!


IanB said...

"I turn round for a high five from the bloke behind me, who misses my hand and slaps the bloke next to him round the face."

High comedy!

Well done!!

harry said...

Good report mate.

A monumental performance by Strauss, because his team is - at the moment - not very good, really.
Only he, Fred & Prior played well throughout.
But in fairness, the others "turned up" when really required, just in time.

And Australia must wonder how you can have the best batters (by some considerable distance), the wicket-taking bowlers... and still lose.
When you think about it, it's bl00dy hilarious.....

Mark said...

Actually, Freddie really only turned up in the second innings at Lords, and with the bat at Edgbaston.

To quote one journo - there was a lot of huff and puff, but he rarely looked like blowing anyone's house down.

The whole Headingley, fit/unfit debate was farcical, and showed him in a very poor light.